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  • Ridge Shinn and Lynne Pledger

Grass-Fed Beef for a Post-Pandemic World

A book excerpt from Grass-Fed Beef for a Post-Pandemic World: How Regenerative Grazing Can Restore Soils and Stabilize the Climate

By Ridge Shinn and Lynne Pledger

Risky Climate Proposals

Some recent proposals for combating climate change are troubling. For example, the following high-tech ideas for modifying the climate have been circulating recently, and some of them have funding:

  • refreezing the North and South Poles by brightening the clouds above them by spraying tiny droplets of salt to assist the clouds in reflecting radiation back into space

  • fertilizing the oceans to encourage the growth of plant matter and algae which could absorb more CO2

  • injecting captured CO2 from industry into the deepest parts of oceans, where “most of it would remain isolated from the atmosphere for centuries”

Regarding risks from the third idea, IPCC Special Report on Carbon dioxide Capture and Storage - the same publication that presents the proposal and gives it credence - acknowledges that nobody knows what the impacts of releasing CO2 into the depths of the ocean would be:

Overall, there is limited knowledge of deep-sea population and community structure and of deep-sea ecological interactions. . . . Thus the sensitivities of deep ocean ecosystems to intentional carbon storage and the effects on possibly unidentified goods and services that they may provide remain largely unknown.

We’re not opposed to technology, and we do believe that combating climate change calls for a multipronged effort. But will those we have entrusted with decisions about the future of human life on Earth also guard against irreparable harm? Often harm occurs as a result of reductionist thinking: when scientists - or politicians - focus on one part of a problem and lose sight of the interconnectedness within the whole context.

Because this way of thinking can be dangerous, we often look to biology as a reliable guide to judge which technologies are appropriate. Biological systems were operating long before the first humans appeared, but only recently have people developed a rudimentary understanding of how they actually work. To use two examples of recent discoveries that we’ve referenced in our book: (1) It was only in the 1990s that the organic material glomalin was identified as a critically important structure in healthy soil functioning, and (2) it was only in this millennium that soil scientists and ecologists have verified that by fostering the activities of soil microorganisms, we can dramatically increase both vegetative growth in farm fields and storage of carbon in the soil. Perhaps instead of relying on unproven technologies to address our climate crises, we should build on discoveries of the last thirty years about how biological processes work - and how we can work with them instead of against them.

Let us pause before we proceed to interfere with the most basic interdependent components of our world: earth, air, water, and biological resources. High-tech schemes to control the Earth’s climate would come with enormous expense and possibly disastrous environmental outcomes that aren’t being discussed and perhaps haven’t been imagined. And while we are distracted by proposals with science fiction allure, we are ignoring simpler, safer, and tried-and-proven ways to stabilize the climate that work with existing natural systems. Salient among these solutions is the widespread regenerative grazing of ruminants to foster carbon sequestration, a scenario that reflects an earlier, but not-so-distant era in the natural history of the Earth.

Regenerative grazing of existing grasslands is a feasible strategy that can be implemented quickly, with low risks, and with multiple benefits in addition to stabilizing the climate. For more than twenty-five years a growing number of farmers and ranchers all around North America and in other parts of the world have increased carbon storage in the ground largely by (1) forgoing tillage, chemical fertilizers, and biocides, and (2) grazing cattle in a rotation that fosters robust populations of soil microbes, whose underground activities enhance plant growth and store carbon.

Too simple?

Consider what our country could have accomplished in the last twenty-five years if regenerative grazing had been fully supported and implemented as an alternative to the conventional agricultural practices that have failed to safeguard our resources. What progress would we have made if the federal government had pulled back subsidies for corn and supported regenerative grazing instead? What would our domestic production of grass-fed beef be if we had not allowed inexpensive imports to be labeled as Products of the USA?

If the promise of grass-fed beef and regenerative grazing had been understood, supported, and widely adopted twenty-five years ago, there is no doubt that a long list of outcomes would have been realized at least in part by now:

  • an increase in soil carbon

  • fewer climate emissions from agriculture to the atmosphere

  • increased fertility of farmlands

  • more soil resilience to droughts and floods

  • cleaner water

  • greater health and well-being of livestock

  • an increase in biodiversity

  • a revival of rural economies

  • access to nutritious beef in every region of the country

Many of us would like to see these outcomes. Let’s put some of the riskier and more expensive climate change projects on the shelf until we have made a modest investment in regenerative agriculture.

Cattleman Ridge Shinn has consulted all over the US and overseas on raising and marketing 100% grass-fed beef. For decades, writer and environmental advocate Lynne Pledger has worked with Ridge to promote regenerative grazing.

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