MTG Asks Why Kansas Cows Died After Saying Hot Earth Will Help Feed People

Marjorie Taylor Greene has asked why thousands of cattle perished during an extreme heatwave in Kansas just weeks after saying that climate change would be good for food production.

"Why did thousands of cattle all die in a heat wave?" the Republican congresswoman from Georgia wrote on Twitter on June 29. "Usually just the old, sick, or weak die in stressful conditions, not the whole herd. Food security is national security."

Horrific footage showing the cow corpses lying dead went viral online in the middle of June. As of June 16, approximately 2,000 cattle deaths had been reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, with heat being cited as the cause. Large sections of Kansas are currently in the grip of a severe drought.

"This was a true weather event, it was isolated to a specific region in southwestern Kansas," A.J. Tarpoff, a cattle veterinarian with Kansas State University, told the Associated Press. "Yes, temperatures rose, but the more important reason why it was injurious was that we had a huge spike in humidity ... and at the same time wind speeds actually dropped substantially, which is rare for western Kansas."

The temperatures in certain areas of Kansas exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit, which when combined with low winds and high humidity, was too much for the cows to handle. "It was that sudden change that didn't allow the cattle to acclimate that caused the heat stress issues in them," Scarlett Hagins, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Livestock Association, told AP.

Extreme weather events are expected to become increasingly common as a result of climate change.

Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, and author of The New Climate War, told Newsweek climate change is going to threaten food security. "Climate change is already leading to more weather extremes—heat, drought, wildfire, floods, superstorms, and massive tornado outbreaks," he said. "Our own research suggests that, if anything, climate models are underestimating the impact climate change is having on these weather extremes and the potential for future increases with additional warming.

"This already is threatening food security, both in terms of the direct impacts of these extreme events e.g. withering heat waves and droughts that damage crops and threaten livestock, and the indirect effects [such as] disruption of supply chains and the food distribution system."

In an interview with Brian Glenn on the conservative Right Side Broadcasting Network on June 13, Greene said she thinks that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will do us more good than harm.

Marjorie Taylor Greene
US Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene at a press conference on June 15, 2021. Greene asked why thousands of cattle had died in Kansas during a recent heatwave. Getty Images

"The Earth is more green than it was years and years ago, and that's because of the Earth warming, it's because of carbon, because plants do need carbon. [Climate activists'] whole argument is not even scientific," she said.

"We've already warmed one degree Celsius and do you know what's happened since then? Let me tell you—we've had more food grown since then, which feeds people. We've been producing fossil fuels, [which] keeps people's houses warm in the winter. That saves people's lives. People die in the cold. This Earth warming, and carbon, is actually healthy for us. It helps us to feed people, it keeps people alive."

The Earth has indeed already heated up by 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. However, the negative effects of this change can already be seen, particularly in the recent drought-triggered heatwave plaguing the western U.S.

Figures from the Environmental Protection Agency show how the U.S. heatwaves in the U.S. have become more regular, more prolonged and hotter since the 1960s.

Heatwaves in major cities across the United States are much more frequent than they were in the 1960s, rising from an average of two heatwaves per year to six per year in the 2010s. Heat-related deaths are rising worldwide, and crop growth is being hit.

kansas cow
A cow grazing on dry wheat husks on a farm in Kansas during the 2012 record drought. Scientists say climate change will mean more extreme weather events like droughts and heatwaves. Getty Images

While CO2 does help plants grow, drought will impact water resources that are also needed for agriculture.

The EPA says climate change will have a negative impact on food security, making it harder to grow crops, raise livestock and catch fish. It said in 2011, heatwaves caused about $1 billion in losses to agricultural producers.

Drought has the potential to reduce the amount of food available to grazing livestock. It could also increase the numbers of parasites and diseases, with warmer winters and earlier springtime allowing some pathogens to survive more easily.

There are 6.5 million cattle currently in Kansas, and the state has the third-largest cattle sector in the U.S. after Texas and Nebraska.

According to research published in the Lancet, cattle will experience heat stress at temperatures higher than 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stress is caused by a combination of high temperatures, humidity, and wind speed, and results in negative impacts on both animal welfare and productivity: animals reduce their feed intake by between three and five percent with each extra degree of temperature increase, reducing milk and meat production. Heat stress will also reduce fertility and suppress the cow's immune system.

These effects, while awful from an animal welfare perspective, will also greatly impact the economic performance of the dairy and beef industry: according to the study, annual cattle deaths due to heat stress cost the U.S. $1.26 billion in the early 2000s. This is also a huge issue for food security, especially in lower income countries where cattle often constitute one of the main sources of food.

Usually, cattle farmers provide the cows with drinking water and spray them with sprinklers to help combat heat stress. However, it was early enough in the year that many of the cattle had not yet shed their winter coats.

This mass death was a freak incident, Brandon Depenbusch, operator of the Innovative Livestock Services feedlot in Great Bend, Kansas, told AP. "This is a one in 10-year, 20-year type event. This is not a normal event ... It is extremely abnormal, but it does happen."

Editor's Picks

Newsweek cover
  • Newsweek magazine delivered to your door
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts
Newsweek cover
  • Unlimited access to
  • Ad free experience
  • iOS and Android app access
  • All newsletters + podcasts