An Inconvenient Ruminant

The inconvenient ruminant in question is the North American Bison, colloquially known as an American Buffalo.

An American Bison [wikipedia: Jack Dykinga]
The American Buffalo is a potent symbol in the USA and Canada. They have been called Buffalos since the very first European settlers arrived in the mid 1600’s and generally that is what they are known as today.

In fact there are two different subspecies of American Buffalo. The Plains Bison and the Wood Bison. Both are large animals with the Woods Bison being among the biggest of bovine animals in the world and certainly the biggest land animal in the Americas

The American Bison is undoubtedly a magnificent wild beast. But as a species they presents a bit of a problem for Vegan and other Climate Change fanatics like Extinction Rebellion. These are the people who are seeking to reduce/ban/outlaw meat eating on some half-baked delusion that disavowing meat and substituting (say) Mung beans will save the planet.

Let me tell you (with help from the history of the American Bison) why they are wrong.

But first let us just review what exactly the argument against meat production is, and why it is actually deeply flawed even without bringing the American Bison into the argument.

The general attack on the livestock industry these days centres around Climate Change and a blinkered mindset that somehow has convinced itself that animal husbandry is a "bad thing"

The main thrust of the Vegan/Extinction Rebellion argument is that domestic ruminants (mainly cattle) emit large quantities of methane. Methane is a known greenhouse warming gas with an immediate impact. Initially this impact is many times the forcing impact of an equivalent amount of Carbon Dioxide.

So you would think that the more cattle you had then the worse it would be. Over a decadel time-scale (ten years or so) and to an limited extent, that is true.

But Methane is a volatile gas and quickly breaks down in the atmosphere. It decays away exponentially. Within 18 months of a release half is gone. Within 12 years the amount left is immeasurable.

So if your ruminant herd size is stable then the warming effect from the methane release from this herd is stable. If you increase the herd size then it is true the methane release increases. But the warming effect from this increase stabilises within ten years. The net result is that for all countries with more or less stable ruminant herd sizes the contribution to global warming is already factored in. Further warming from these stable herds will be nil. Zilch. Nada.

If you want some proof of this then try this post on the British Veterinary Associations website HERE. But better still refer to the actual paper from Oxford University (IPCC researchers none the less) HERE.

Remember though. We haven’t got to the inconvenient history of the American Bison yet.

American Bisons come from countries (the USA and Canada) that the average Vegan zealot would regard as the arch-criminals of meat eating Methane production.

The USA has between 60 and 80 million cattle, all farting and burping (mostly burping) out their Methane like there was no tomorrow. But, as shown by Oxford University, if the herd size is stable, all that warming from Methane is already factored in.

This is not a gaseous Armageddon in the making. But it gets even more interesting. In fact on an historical timescale there is a reasonable chance that total ruminant emissions, (including the millions of domestic cows) may well be lower now than it was 400 years ago.

How come?  It comes down to a (real) man-made ecological disaster that befel the American Bison in the 19th century.

American Bisons or Buffaloes (call them what you will) were nearly hunted to extinction from around 1830 through to 1880.

By 1880 there were less than 1000 American Buffalos left. Luckily, even in those dark days there were people who recognised the importance in preserving these magnificent beasts.

The American Plains Buffalo was rescued from the brink of extinction. The Woods Buffalo though was feared to be extinct for over 70 years.

Then by sheer luck a herd of 200 were found in a remote part Northern Alberta in Canada in 1957.

Today in total there are about 500,000 American Buffalos in existence. Their recovery from the brink of extinction is an epic tale and something we should all be proud of. Just as we should be truly appalled how they got to the point of extinction in the first place.

So what? You may ask. How does this relate to methane release?

One simple figure should tip you off.

Remember those 500,000 American Buffalos that exist today?

Well, that number is probably less than one per cent of the estimated herd size back in 1700.

Back in 1700 the American Buffalo herd size has been estimated at being between a low of 30 million and up to 75 million. There is even a possibility it topped 100 million. A total herd population of 60 million seems to be the consensus estimate. The herds of Buffalo once stretched from down in Miami right up to Alaska.

The net result of the hunting carnage in the 19th century is that today the methane emissions from the domestic American cattle herd is largely offset and maybe completely offset by that from the slaughtered (and now missing) 60 million American Bison.

So cattle ranching in the USA and Canada has in reality only brought ruminant methane release back up to around that in pre-settlement days.

Nobody suggests that the wanton slaughter of 60 million American Bison in the 19th century was a “good thing”. Far from it.

But it does mean that today the scare stories surrounding methane release from domestic cattle in the USA and Canada are at best over-blown.

At worst they are a myth.

There is quite a good Wikipedia piece on the American Bison HERE

More information on methane release by Bison and other wild ruminants can be found in This Article

What looks like an interesting book (only skimmed it so far) from the 1890’s titled:

The Extermination of the American Bison 
by William T. Hornaday

Hornaday was the Superintendent of the U.S. National Zoological Park. It looks like he was one of the heroes who saved the day as far as the American Bison was concerned.

