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As the World Gets Hotter, Can Cattle Survive? a Rancher’s Quest for Drought-proof Cows




He calls them his “little project.”

Compared with humans, they’re not little at all. Some weigh 600 pounds. But for cattle, they’re tiny and immature — less than half the size of those usually slaughtered for beef.

Langdon Hill bought them at auction and gated them in his backyard, an acre covered in sudangrass hay and mesquite, jojoba and palo verde trees in the Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness 70 miles northeast of Tucson.

Langdon Hill’s cattle on his 18,000-acre ranch.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

Calves, bulls and heifers, they come from breeds that naturally developed long ago in Brazil, England and India. Hill believes they could be key to transforming an industry that helps to feed the nation, yet one that is a driver of greenhouse gases and a culprit behind deforestation from the Amazon to Australia, where forests are routinely cleared for grazing.

Across Arizona and much of the U.S Southwest and northern Mexico, droughts and historic heat waves have left cattle with jutted ribs, gasping for life and threatening a food source that was never meant to survive in the desert but has become a key part of its economy.

As representatives of the world’s most powerful countries meet in Scotland for the United Nations conference on climate change, questions around cattle — their intense use of land and water and their release of gases that contribute to global warming — have been on many minds. The U.S. and dozens of countries have pledged to reduce methane emissions. Others such as Australia have refused, citing the beef industry as a reason.

Hill has more than 200 cows on his ranch, which he is crossbreeding in order to find a “drought-resistant” cow.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

Some believe weaning America — the fifth-largest producer of beef in the world — off cattle would make a significant contribution.

Then there’s a growing group of ranchers, like Hill, who think beef simply needs to be reimagined to survive.

“Our food industry is upside-down,” said Hill, 59, an environmentalist, onetime vegetarian and former industrial engineer-turned-cowboy. “We eat cheap, mass-produced, water-intensive meat fed on corn and we have too much of it.

“We can do beef better,” he insisted. “And do less of it.”

Hall is experimenting on his 18,000-acre ranch in the dusty mountains of rural Arizona: crossbreeding in hopes of developing smaller, lankier cows that retain less heat, aren’t as thirsty and live off the native grasses and bushes without the massive grain feedlots synonymous with the American cattle industry. Perhaps, he theorizes, they might also let out less methane.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

The average cow emits more than 200 pounds of methane in one year. That’s a tiny slice of U.S. emissions, far surpassed by the burning of fossil fuels. But methane is dozens of times better at trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, even though it dissipates after a decade compared to the hundreds of years carbon dioxide sticks around.

Even as meat substitutes flood the market, studies have shown that when eaten in moderation, beef and its nutrients can be part of a healthy diet. Cows also provide milk and fertilizer — and if managed well can help maintain rangeland soil and deter wildfires by eating plants that might otherwise catch aflame.

Some ranchers here, where cows mostly are raised on grass for just a few months before being shipped to packed feedlots where they grow faster on corn and hormones, are tinkering with diets to produce less methane.

They’re also moving toward breeds more accustomed to hotter, dryer climates while turning away from Angus cattle, which have come to dominate restaurant menus and grocery store freezers. The grass-fed, organic movement — in which cows are raised without feedlots, though they often need hay if there’s not enough rain or grass — is also on the rise.

One of Langdon Hill’s cattle.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

On one side of the debate are the likes of Impossible Meat and Beyond Meat, companies that use food science to make burgers mimic the fatty marbling and juicy taste of ground beef.

Then there are those like Hill. He says his beef — not yet available on the market — will be more expensive but raised entirely on his farm before being sent for slaughtering and packaging. He dreams of exporting it to China and Japan, as well as selling it throughout the U.S.

Yet he wonders whether his model is sustainable in a world that wants cheap, plentiful food at the click of a button.

“We’re too late to do so much on this Earth,” he said recently while riding a black Mustang named Rosie into one of his corrals. “Running cattle, I think, still has time.”

Painted Cave Ranch sits on land next to the Aravaipa Creek, one of the few year-round natural streams in this part of the desert. Hill owns part of the property and leases the rest from the Bureau of Land Management.

