Only a tiny minority of rural Britons are farmers – so why do they hold such sway? | George Monbiot

The government pretends that farming and the countryside are synonymous – and our environment suffers as a result

We have a problem. The environment secretary, George Eustice – the highest green authority in the land – is, in a crucial respect, a climate denier. In an interview with the Telegraph, he claimed that “livestock, particularly if you do it with the right pastoral system, has a role to play in tackling climate change”.

Though such claims are often made, there is no evidence to support them. A wide-ranging review of the data by the Oxford Martin School found no case of a livestock operation sequestering more greenhouse gases than the animals produce. Moreover, because of the very large land area required for grazing livestock, pastoral systems carry a massive carbon opportunity cost (this means the carbon that would be captured if the land were returned to wild ecosystems). According to the government’s Climate Change Committee, “transitioning from grassland to forestland would increase the soil carbon stock by 25 tonnes of carbon per hectare (on average across England) … This is additional to the large amounts of carbon that would be stored in the biomass of the trees themselves.”

George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

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