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Geoengineering super low carbon cows: food and the corporate carbon economy in a low carbon world

Ormond, J. ORCID: (2020) Geoengineering super low carbon cows: food and the corporate carbon economy in a low carbon world. Climatic Change, 163 (1). pp. 135-153. ISSN 0165-0009

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1007/s10584-020-02766-7


The tangible progress to address climatic change remains painfully slow. As a result, practices to deliberately manipulate the Earth’s carbon and energy cycles to counteract climate change have gained traction and they are increasingly incorporated into mainstream debate. This paper examines one of the less documented examples of climate geoengineering, namely the creation of ‘super low carbon cows’. Driven by the public’s desire for a low carbon pint of milk or beef burger, I show how a combination of bioengineering, technological fixes and management practices have resulted in, and are informing, everyday changes to the way in which animals are bred, cared for and eaten—and in turn, how it affects the food that we consume. Thus, the role of the cow within the Anthropocene now extends from meat machine and sentient being to climate change saviour. I seek to show that super low carbon cows represent part of a wider climate ‘responsibilisation’ in which business interests and corporate storytelling are governing and enacting everyday mundane practices of climate engineering as part of the corporate carbon economy. Yet, as with other climate ‘fixes’, this paper shows that the super low carbon cow provides, at best, an imperfect correction. Critical gaps in the evidence of the efficiency of the solutions being advanced remain whilst manipulating an animal to be more climate friendly evokes unease when considering the wider sustainability and ethical impacts. Perhaps most critically, reliance on climate engineering to provide cheap and easy ways to control our climate fails to question, far less address, the ever-increasing demand, production and wastage of food. It also potentially undermines the already weak political will for other essential and more radical responses to climate change. In doing so, I contrast the extensive efforts to change the everyday behaviours of a cow with the limited attempts to meaningfully challenge the everyday practices, consumption lifestyles and dietary choices of the general public.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Archaeology, Geography and Environmental Science > Department of Geography and Environmental Science
ID Code:98367


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