The Painted Cave Ranch in Arizona’s Aravaipa Canyon Wilderness.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

A bumpy dirt road traces its way around the hilly ranch, with Hill’s house set in a canyon. A few hundred cattle roam freely alongside native desert bighorn sheep, mule deer and coatimundi among saguaro and cholla cactus. The cows — many Brahmans with origins in the subtropics and other hardy breeds — feed on leaves and beans from mesquite and palo verde trees and on grasses that grow after the rains and by the creek. They drink from narrow, long pools that pump water from huge feeding tanks as well as the stream.

Brahmans can better withstand the sun and are less susceptible to parasites than Angus, originally from Scotland and built with sturdy, low set black bodies made to survive harsh winters.

Hill also has Herefords, an English breed known for its fertility, as well as Beefmasters, a composite breed of Herefords, Brahmans and Shorthorn cattle that are more tolerant of drought. There are Charlois — a muscly French breed whose light butterscotch tone is desirable in a place where summer temperatures regularly hit three-digits — and Criollo, a breed brought to the Americas by Spanish colonizers and now raised in parts of Mexico. Smaller and able to survive without much help from humans, they’re known to travel farther for water and food, making them more adaptable for the desert.

Langdon Hill has Hereford, Brahman, Beefmaster, Criollo, Charlois and other breeds on his ranch.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

In his backyard, Hill has several of these different cattle corralled together. He waits for them to mate.

“Hopefully by May, I’ll have some good genetics,” said Hill, who dons a cowboy hat, leather chaps and sports a graying beard.

The practice of crossbreeding cattle for physique and temperament is not new. Australia, among the world’s largest beef producers, has experimented widely with crosses since the mid-20th century.

What’s different now is the climate crisis.

“As the temperatures get hotter and hotter, more people are trying to adapt and think about how their cows can adapt,” said Rachel Cutrer, who co-runs B.R. Cutrer, a cattle breeding business in Wharton, Texas. She and her husband ship cattle and sperm around the world to ranchers who want to create crossbreeds.

“The average animal gets heat stress when the temperature goes above 80 degrees,” Cutrer said. “For a large portion of the world, it’s that temperature nearly all the time. Heat-stressed animals will pant and they will ultimately not want to eat.” Her animals come from a breed that has more sweat glands than others.

Joe Paschal, a rancher and animal science professor at Texas A&M University who researches breeding trends, described crossbreeding as an old habit that is making a comeback.

“From the 1980s on, everyone wanted to raise and eat Angus. But they’re being forced to change. Crossbreeding brings something we call hybrid vigor. You find two breeds that are very different, combine them and you’ll have the best selection of genes that nature takes out of it.”

In contrast to the corporations that control much of the seed, grain, chicken and pork production in the U.S., most ranches are still run by families. The setup is a result of biology. Each cow can have only one calf a year, compared with hens and sows that can birth and raise offspring to maturity in just a few months.

Corporations play a much bigger role in slaughterhouses and feedlots, where most farmers sell their cattle after they live a few months on the range. Across the country, 4-H clubs and Future Farmers of America chapters are training grounds for new generations in beef-sellers.

Hill’s path was different, as are his aspirations.

Born in Tucson to a university administrator and a mother who later became a Sedona restaurateur, he grew up riding horses on the family’s 20-acre property. They were well-known in town because of his grandmother, a philanthropist who gifted the land that became the cactus-laden Tucson Botanical Gardens. He’s named after a grandfather from several generations back who represented Maine in Congress.

As an architecture student at the University of Arizona in the mid-1980s, Hill patented a cheap metal door plate to fend off carjackers after his Volkswagen Golf was broken into six times. A pair cost $6 to make. He sold them for $59.

Langdon Hill, 59, spent most of his career working as an industrial engineer in Europe.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

Hill spent the next two decades living in Luxembourg, where he designed and sold aftermarket accessories for Audis and Volkswagens. With his profits, he purchased nearly a whole block of houses near downtown Tucson, as well as an office building that the city’s hockey team now rents for its headquarters.

“I was getting bored. I didn’t want to live a high-stress life. I didn’t want to keep chasing business deals,” Hill said. “The car industry was wasting precious resources and clearly not as green as it could be.”

In 2005, he moved permanently to Arizona and bought the ranch. At first, the goal was to live a quieter life, to partially retire in his 40s.

