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More fake news on GHG

TAGS: Commentary
Sensationalism seems to take priority over journalism, and in this instance, CNN thought it appropriate to disparage an entire industry.

“An Overlooked Cause of Global Warming: Beef” Sorry @cnn – have to call BS (pun intended) on that fake news story. Maybe you can check facts with experts @GHGGuru @drsplace and run a real story.

That was my response on twitter to a CNN story running on the Jacksonville airport TV screens. The experts I referenced are Drs. Frank Mitloehner (University of California-Davis) and Sara Place (National Cattlemen’s Beef Assn). Thankfully, my daughter caught the story and drew my attention to it, otherwise I would have missed it: “Dad, you have to see this!”

Because of time constraints, I didn’t get to watch the entire story. But I didn’t need to - the footer I quoted in my tweet was all I needed to understand what’s going on. That premise is just plain wrong.

Once we got home, I decided to dig a little and found the transcript online. CNN’s teaser for the story goes like this: “…a popular American TV ad once touted beef as the phrase, "It's what's for dinner"; but now the beef industry is facing new pressures around climate change, which seems to be accelerating. We explore that ahead.”

The segment features CNN journalist Nick Paton Walsh who, “traveled to Texas, the world’s beef capital, to investigate a major and often overlooked cause of greenhouse gases.” None of us are privy to the decision-making process around how these stories are developed, but that doesn’t matter. It’s the end-product that matters and the transcript only served to confirm my suspicion. The story is full of misinformation.

First, as noted earlier, the very premise of the story is flawed. The U.S. produces about 15% of total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Meanwhile, EPA accounting designates agriculture as 9% of U.S. GHG emissions and notes that livestock are responsible for “almost one-third” of agriculture’s total GHG output. CNN couldn’t even do the basic math.

Based on those percentages, animal agriculture in the U.S. is responsible for about 3% of 15% of the world’s total GHG emissions. In other words, that means U.S. livestock are contributing less than one-half-of-one-percent to the world total. Clearly, CNN didn’t want to grapple with facts or perspective – it would negate their tagline that beef is a “cause of global warming.”

CNN’s distortions didn’t end there. For example, Walsh adds some drama: “…the endless acres here seem haunted by the corn that went before.” The story then claims, “Nearly 100 million acres of corn are planted, grown, fertilized, processed and transported around America, the biggest producer in the world.” Apparently, he wants us to believe that nearly 100-million acres are unnecessarily and wastefully committed to just feeding cattle.

He gets it wrong. The 10-year planted corn acreage average hovers around 91 million acres. Moreover, roughly 45% of that acreage is utilized to produce ethanol (the 10-year average) – compared to just 43.5% being committed to the feed/residual category (which includes feed for ALL livestock AND companion animals). Once again, lazy journalism.

What really bothers me, though, are the broader issues revolving around this story. Most notably, it’s ironic a story about beef and climate change is headlining in the airport. Airports are bustling places that epitomize mobility. Transportation as a whole accounts for 28% of U.S. GHG output – over nine times bigger than the livestock industry.

All that aside, this is now the third consecutive column I’ve written about climate change as it relates to mainstream media. Sensationalism seems to take priority over journalism, and in this instance, CNN thought it appropriate to disparage an entire industry.

That said, it’s fair game to turn it all around. Let’s account for the carbon footprint associated with just this story. We’ll add up all the GHG emissions tied to creating and broadcasting “An Overlooked Cause of Global Warming: Beef.” Some of the major sources would include airline flights, rental cars, maintaining production studios and electricity to run things like computers, cameras. I wonder if Walsh thought on that before he trekked out for this story.

But then comes the big one: I’d like to know the total number of TVs running 24-hours a day across all the airports in the U.S. (most of which stream CNN on a constant basis). The carbon footprint is likely sizeable. First, there’s the matter of manufacturing and shipping TVs across the globe (and updating them every several years). And then, there’s the cumulative use of electricity keeping screens live every day.

In total, it’s safe to say those TVs represent “an overlooked cause of global warming.” With that in mind, in the coming year I’m going to do my part of help reduce GHG emissions. You can be sure, I’ll keep eating beef. Rather, my 2019 climate change resolution is to stop watching TV at the airport.


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