In her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed, "Actually, Raising Beef Is Good For The Planet," Nicolette Hahn Niman, a self-described vegetarian rancher, argues that raising cattle has environmental consequences that have been exaggerated by mainstream science and the media. Contrary to conventional wisdom, which is that beef production is ecologically unsound, she insists that raising cattle can lead to "an environmental gain for the planet."
Op-ed writers such as Niman are not obligated to objectively report facts the way that standard news reporters are. Instead, their task is to curate their own evidence powerfully enough to cause doubt among believers-to shake things up a bit-in the service of making a point.
Niman's point concerns the virtues of grass-fed beef. As such, she has her work cut out for her. We've known since the 1960's, empirically speaking, that beef production wreaks substantial ecological havoc on already limited natural resources; and we know that, since that time-when the human population has doubled-that it's not only factory farms that cause ecological trouble, but small grass-fed operations run by environmentally conscious "stewards of the land."