Then he signed up for classes on beef at the University of Arizona. He met ranchers and let them keep cattle on his land in exchange for mentorship. He bought cows. It was a new hobby for a self-proclaimed “spiritual wanderer” who once spent a year studying Buddhism at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido.

For a few years, Hill sold meat from his cattle at farmers markets. He still keeps a few frozen packages in the freezer for guests.

But Arizona’s worsening drought made him rethink things as his herd’s habitat dried up. He saw the emergence of popular meat alternatives that were made in factories with a fraction of his carbon footprint.

An inventor all his life, Hill believed he could find a way to do things better. He scoured Arizona’s cattle auctions, snapping up animals that no one else wanted and plopping them in his yard to breed. He stopped killing the cows — for now — and instead toyed with their genetics, a process that can take years and several generations.

He’s not sure what his crossbreeds will bring, or even when the calves will come. He’s already broken some of the rules by naming a few of his favorites — Fernando and Bronco. Hill doesn’t know if he will find success, or if his business will even be up and running during his lifetime.

His wife, Tori, works late nights in a rehab facility in Tucson and rarely visits the ranch. His dad, retired, finds his son’s life unusual but tolerates it. Hill has three dogs but no kids to support. He considers himself lucky that money and profit aren’t problems.

“That’s also why it’s my responsibility to try to figure this out and do my small part,” he said. “I have the time to experiment.”

Each Wednesday, he drives an hour-and-a-half to Marana, Ariz., where he attends a cattle auction. Sometimes he sells animals that don’t fill the bill of the cows he wants to create. Mostly, he watches for breeds to add to his herd.

The other week, he thought he had purchased eight Hereford cattle but had misidentified them. They were Beefmasters. Still learning, he repeated a mantra to himself to avoid getting angry. It’s the same one he thinks of when looking at the world of cattle and climate, and how things could change for the better.

“All things are gradual. It’s just the satisfaction of making a little progress.”

Hill borrows Rosie, a friend’s Mustang, to herd cattle on his property.

(Cassidy Araiza / For The Times)

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Why Mexico’s President Is Promoting a Recall Against Himself




Standing before hundreds of thousands of cheering supporters in downtown Mexico City’s central square, President Andrés Manuel López Obrador saved his most striking comment for the end of his speech.

He urged the Mexicans packed into the Zócalo to participate in an April referendum to decide whether they want to boot him from office more than two years early.

“None of, ‘They chose me for six years and I can do whatever I want,’” López Obrador said at the rally Wednesday to mark his midterm. “If one who governs is not up to the task and obeying the people, revoke their mandate and out!”

The president, 68, likely believes he has nothing to worry about.

Recent polls show that about two-thirds of the public approve of his performance since taking office in 2018 on a platform that promised a radical transformation of Mexican society to combat corruption and inequality and to roll back free-market economic policies.

Families and marching bands making their way to the Zócalo passed vendors hawking gray-haired López Obrador dolls and posters with the hashtag #QueSigaAMLO, or “may AMLO continue,” referring to the president by his initials. Many said they view a referendum, authorized by a 2019 constitutional reform spearheaded by the president, as proof of his honest character when compared to decades of presidents accused of corruption.

“AMLO is the first president that dares to put himself to the test before the people,” said Debanhi Andrea Garcia, 22, who drove 14 hours from the state of Nuevo León with her boyfriend. “Because he’s like that, we support him.”

Supporters of López Obrador hold banners in support of the president at Mexico City’s Zócalo.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

Mexicans have until Dec. 25 to sign a petition supporting the referendum, which can move forward only with the signatures of at least 3% of eligible voters, among other caveats.

So far, the initiative has received more than 703,000 signatures from Mexicans who have valid voting credentials, or 25% of the required total, according to the National Electoral Institute, an independent agency overseeing the process. (That tally includes signatures that will be discarded because they are duplicates or have other irregularities.)

Officially called the “revocation of mandate,” the measure follows other efforts by the president to increase citizen engagement in public policy. López Obrador has also backed referendums to decide whether former Mexican presidents should be prosecuted for alleged crimes, on the construction of a new airport near Mexico City and on the development of a tourism train line that would run through the Yucatan Peninsula.

“He does conceive his power as being a function of people reiterating their support actively,” said Francisco González, a professor of Latin American politics at Johns Hopkins University. “He wants it officially confirmed to give him that comfort of being the popular leader who is doing the right thing for Mexico.”

