With the Paris climate summit now only days away, it appears that the massive impact of animal agriculture will be largely ignored.
In Australia, the organisers of planned “people’s climate marches” have declared:
“We will march to show that we want an end to fossil fuels and a planned transition to 100% renewable energy.”
None of their promotional material seems to mention animal agriculture.
Is any of that surprising? Tragically not, when official figures consistently understate livestock’s impact through various means, including the fact that the vast extent of relevant land clearing is recorded under a non-livestock heading. The result is that we ignore one of the great contributors to climate change and fail to implement potentially extremely effective mitigation measures.
The failure of environmental agencies to highlight the livestock sector’s impacts reached a new low in September, 2014, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency released a video with the title “Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction“.
Not only did the EPA’s video ignore the climate change impacts of livestock production, it flipped the issue on its head, by saying that climate change “affects our ability to raise cattle“.
The speaker, in earnest fashion, went on to say that such an impact, along with a number of other consequences of climate change, “would pose a significant challenge to our nation“.
Here’s the full passage, along with additional comments:
“Climate change makes it more difficult to ensure adequate water supplies, drinking water, growing crops, and hydro power. It destroys our rivers and beaches, and changes the landscape of our country . . . It affects our ability to raise cattle, and catch fish, and increases the risk we face of infectious disease and heat-related deaths.”
“There’s no time to ‘wait’. The consequences of delaying action will only become more severe and more difficult to overcome.”
Here’s the video (duration 3:25, with the comment on cattle at 0:59):
He tells us that it all comes down to individual actions (while failing to mention dietary habits):
“In the same way that all our individual actions caused the climate to change so rapidly, we can all be part of the solution. Working together, we can make a difference as we continue to reduce greenhouse gases and anticipate, prepare and adapt to a change in climate.”
Although individual action is critical, it needs to be supported and encouraged by government policies.
The EPA’s statement reminded me of social commentator, Clive Hamilton, bemoaning attempts by governments and others to direct all blame and responsibility toward individuals. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hamilton has quoted professor of social sciences at Yale-NUC College Singapore, Michael Maniates:
“A privatization and individualization of responsibility for environmental problems shifts blame from state elites and powerful producer groups to more amorphous culprits like ‘human nature’ or ‘all of us’”
Someone else who has fallen short in campaigning on the livestock issue is former US vice president and creator of “An inconvenient truth“, Al Gore, who seems to have said little since first addressing the matter, in subdued fashion, in 2009.
In an interview at the time, he said that he had “cut back sharply” on the amount of meat he was eating due to its impacts on climate change and water usage. In his book of the same year for young readers, “Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis“, he said:
“There is a serious issue about the connection between the growing meat intensity of diets around the world and damage to the environment . . .”
Some family background may help to explain Gore’s relative lack of interest since then.
His father, Al Gore, Sr was also a politician, having been elected to Congress in 1938 and then the Senate in 1952. He was also a cattle farmer. Al Gore, Jr has said his father:
“. . . always raised cattle, he always farmed, he always found relaxation, even in Washington, by going to the farm and working with cattle.”
Gore became vegan in 2013, but not for environmental reasons. He subsequently said:
“Over a year ago I changed my diet to a vegan diet, really just to experiment to see what it was like. And I felt better, so I continued with it. Now, for many people, that choice is connected to environmental ethics and health issues and all that stuff, but I just wanted to try it to see what it was like.”
Even Barrack Obama, while still a senator in 2008, acknowledged some of the adverse environmental, social justice and human health impacts of animal agriculture when questioned by Nikki Benoit of Vegan Outreach. However, Obama is a politician, and seemingly sought to hedge his bets and connect with the broader electorate by declaring that he likes a steak “once in a while”.
If climate change is as serious a threat as Obama has indicated (indeed it is), shouldn’t he address animal agriculture’s role, rather than focusing almost exclusively on fossil fuels? (Even those actions were delayed until far too late in his presidency, and did not go far enough.)
Here’s the video:
If individuals and agencies of authority, along with prominent environmental groups, continue to ignore or effectively deny the impact of animal agriculture, then they must be challenged. The EPA needs to realise that “the cost of inaction” on animal agriculture will be catastrophic, and that we will not overcome the climate crisis by focusing solely on fossil fuels.
US Environmental Protection Agency, “Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction”, 19th September, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o8qlJ8jcx0
Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 110
Zelnick, R., “Gore: A political life” (1999), cited in The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/z/zelnick-gore.html
Henneberger, M., “A boy’s life in and out of the family script”, 22nd May, 2000, The New York Times, https://partners.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/052200wh-dem-gore.html
d’Estries, M., “Al Gore finally drops meat, goes vegan”, 27th November, 2013, http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/al-gore-finally-drops-meat-goes-vegan
Gore, A., “Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis”, 2009, Puffin Books and Viking Children’s Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group, http://ourchoicethebook.com/, cited in d’Estries, M., ibid.
Interview with Eric Topol, MD, Medscape, 7th March, 2014, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820985#5, cited in d’Estries, M., “Al Gore says he’ll likely stay vegan ‘for life'”, 13th March, 2014, http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/al-gore-says-hell-likely-stay-vegan-for-life
Cattle © Casadphoto | Dreamstime.com