Monday, April 3, 2017

Vaclav Smil: Planet of the Cows

Our readers may know Mr. Smil as a big deal in the Thinking-about-Energy biz. Here he is thinking about bovines.
From IEEE Spectrum:

Planet of the Cows
Cows and people are the large animals that most dominate the environment
For years I have tried to imagine how Earth would appear to a comprehensive and discerning probe dispatched by wonderfully sapient extraterrestrials. Of course, the probe would immediately conclude, after counting all organisms, that most individuals are either microscopic (bacteria, archaea, protists, fungi, algae) or very small (insects) but also that their aggregate weight dominates the planetary biomass.

That would not be really surprising. What these tiny creatures lack in size they more than make up in numbers. Microbes occupy every conceivable niche of the biosphere, including many extreme environments. Bacteria account for about 90 percent of the human body’s living cells and as much as 3 percent of its total weight. What would be surprising, however, is the picture the probe would paint of the macroscopic forms of animal life, which is dominated by just two vertebrates—cattle (Bos taurus) and humans (Homo sapiens), in that order.

Unlike the extraterrestrial scientists, we do not get an instant readout. Even so, we can quantify cattle zoomass and human biomass (anthropomass) with a fair degree of accuracy. The numbers of large, domesticated ruminants in all high-income countries are known, and they can be reasonably estimated for all low-income and even pastoral societies. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations puts the global cattle count at about 1.5 billion head in 2015.

To convert these numbers into living ruminant zoomass requires adjustments for age and sex distribution. Large bulls weigh more than 1,000 kilograms (about 2,200 pounds); American beef cows are slaughtered when they reach nearly 600 kg, but Brazilian cattle go to market at less than 230 kg; and India’s famous Gir milk breed weighs less than 350 kg when mature. A good approximation is to assume an average sex- and age-weighted body mass of 400 kg; that implies a total live cattle zoomass of some 600 million metric tons.

Similarly, when calculating the total mass of humanity it is necessary to consider the age and body weights of populations. Low-income countries have much higher shares of children than affluent nations (in 2015 about 40 percent in Africa compared to about 15 percent in Europe). At the same time, the rates of overweight and obese people range from the negligible (in Africa) to 70 percent of the adult population (United States)....MORE
Previous Smil at Spectrum:
Vaclav Smil: "Advanced Economies Must Still Make Things"
Vaclav Smil: "Cellphones as a fifth-order elaboration of Maxwell’s theory"
Calories In, Kilowatts Out: Apparently Sweating Is Important
"Happy Birthday to Moore’s Law" (plus party pooper Vaclav Smil)

And previously in cows:
The Cows Are Trying To Kill Us
First Mathematical Model of Cow Behaviour 
"Beware of Cows"
Joe Weisenthal and Tracy Alloway: "What Mathematical Models of Herding Cows Can Teach Us About Markets"
"Robots Will Almost Certainly Not Train Cows To Kill Us All As Part Of Their Plan For Worldwide Domination"
'The one who makes cows cry': Prince Charles gets Maasai title as he visits Tanzanian tribe with Camilla
Move Over Wagyu/Kobe Beef: The Most Expensive Steak In The World Is Alexandre Polmard's 2000 Vintage Côte de Boeuf at $3200 Per
"World War 3 Will Be Fought Over A Cow: Indian Official"
I'm not exactly sure how to trade this. 
Voting With Their Hooves: "Dairy Cows Flee California Seeking a Better Economic Climate for Themselves and their Calves"
As we bid adieu to these intrepid bovines other climes extoll the virtues to be found in their jurisdictions:
...Two South Dakota dairy processors put up billboards in Tulare County, Calif., which has about 340,000 dairy cows, saying "All our cows in South Dakota are happy."...
Cattle as Proto-Money
In 2013 we visited both Cambridge's Simon Taylor and the FT's Izabella Kaminska in "The Political Economy of Cows: Udder Peoples Money".

In 2014 it was "What's Moooving: Cows as Safe Assets" where Alphaville's David Keohane made an appearance as well as Dogbert-Financial Advisor:
As Carnegie Mellon Financial Engineering prof. Dogbert explains, we are dealing with aggregates here:
 - Dilbert by Scott Adams
This, however, leads to a whole new set of problems that come from physically* bundling the cows into the Collateralized Cow Obligation wrapper.
They ask questions like "Does this CCO make my butt look big" and seriously, how can you answer that without incriminating yourself?
For this reason some practitioners prefer to stick with synthetic livestock, not to be confused with....ummm..., where was I?...
And many, many more of both Smil and cows, use the search blog box if interested.