Since taking office, López Obrador has also expanded social welfare programs while introducing sharp austerity measures. He has halted renewable energy projects, promoted a constitutional reform to increase the country’s control of the electricity market, and given more power to the military — putting it in charge of projects such as the tourism train.

President López Obrador gives an address to mark the midpoint of his term.

(Manuel Velasquez / Getty Images)

His critics say that he hasn’t done enough to reduce high levels of homicides, including many killings of women and attacks against journalists and public officials. Dozens of candidates across the country were assassinated ahead of last spring’s midterm elections for governorships and legislative and mayoral seats.

Critics also are concerned about López Obrador’s attacks against democratic agencies that could check his power, notably the National Electoral Institute. He has repeatedly disparaged the independent agency, which last May sanctioned him for making statements in at least 29 news conferences that it said could be considered government propaganda that could influence the midterm elections. In Mexico, such statements by public officials are generally barred during the election season.

But the president’s vision of transformational change continues to resonate among many voters who view him as a paternal figure. López Obrador is in constant dialogue with his electorate, holding press conferences every morning that last hours.

“The figure he has constructed of an honest man, an honorable man, an incorruptible man — that helps him in a society that is used to seeing terribly corrupt politicians,” said René Torres-Ruiz, a political scientist at the Universidad Iberoamericana in Mexico City.

Even if enough signatures are gathered, hurdles to a referendum remain. The National Electoral Institute’s members have said that the agency doesn’t have the budget to carry out the vote and at least 40% of eligible voters must participate for the referendum to be binding. The referendum on former presidents last August fell far short of the 40% voting figure.

Ariadna Gomez, left, and another volunteer collect signatures for a referendum on whether Mexico’s president should continue.

(Leila Miller / Los Angeles Times)

Stephanie Brewer, the director for Mexico and migrant rights at the D.C.-based Washington Office on Latin America, said that winning a referendum would increase López Obrador’s perception that he could move forward freely with his agenda.

“What he wants is to come out of the vote, supposing there is one, politically strengthened with this renewed and amplified popular mandate,” she said.

Opposition parties have accused the president’s supporters of twisting the stated purpose of the referendum into a tool to promote López Obrador’s agenda. The 2019 reform called for a referendum to “revoke” a president’s mandate rather than “ratify” it and a complaint before the National Electoral Institute by the National Action Party referenced how volunteers have registered voters next to posters that advertise the referendum as a means of promoting the president rather than recalling him from office.

Luis Cházaro, a congressman from the Party of the Democratic Revolution, told The Times that the referendum “has been transformed into a promotional tool for the party.” He does not plan to participate.

In Coyoacán, a cobblestoned neighborhood in Mexico City known for Frida Kahlo’s home, volunteers last Sunday gathered signatures at a plaza in front of posters of the president that said “may AMLO continue.”

Ariana Garcia, a 24-year-old volunteer, said she uses the term “ratification” for people she senses like the president and “revocation” for those she thinks oppose him.

“People tell you, ‘But I don’t want my president to leave,’ so we tell them, ‘OK, then in this case you can ratify your support for the president,’” she said.

A supporter of López Obrador listens to his speech at a rally to commemorate the president’s midterm.

(Marco Ugarte/Associated Press)

Roberto Garcia, a systems engineer in Mexico City, said that he would vote against the president, uncomfortable that the federal government recently issued a decree that requires federal agencies to automatically approve infrastructure projects that are deemed to be of interest to the public or national security. He also sees the referendum as “a type of manipulation,” suspicious of why the president has contradicted the National Electoral Institute, saying it has enough funding to hold a vote he himself has fought for.

María de los Angeles Resendiz, a grandmother of 10 from the state of Mexico, will support López Obrador without hesitation.

Resendiz, 62, watches the president’s 7 a.m. news conferences each day with her husband while preparing breakfast and washing dishes. If she needs to skip one, she’ll track it down later on YouTube. She also listens to summaries in case she’s missed something.

Before López Obrador took power, Resendiz tried to stay as far away from politics as she could. She became disillusioned when she was a little girl after the 1968 Tlatelolco massacre, in which soldiers killed as many as 300 people at a student protest in Mexico City.

