Confirmation Bias

Black and white cows in a green field
Photo by Monika Kubala on Unsplash

I read an article the other day called “Why taxing cow burps isn’t the best climate solution“. In the article, Kevin Trenberth explains why methane released from cattle, which has been brought to the fore and vilified recently, isn’t nearly as bad as people claim. The reason for this is the carbon cycle. Unlike fossil fuels, which release methane that is not part of the natural cycle, cow flatulence is a closed loop. The cow eats the grass and releases methane. The methane turns to carbon dioxide and is reabsorbed by the grass, which is then eaten again, etc. etc.

I’ve questioned the methane-from-cows-is-destroying-the-world idea for a long time. I learned about the carbon cycle a long time ago in school. If what I learned is accurate, then it doesn’t make sense to blame animals for climate change. When I learned about climate change, again, a long time ago in school (like the 1980s a long time ago), I learned that it was carbon from outside of the cycle that contributed to warming. I could just never understand the idea that carbon from cows was evil. How it became accepted fact I don’t know.

So, when I read Trenberth’s article, it felt good. Finally, someone was saying what I’ve always believed. Only now, I’m questioning myself. This is a perfect case of confirmation bias. The article was convincing to me, but I have no way of knowing if that’s because it’s true or if it’s because it aligns with what I already believed.

The real problem is I don’t know how to overcome the doubt. If I read more articles that I agree with, that might just be more confirmation bias. But whenever I read the other side, there’s never any explanation of why cow burps are bad, it’s just taken as a given. I guess I’ll have to live with the doubt. I just hope they tackle fossil fuels before they decide to wipe out all the cattle.

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