In early February, newly elected US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and US Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), unveiled their Green New Deal, an ambitious resolution that aims to remake the US economy and address climate change. A key component of the deal is for the country to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
Then all hell broke loose.
In the initial outline of the resolution, the lawmakers explained that the goal was to get to net-zero rather than zero emissions because they weren’t sure that they would be able to “fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast.”
Okay, so that wording could have been finessed. But conservatives — who have seemingly replaced Hillary Clinton with Ocasio-Cortez for the No. 1 spot on their political hit list — immediately began attacking both the deal and the representative, making claims that Democrats were going to “take away your hamburgers” and “get rid of all cows.”
Most of the backlash came during the Conservative Political Action Conference, which took place from Feb. 27 through March 2.
There, Sebastian Gorka, who previously served as deputy assistant to Trump in 2017, made ludicrous comments that equated the Green New Deal with Stalinism.
“They want to take your pickup truck! They want to rebuild your home! They want to take away your hamburgers! This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved!” he exclaimed.
A closer look at the actual proposal finds that none of these things is true. Of course.
Instead, the resolution calls for a 10-year national mobilization with actual goals: guaranteeing jobs with family-sustaining wages, providing citizens with high-quality health care, affordable housing, repairing infrastructure, building energy-efficient power grids, overhauling transportation systems to eliminate pollution and meeting 100 percent of the power demand through clean, renewable and zero-emission energy sources.
In a recent interview for an article for the New Yorker, which was provocatively titled, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is coming for your hamburgers!,” Ocasio-Cortez pointed out the absurdity of the reactions.
“Apparently, I am a cow dictator,” she said. “What’s humorous to me is that we’re finally proposing a clear, ambitious, but necessary and grounded policy on the scale of the problem. And so it’s hard for the Republicans to refute the actual policy on its substance. They resort to mythologizing it on a ludicrous level.”
And if you look at the facts, it’s true that cows and, well, their farts contribute to a significant amount of greenhouse gasses and climate change.
According to the EPA, livestock farming alone is responsible for about 10 percent of greenhouse gases. Most of the output is in the form of methane, a greenhouse gas more potent by volume than carbon dioxide. The agency estimates that 26 percent of methane emissions comes from “enteric fermentation” or basically, livestock’s digestive processes, and that another 10 percent comes from manure management.
So yes, the overall effect of agriculture is low compared to larger outputs like transportation, electricity production and burning fossil fuels. But when Americans are eating three hamburgers on average per week, according to PBS, cutting down to maybe one a week to help save the planet doesn’t seem like such an outrageous or unrealistic goal.
But that would also require admitting climate change is real.