She called López Obrador a “simple” man who has won her confidence with his anti-corruption platform. She eagerly described how his government has set money aside for youth job training and expanded welfare payments to the elderly.

“He’s given us back our dignity,” she said. “I am proud to say that I am Mexican and that he is my president.”

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Op-Ed: the U.S. Shouldn’t Ignore Mexico’s Ongoing Human Rights Catastrophe



On Dec. 1, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador reached the halfway point of his six-year term. Since his election in 2018, López Obrador has not only failed to improve the country’s disastrous human rights record, he has worked to undo many of the hard-fought gains in transparency and the rule of law that rights groups, activists and campaigners have achieved since the end of one-party rule in Mexico in 2000.

The United States has been noticeably silent regarding the Mexican president’s accelerating attacks on democracy. President Biden has instead chosen to focus on enlisting López Obrador to prevent migrants from reaching the U.S. border.

López Obrador, a prominent anti-establishment figure in Mexican politics for decades, is the kind of populist leader that has become increasingly common in Latin America. He was democratically elected in a landslide on a promise to “transform” Mexico by taking back control of the country from the elites whose policies he blamed for economic inequality, social breakdown and growing violence.

López Obrador inherited a human rights catastrophe. When he came to office in 2018, 12 years of a military-led drug war had led to horrific abuses. Homicides hit staggering numbers. Thousands of people disappeared every year. But he has not addressed these problems. Soldiers continue to kill civilians. Homicides remain at historically high rates. And according to the government’s figures, more than 25,000 people have gone missing on his watch.

Even so, López Obrador has remained immensely popular with his base. He appears to believe that his continued popular support gives him the moral authority to concentrate as much power as possible in his own hands and to attempt to control every part of the state to bring about his promised transformation.

He labels anyone who criticizes him or stands in his way as a “neoliberal” or “conservative,” nebulous groups of supposed adversaries whom he describes as corrupt and morally bankrupt. Leveling this charge allows him to avoid responding to genuine concerns raised by journalists who question him, women’s rights campaigners upset at his lack of action on gender-based violence, Indigenous communities who oppose his megaprojects, environmentalists who disagree with his coal and oil-focused energy policy, and press freedom campaigners concerned about his government’s harassment of journalists, among others.

He has eliminated or proposed eliminating many government agencies not under his direct control, including the independent energy and telecommunications regulators, funds for protecting journalists and responding to climate change and natural disasters, the independent transparency agency and the independent electoral authority. He recently decreed that his government’s construction and infrastructure projects would be automatically granted permits without any review and that as matters of “national security,” would be exempted from transparency rules.

He has also gone after the judicial system, which has delayed or blocked a number of his projects and proposals as abusive or unconstitutional. His efforts to intimidate the judiciary have grown brazen. López Obrador has publicly singled out those whose rulings he dislikes and called for a judge who ruled against him to be investigated.

In April, his coalition in Congress passed a law — since overturned — to extend the term of the Supreme Court chief justice who has ruled in favor of the president. And in August, López Obrador held a referendum on whether the government should put five previous presidents on trial for alleged crimes such as “neoliberalism” and the “privatization of public goods.”

The U.S. policy of ignoring López Obrador’s attacks on the rule of law came into stark relief in June, when Vice President Kamala Harris visited Mexico and met with him. At the end of the trip, a journalist asked the vice president if the United States was concerned about López Obrador’s hostile attitude toward the media and civil society.

Harris initially responded that she had urged the Mexican president to respect the independence of the judicial system, the press and civil society. However, hours later, her spokesperson issued a correction to the Spanish wire service EFE, saying the vice president had been confused; she and the Mexican president had only discussed immigration and the economy, nothing else.

López Obrador will be in office for another three years. His coalition still controls both houses of Congress and he has made it clear that he is willing to amend the constitution if necessary to remove obstacles to achieving his goals. Unless the circumstances change, there are no signs he intends to alter his course.

José Miguel Vivanco is Americas director at Human Rights Watch. Tyler Mattiace is a researcher at Human Rights Watch.

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Photos: As Roe Vs. Wade Challenged, Demonstrators Gather Outside Supreme Court



Juanito Estevez, of Freeport, N.Y., holds a cross as he and abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion protesters demonstrate in front of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

(Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times)

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