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Bovine flatulence — seriously?

By Staff | Mar 15, 2019

Multi-Billionaire Warren Buffet never got excited about farmland investment but his son Howard did. I think that Howard Buffet liked being called a farmer after writing the book “Forty Chances Finding Hope in a Hungry World.” He was a bit off though or I am above average. He was referring to most farmers who grow crops for 40 seasons in their lives. 2019 will be my 46th crop and I had just as well go for an even 50.

Donald J. Trump is a farmer too if you consider his winery in Virginia. He bought it out from a bankruptcy from the Farm Credit System who had ended up with it. Multi-billionaire Bill Gates became a farmer this year with the purchase of 14,500 acres in Southern Washington (10,000 acres cropland 3,900 rangeland and 140 acres known as horse heaven) for $171 million. Gates, worth an estimated 98.9 billion, is the second richest U.S. citizen behind Jeff Bezos who owns Amazon who was worth $137 billion before his divorce. Gates is well married to Melinda, having made a good decision there too. One point that I will make is that most all the real billionaires, including Elon Musk, do not give much thought to whether climate change is real, having concluded long ago that it was. They are into managing risk.

This is a big deal to Warren Buffet who is into reinsuring insurance companies. He thinks that climate change is going to significantly increase claims, which impacts his bottom him. He uses it when another insurance company gets hit hard by a catastrophe like a hurricane that drains their capital. Then the next year in order to maintain their policies the injured company is forced to buy re-insurance to spread their risk and it is Warren to the rescue. He charges them more for that. Odds are there will not be two major hurricanes hitting in exactly the same place back to back and he collects.

He wrote in his annual letter that he has become concerned that there will be an upcoming “mega catastrophe” of such unprecedented scale of destruction that it will not only knock insurance companies on their backs but rock the financial system. Now I am going to tell you, he did not think that up all on his own. He hires some pretty smart people who analyze weather and climate and they have made him a few billion. He is simply telling us what they told him and he believes them…climate change is real and will impact company’s bottom line.

Donald J. Trump (DJT) tells us that climate change is a hoax perpetrated on us by China to make us uncompetitive. We really do not know what DJT really thinks of climate change as he will take whatever transactional position benefits him politically with his base telling them what they want to hear. The other multi-billionaires: Buffet, Gates and Bezos all accept the science-based consensus that climate change is a major national security risk. They also make DJT look like a pauper and think that he is an idiot. I did not want to get into a climate change argument here but I think that I have seen the climate change here over my lifetime where we live.

What I really wanted to talk about is the Bill and Melinda gates annual letter. Their 2018 letter was entitled, “What We Didn’t See Coming”. Bill and Melinda have invested and bequeathed a lot of money into improving the world. They are looking ahead at future problems and invest in solutions. They do not do it for profit but there should be some. They are actually quite optimistic over the progress of the human race and see the quality of living having made outstanding progress from global economic growth.

Here is what Bill had to say about climate change. “I wish more people fully understood what it will take to stop climate change. You have probably read about some of the progress on electricity, as renewables get cheaper. But electricity accounts for only a quarter of all greenhouse gases emitted around the world. Manufacturing isn’t far behind, at 21 percent. When most people think of manufacturing, they picture widgets on assembly lines, but it also includes the materials used in buildings. Making cement and steel requires lots of energy from fossil fuels, and the processes involved release carbon as a byproduct.”

“Manufacturing isn’t the only big emitter. Agriculture accounts for 24 percent of greenhouse gases. That includes cattle, which give off methane when they belch and pass gas. (a personal surprise for me: I never thought I’d be writing seriously about bovine flatulence.) The larger point is that if we’re going to solve climate change, we need to get to near-zero emissions on all the things that drive it – agriculture, electricity, manufacturing, transportation, and buildings. I call these five areas the grand challenges in climate change.”

“It’s not realistic to think that people will simply stop using fertilizer, running cargo ships, building offices, or flying airplanes. Nor is it fair to ask developing countries to curtail their growth for the sake of everyone else. For example, for many people in low and middle income countries, cattle are an essential source of income and nutrients. Part of the solution is to invest in innovation in all five sectors so we can do these things without destroying the climate. We need breakthrough inventions in each of the grand challenges.”

Mention cow flatulence contributing to climate change and it is heard as fighting words to cattlemen. When interviewed, Gates was asked about cow flatulence and he said again that he was not advocating getting rid of cows. After all, Oklahoma just made the rib-eye that state’s official cut of steak…something that we can agree on. Gates is not an ideologue. Few are as pragmatic. Gates said that more research should be put into finding ways to reduce bovine flatulence: feed additives and such. Researchers found that by adding a small amount of red seaweed to cattle rations it disrupts the enzymes that create methane and can reduce it by 99 percent. But you have to understand what that problem is, what it comes from, so you can determine what can realistically be done to solve it. I don’t think that we are going to give up ice cream, in fact, a warmer world should increase demand for it.

David Kruse is president of CommStock Investments Inc., author and producer of The CommStock Report, an ag commentary and market analysis available daily by radio and by subscription on DTN/FarmDayta and the Internet.

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