You gotta be kidding me. That’s a pretty steep price to leave a huge individual carbon footprint for a 90-minute flight.
In a time where farmers and ranchers are constantly defending our livelihood and practices against misinformation, false narratives and propaganda targeted at reducing meat consumption and denigrating agriculture, Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic are embracing hypocrisy to offer people the chance to experience four minutes of weightlessness, 50 miles above Earth’s surface. I am not sure I can adequately describe how infuriating this news it to me and other farmers and ranchers.
Don’t forget, Richard Branson – owner of Virgin Galactic and who stands to profit tremendously from these space joyrides – is an avid anti-beef voice because of his opinion of cows’ impact on the planet. Last time I checked with the Environmental Protection Agency, they made it pretty clear that transportation – planes, trains, automobiles and now, space rockets – are by far the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions at nearly 1/3 of the total U.S. GHG. Electricity generation and industry (aka making the newest gadgets for our consumer-driven society) clock in at a very close second and third. Agriculture is a minor contributor at 10%, which is pretty minimal considering it’s the industry that feeds our nation and, of that, livestock aren’t even the biggest sector (cattle are 2%)!
A small bit of research shows that the SpaceShipTwo Unity, which will carry the space joyriders (Virgin’s goal is to have 1,000 tickets sold in 2022), is powered by burning rubber (HTPB – hydroxyl-terminated polybutadiene). Butadiene is found in ambient air in urban and suburban areas because it’s constantly emitted from vehicles. Let me break that down for you: rubber is made from fossil fuels and burning it leaves behind soot. The rocket fuel is an oil-based fuel source which will not help us battle climate change. I cannot make up this level of hypocrisy.
Let’s also not overlook that a space joyride generates the same pollution as a 10-hour trans-Atlantic flight, but only serves six people (max).
At least a trans-Atlantic flight serves hundreds of people at one time, traveling for work and pleasure, which makes the environmental impact much more acceptable. A joyride for six people (max) that pollutes the air at this rate is two things: selfish and short-sighted. In twenty years, what will the impact of these joyrides look like on our atmosphere? What about holes in the ozone? How does burning rubber in the atmosphere affect our climate? We don’t know what the effects of these flights will be but we do know a few things about agriculture and cattle:
- According to the EPA, cattle are responsible for 2% of GHG emissions.³
- Cattle are contributing to net afforestation in the U.S. which is the opposite of tree removal.¹
- Between 1961 and 2019, the U.S. beef industry, through continued sustainability efforts and improved resource use, has reduced emissions per pound of beef produced by more than 40% while also producing more than 67% more beef per animal.²
- The U.S. produces 18% of the world’s beef with only 6% of the world’s cattle – this shows how good we are at using resources responsibly and efficiently.
- Most importantly, even though agriculture has a much lower impact on the environment than cars and industry, farmers and ranchers are still working to reduce our impact, because the environment means a lot to us. This is where we live. We want clean air and water and wide open spaces, more-so than anyone else, for sure.
Do not attempt to tell me that agriculture is ruining things when millions of people, who are denigrating cows and burgers but taking space joyrides, refuse to make small changes to their lives to help our planet. Changes like using public transportation, reducing food waste and recycling are all very easy to implement. But I guess it must be easier to blame cattle than take a bus, eat leftovers or carpool.
STOP. BLAMING. COWS. please.
I’m so frustrated that I need to take a page from Taylor Swift, step away and “I need to calm down.”**
Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~
*The fact that I even quoted Taylor Swift lyrics shows how out of whack I am over this news.
¹Masek, et al. 2011. Recent rates of forest harvest and conversion in North America. JOURNAL OF GEOPHYSICAL RESEARCH, VOL. 116. https://www.fs.fed.us/rm/pubs_other/rmrs_2011_masek_j001.pdf
²’³Sustainability Research: Statistics on U.S. Improvements in Beef Production and Emission Intensity. https://www.beefresearch.org/programs/beef-sustainability.