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- Neither Bill Gates nor Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have said cows emitted more pollution than cars.
- Cows emit methane into the atmosphere by belching as a result of a fermentation process in their stomach. Cars emit carbon dioxide by burning fuel for energy.
- While methane is nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in contributing to climate change, it breaks down in the atmosphere after 12 years. Carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for several hundreds of years.
Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., have talked in the past about the pressing need for governments and corporations to take climate change seriously, including the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture industry.
One Facebook post took this a step further by claiming the two said "a cow emits more pollution than a car."
The post features an image of Gates and Ocasio-Cortez with a cartoon illustration of a cow. Underneath the image is text that makes a reference to using an idling car in an enclosed space for carbon monoxide poisoning.
"How bout I spend the night in a garage with a cow, and they spend the night in a garage with a running car," text underneath the image reads. "Then we can meet up the next morning to discuss."
The post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.)
The emissions coming from a cow and those from a car are not one in the same.
A cow produces methane gas when partially digested food like grass is fermented within the rumen, one of a cow’s four stomach compartments. That gas is built up during fermentation and expelled by the cow through belching and, occasionally, flatulence.
Cars with internal combustion engines primarily produce carbon dioxide as a byproduct when fuel is burned to provide energy.
A single cow will expel an average of 220 pounds of methane per year, according to the University of California, Davis.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency reports that a typical car will emit an average of 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.
Methane gas is nearly 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to contributing to climate change, UC Davis reports.
Despite methane's potency, it only lasts for about 12 years in the atmosphere before a majority of it is removed through oxidation. Experts at UC Davis theorize that it’s possible the amount of methane that cows emit into the atmosphere is the same as the amount that breaks down.
As for carbon dioxide, the university said it can last anywhere from several hundred to a thousand years in the Earth's atmosphere before breaking down. Meaning the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will continue to build up more and more in the atmosphere and will take centuries before disappearing.
A spokesperson for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation told PolitiFact Gates has never said anything about cows producing more pollution than cars. Although a representative for Ocasio-Cortez’s office did not return a request for comment, we could not find any public remarks or written statements similar to the claim in the Facebook post made by the congresswoman.
However, both have talked in the past about the link between the agriculture industry and climate change.
Gates published a research paper in October 2021 detailing the need to make green technologies more affordable and accessible than their carbon-emitting counterparts. He mentioned in the report that livestock contributed 6% of global greenhouse gas emissions while passenger cars emitted 7%.
Gates has also previously talked about the possibility of developed nations transitioning entirely to eating synthetic beef to help reduce the need for livestock, thereby lowering greenhouse gas emissions.
Ocasio-Cortez briefly came under fire in 2019 when an FAQ shared by her office regarding the Green New Deal, a proposed resolution she co-sponsored to help address climate change, included a line about "farting cows."
"We set a goal to get to net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast," the FAQ said.
The mention of "farting cows" did not appear in the resolution itself.
The resolution also mentioned the need to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, but makes no comparison to the emission of cars with those of cows.
Similar to Gates, Ocasio-Cortez has also advocated for the need to eat less meat and dairy products as a way to help address climate change.
"It’s not to say you get rid of agriculture. It’s not to say we’re going to force everybody to go vegan or anything crazy like that," she said on the show. "But it’s to say, listen, we’ve got to address factory farming. Maybe we shouldn’t be eating a hamburger for breakfast, lunch and dinner."
A Facebook post claims Gates Ocasio-Cortez said cows emitted more pollution than cars.
Although both have talked about climate change in the past and the roles that fossil fuels and livestock play in greenhouse gas emissions, neither have said anything resembling the claim in the Facebook post.
The methane emitted by cows is more potent in contributing to climate change, but it breaks down in the atmosphere considerably more quickly than the carbon dioxide from cars.
We rate the Facebook post False.
Facebook post, July 31, 2022
CLEAR Center at UC Davis, "How Do Cattle Produce Methane," Oct. 23, 2019
CLEAR Center at UC Davis, "Why methane from cattle warms the climate differently than CO2 from fossil fuels," July 7, 2020
Environmental Protection Agency, Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle, accessed Aug. 12, 2022
Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Number of U.S. Aircraft, Vehicles, Vessels, and Other Conveyances, accessed Aug. 12, 2022
Pew Research Center, "Today’s electric vehicle market: Slow growth in U.S., faster in China, Europe," June 7, 2021
United States Department of Agriculture, "United States cattle inventory down 2%," Jan. 31, 2022
Email with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Aug. 11, 2022
Bill Gates, "Financing the Clean Industrial Revolution," Oct. 29, 2021
MIT Technology Review, "Bill Gates: Rich nations should shift entirely to synthetic beef," Feb. 14, 2021
PolitiFact, "7 questions about the Green New Deal," Feb. 12, 2019
NPR, "Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez releases Green New Deal outline," Feb. 7, 2019
Eater, "Why conservatives won’t stop talking about burgers," Mar 1, 2019
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Twitter post, Feb. 5, 2019
Archive of Feb. 5, 2019 Twitter post
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