Meet the world's top destroyer of the environment. It is not the car, or the plane,or even George Bush: it is the cow.
A United Nations report has identified the world's rapidly growing herds of cattle as the greatest threat to the climate, forests and wildlife. And they are blamed for a host of other environmental crimes, from acid rain to the introduction of alien species, from producing deserts to creating dead zones in the oceans, from poisoning rivers and drinking water to destroying coral reefs.
The 400-page report by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, entitled Livestock's Long Shadow, also surveys the damage done by sheep, chickens, pigs and goats. But in almost every case, the world's 1.5 billion cattle are most to blame. Livestock are responsible for 18 per cent of the greenhouse gases that cause global warming, more than cars, planes and all other forms of transport put together.
For a slow-moving, cud-chewing critter, that's quite the accomplishment.
Burning fuel to produce fertiliser to grow feed, to produce meat and to transport it - and clearing vegetation for grazing - produces 9 per cent of all emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas. And their wind and manure emit more than one third of emissions of another, methane, which warms the world 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.
The methane comment is what catches my eye. When I was in high school, someone wrote a letter to the editor of the local paper pleading for people to become vegetarians, so we could eliminate the damage caused by all the cows' methane emissions. Looks like she was right about the cows. Way back in the mid-1970s.
But my reply to her would have been (if I had bothered to write it) that it's the eating of vegetable matter that causes the methane. If people switched to being vegetarians, the methane emissions of people would increase and might offset the methane output of the cows.
An old friend of the family told us one time of the fun he and some co-workers had at work with a methane detector. They took the hand-held device to the cafeteria after beans were on the menu, and they pointed it at various people to see who made the detector set off the tell-tale whine. A great time was had by all who were in the know.
But sense and methane detectors aren't enough to keep Britain from responding to the UN report with beef-eating determination. The Scotsman (UK) reported today that researchers are working on the problem, although not with the vegetarian letter-writing girl's solution.
Scientists have already conducted experiments on different cattle feed to determine which one best cuts down gaseous after-effects, and ministers have not ruled out action to force farmers to change their cows' diet.
Britain's attempts to get to grips with the issue are in line with a growing trend in research into cows' digestive systems around the world.
Of all the jobs I've imagined people might have, researching cows' digestive systems never crossed my mind.
Scientists at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen have recorded impressive reductions by introducing a mixture of organic sugars and a special bacterium into the animals' diet.
Belgian researchers have found that adding fish oil to fodder reduced methane emissions in cattle by up to 80%, while the Australians are even experimenting with a flatulence-reducing vaccine.
And the UK, too, is finally falling into line. In a parliamentary answer politely entitled "Bovine Emissions" last week, farming minister Ian Pearson said "recent research suggests that substantial methane reductions could be achieved by changes to feed regimes".
This is all fantastic news. With my mom and me still planning to embark on our motorhome tour of the US next summer (with under 10 mpg, I'm sure), I'd hate to be traveling under a cloud of guilt for warming the globe. Now we can drive guilt-free. It's all the cows' fault.