His book is available for free from the Gutenberg project on THIS LINK.

Domestic Electricity Prices & Wind Turbine Subsidies

Nearly nine years ago I wrote a blog post analysing the consumer electricity price differences between European countries. This was based on the table below which came from  THIS SITE.

The original post is HERE.

European Electricity Prices in 2011

The data was sobering. Especially with how the price appeared to track the level of installed wind power within the country.

I intended to update this on a regular basis but for some reason the website stopped making the data available. Eventually  I gave up trying and forgot about it.

By chance (as it is the year end) I was looking at the stats for this blog. I noticed that the old post on European electricity prices (now nearly nine years old) was still getting a fair amount of traffic.

So yesterday I went back onto the The European Energy Portal just in case they had any links to up-to-date data. The good news is that they have restarted providing the data. So now I can at least (after a delay of eight and a half years) update the original.

The readings today, after nearly nine years of rampant and virtually unconstrained development of industrial wind turbines and other RE make for even more sober analysis than before.

Here’s the new table of European electricity prices.

European Electricity Prices 2019

You will notice that the relative price between countries is virtually unchanged. Denmark still hosts the most expensive household electricity. Germany is again a close second. Sweden is today marginally cheaper than France but both have undergone significant price increases. Especially France which has politically disavowed its clean cheap and effective nuclear power in favour of yet more wind turbines.

Bulgaria still has the cheapest electricity in Europe with a virtually unchanged price. Interestingly Austria has also maintained its 2011 price.

Many European countries though have suffered large real-value increases in the price of their electricity. Often well above inflation.

The UK is a case in point. The is a period of eight years between the original post and the updated table. The price (in Euros) over this time went up from 15c to over 22c. That’s a rise of over 7c or a rise of about 50% unadjusted for inflation.

FROM HERE price inflation in the UK since 2011 to 2019 was 21%. So the rise in electricity prices in the UK over this eight year period has on average been at more than double the annual rate of inflation.

So why is this?

Maybe gas prices have gone up? (gas accounts for about one half of UK electricity generation)


The gas spot price is actually cheaper today than it was in 2011, and by a considerable margin.

Is nuclear adding to the cost?


In fact what nuclear there is left is now more efficient and cost effective than ever. Today nuclear power offers the cheapest electricity on the UK market.

Coal as a major UK electricity generating fuel is no more. It is a bit part player. Besides, the coal price (like the gas price) is considerably lower today than in 2011.

But there is a large new added cost since 2011 and that cost is associated with Renewable Energy.

There’s been lots of smoke and mirrors about how “cheap” wind power and solar have become but you only have to dig a little way into data to show the truth.

As the years have gone on the amount of subsidy to wind turbines you provide from your electricity bill has steadily gone up.

It is the old “boiling frog” approach to implementing a considerable price hike over time.

Disguised by the natural fluctuation of the market due to fuel price changes the price of electricity has been slowly and carefully ratcheted up over many years.

Today for every five pounds you spend on your consumer electricity bill, one pound is allocated to what is known as “Environmental and social costs”.

According to OfGem:
These are the costs of government programmes to save energy, reduce emissions and encourage take up of renewable energy. 

Of that 20%, the Lions share is used provide subsidy payments to Wind turbine operators and and solar PV owners. Mostly it goes on wind turbines.

The vast majority of these subsidy payments are made through what are known as ROC certificates. This is a subsidy scheme that is now obsolete but will still impact your bill for the next 20 or so years.

The RO scheme has been replaced by an even more duplicitous (and still lucrative) scheme called Contracts for Difference. But as of today ROC payments form the majority of wind turbine subsidy.

In other words the majority of the 20% added to your bill as “Environmental and Social Costs” is the amount you pay to subsidise wind turbines and to a lesser extent solar PV.

Paltry amounts out of this 20% go to improving home insulation or to providing remote locations with electricity.

So, you may be surprised to find that your annual electricity bill shows far less of an increase than  this boiling frog price hike suggests.

This is because people now use less electricity than in 2011.


Because today we have more efficient appliances, particularly electric light bulbs, but white goods are much better too.

So just think:

All that money you spent on LED bulbs and eco-friendly washing machines has been used not to reduce your electricity bill, but to line the pockets of the big companies running wind turbines. 

And it will continue to be used in the same way for the foreseeable future.

Today for every MWh of electricity produced the generating company must provide 0.484 ROC certificates. The value of a ROC certificate in 2020 has been set at £48.78 per ROC. This cost is passed directly through to the customer.

A typical consumer uses 3.7MWh electricity per year. Maybe you use more. Maybe less.

So work it out yourself how much you are subsidising wind turbines by.

I don’t think you will be amused.