Billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates has been vocal on the need for people to reduce their reliance on livestock in order to cut emissions, but social media posts claim he once went further and said a cow emits more pollution than a car.
The claim is false. While the Microsoft founder has expressed concerns about the greenhouse gas emissions of cattle, there is no evidence he ever made the purported comparison in any of his public statements. A spokeswoman for Mr Gates denied he had ever said the comments.
An April 7 post (screenshot here) from the Facebook page Climate Change is Crap, which is managed by users in Australia, includes a meme with the text: “Bill Gates is claiming that a cow emits more pollution than a car.”
The meme goes on to imagine a person locking themselves in a garage with a cow overnight while Mr Gates locks himself in another garage with a running car. “In the morning, we can meet up and compare the results,” it concludes.
A spokeswoman for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation told AAP FactCheck in an email that Mr Gates “never said one cow emits more pollution than one car”.
Mr Gates is a high-profile activist for action to combat climate change who has repeatedly singled out the extent to which agriculture, livestock and cattle contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
In an October 2021 white paper, he noted global sources of greenhouse gases (page 2) and identified that passenger cars accounted for 7 per cent of emissions, while livestock agriculture accounted for 6 per cent, according to figures from the Rhodium Group research institute.
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organisation has identified that cattle represent 65 per cent of all livestock emissions, although the largest share of this was from feed production and processing rather than direct emissions from the animals.
In his 2021 book How To Avoid A Climate Disaster, Mr Gates discussed methane emissions created by cow flatulence and belching, writing: “The methane they burp and fart out every year has the same warming effect as 2 billion tons of carbon dioxide, accounting for about 4 per cent of all global emissions” (page 114). He also mentioned cattle as a significant source of methane in essays from 2018 and 2019.
In a 2019 annual letter, Mr Gates wrote that “agriculture accounts for 24 per cent of greenhouse gases”, based on 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change figures. “That includes cattle, which give off methane when they belch and pass gas,” he wrote (page 3). Mr Gates also mentioned cow flatulence in interviews with CNN and The Guardian, among other media outlets.
“Cows, with their burps and farts, are a good example of something that contributes to climate change but isn’t related to generating electricity,” he wrote in 2019. In a 2021 interview with MIT Technology Review, Mr Gates said meat consumption should be cut and he believed “all rich countries should move to 100% synthetic beef”.
However, none of the interviews, essays or other works include any references to a cow emitting more pollution than a car, nor could AAP FactCheck find any evidence of Mr Gates making similar statements. None of the social media posts provide any source for the purported comment.
A 2019 fact check by Climate Feedback, based on a claim from British bank Barclays, noted the suggestion cows had more impact on the climate than cars was inaccurate when allowing for the fact that carbon dioxide lasted far longer in the atmosphere than methane from cattle.
While Bill Gates has spoken frequently about climate change and the need to reduce emissions from cattle, there is no evidence he has ever said a cow emits more pollution than a car as claimed.
A spokeswoman for Mr Gates denied he made the comparison, and AAP FactCheck found no record of similar statements in his various speeches, interviews and other works on the topic. Social media posts containing the purported quote do not provide any source for the statement.
False – The claim is inaccurate.