Medicine For People!

May 2016: Cows and Coal

Texas LonghornBy Clinton & Charles Robertson from Del Rio, Texas & San Marcos, TX, USA - Texas Longhorn Steer, CC BY 2.0,

Cows and Coal


  • Cows and coal pack a double whammy
  • The Power Industry's Dirty Secret
  • Meat and Methane
  • Meat and You
  • Easy Healthful Cooking
  • We Get Mail
  • Information Resources re Coal and Cows

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Cows and Coal

Cows and coal pack a double whammy

The two industries of cattle and coal together contribute half of our damage to the atmosphere. How many knew that, class? Each industry also has measurable health consequences.

The Power Industry's Dirty Secret

In the U.S., coal-fired power plants contribute 30% of the carbon dioxide we pour into the atmosphere.

Journalists frequently point out the tremendous pollution from Chinese coal-fired power plants. What they don't tell you is that we burn just as much coal per person as the Chinese do. Despite the corporate lies about "clean coal," thousands of people die as a result. That's in addition to the problem of the carbon going into the air.

When we burn over 900,000,000 tons of the stuff each year, even the impurities in clean coal add up. Every year, our national smokestacks push out over:

  • 175,000 pounds of lead
  • 160,000 pounds of chromium
  • 95,000 pounds of mercury

The coal industry pumps another 130,000,000 tons of solid waste into abandoned mines or impoundment ponds. Most of this ends up in the water supply, and some of this effluent ends up in our skeletal systems. We modern humans carry 500 times as much lead in our bodies as did primitive peoples.

The annual cost of pollution from coal is $100 billion for healthcare and the premature deaths of 13,000 Americans. Those deaths are not quick and painless as with a heart attack; most of these people struggle for breath for quite a while first.

Pollution from the Monroe Power Plant in Michigan alone is estimated to kill some 278 people each year. Over 300 coal miners die in our mines every year, and another 50 expire from black lung disease.

That's just part of the cost of coal.

Meat and Methane

The other major threat to our environment is hidden in plain sight, right next to those mashed potatoes and asparagus. Many of you who do not eat beef or pork are aware of this problem, but if you aren't, the word is methane.

Many animals, including humans and pigs, pass methane in their intestinal gas. Cows, chewing their cud as they do, burp most of their methane. While this sounds amusing, it is terrible for the environment. Pound for pound, methane heats the atmosphere over 20 times as much as does carbon dioxide; beef production alone contributes about 20% of the entire amount of human damage to our atmosphere.

As I suppose you must have, I grew up holding a strong positive regard for the hamburger. It had no cachet, but could fill you up with little damage to the wallet. However, now that I've seen the ocean lapping at the shores of Miami and Calcutta, that innocent portion of cow seems to be biting back!

Meat and You

And just like coal, meat shortens lives. Reports vary, but two studies reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that two decades of meat eating, in comparison to vegetarianism, decreased the average lifespan by 3.6 years. A study of over 70,000 Seventh Day Adventists found that those who were vegetarians had an annual death rate that was 10 to 20% lower than that of meat-eaters.

Meat eaters have been shown to have higher rates of stroke, heart attack, diabetes, cancer, and obesity. A meat diet encourages unfriendly bacteria in the intestine, which results in a weaker immune system and increased tendency to diverticulosis. Contrary to what many think, meat-free diets easily supply all the protein you need. Add eggs and you don't need vitamin B12 supplements.

Easy Healthful Cooking

Not long ago Kitti Delong, Gary Smith, and I put together a few videos demonstrating healthful non-meat cooking. You may watch these on our website here

We Get Mail

In response to last month's newsletter, one reader writes:

"Well, it's okay as far as getting folks individually to clean up their acts in order to feel good about themselves but these things are just tokens really in a developed world that continues to lead convenient, consumption life styles under a massive dark cloud of denial of what's going on and our utter inability to do much about. I think most of us would welcome positive change as long as it's the "the others" that change. I like to think that we are lemmings on wheels, heading down the information highway, racing the new four horsemen, convenience, consumption, smugness, and denial towards the cliff with the rocks of extinction down below.

However, to let you know that I'm cleaning up my act, not that I think it will make a difference in the overall picture, but so I can go out with as clean a soul as I can (but I'm no martyr) In the last year, I've stopped flying, sold my truck, bought a used Prius, almost doubling my mileage, stopped eating meat from any ruminate who produces methane gas ( also it takes 800 -1200 gals water to produce lb. of beef) and reduced my living space from 1400 to 400 plus sg. ft. A little hubris here. I own nothing except my car and personal stuff. But I do own corporate bonds, a dilemma for me since I think corporations are destroying the world. Should I let my money rot in bank or make it grow so I can make it to the great expanse and not be burden on my kids. Easy choice.

(signed) Jon L

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt letter, Jon.

Office Schedule

No, I have no wish to hang up my stethoscope and retire, but in May I am going to pretend for a few weeks. We'll be closed May 4 through 22 while I go warm my bones in Hawaii. Bonnie and Dawn with be in once or twice a week; details on the phone message and website office calendar.

Free Levemir

We have some un-opened insulin detemir pens, donated by someone who doesn't need them anymore. Please come take them if you need them, before they expire.

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Information Resources re: Coal and Cows


NASA calculates that coal is far more dangerous than nuclear power.

Current US energy sources

The Clean Air Task Force analyzes the health consequences of burning coal.

Health consequences of coal in a simple graph.


More about methane:

The downsides of meat:

Vegetarians live longer:

Offsetting Your Personal Carbon Output:

Newsletter edited by Jody Bower.



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Medicine for People! is published by Douwe Rienstra, MD at Port Townsend, Washington.