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This article first appeared on the author’s Planetary Vegan website on 15th March 2018.


Paul Hawken is an American journalist, author and activist. He recently visited my home country, Australia, to speak about “Project Drawdown“, of which he is the executive director.

The project’s mission is “facilitating a broad coalition of researchers, scientists, graduate students, PhDs, post-docs, policy makers, business leaders and activists to assemble and present the best available information on climate solutions in order to describe their beneficial financial, social and environmental impact over the next thirty years.”

The results of the project were documented in the 2017 book “Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming”, which was edited by Hawken.

Eighty of the one hundred solutions were said to be “well entrenched with abundant scientific and financial information about their performance and cost”. The other twenty were described as “coming attractions” that are “forthcoming and close at hand”.

In what may be something of a contradiction, all one hundred were also described as the “most substantive, existing solutions to address climate change”.

From an initial review of Drawdown’s findings, I feel there are some aspects worth highlighting, some of which are a cause for concern.

The project focuses on more than drawdown

In relation to climate change, the term “drawdown” generally indicates the act of drawing carbon from the atmosphere. Project Drawdown combines that approach with the aim of avoiding future emissions. Although it is wise to consider each approach, the inclusion of the latter may cause the project’s title to be something of a misnomer.

Plant-rich diet

The researchers ranked a plant-rich diet fourth behind refrigeration, wind turbines and reduced food waste. I was pleased they had investigated the impact of diet, as it is a critical issue that has been ignored by many individuals and organisations campaigning on climate change. However, for various reasons, this solution could have been ranked higher, with a greater impact than indicated in the report.

One of those reasons is referred to in the next item, dealing with the global warming potential of different greenhouse gases.

Another is the fact that the authors of this chapter appear to have ignored the ability of native vegetation to regenerate if production animals are removed from areas that are currently used for animal agriculture.

That contrasts with the chapter on regenerative agriculture, where the authors noted that, apart from deserts and sand dunes, bare land will naturally revegetate.

The chapter on afforestation only considered the option of planting trees, and solely in areas that had been treeless for at least fifty years.

Some examples help to illustrate the importance of this issue:

  • A 2009 study by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency indicated that a global transition to a meat-free or animal-free diet would reduce climate change mitigation costs by 70-80 per cent. A key factor would be the ability of lands cleared or degraded for livestock grazing and feed crop production to regenerate forests and other forms of vegetation.
  • Eastern Australia has been included by WWF in a list of eleven global deforestation fronts to the year 2030 due to concerns over land clearing legislation in Queensland and New South Wales. Two-thirds of clearing in Queensland in the four years to 2015/16 (the most recent reporting period) was of regrowth, indicating the resilience of native vegetation if given an opportunity to recover.
  • Researchers behind a 2005 paper published in Nature estimated that massive portions of the north and south Guinea Savanna in Africa would have a reasonable chance of reverting to forest if livestock were removed. Their status as savanna is anthropogenic.

In addition to the issue of regrowth, two near-term climate forcers, tropospheric ozone and black carbon, are unlikely to have been accounted for in the life cycle assessments utilised by the Drawdown researchers.  They are also generally omitted from official emissions figures, but are prominent in animal agriculture. They remain in the atmosphere for a short period, but have a significant impact.

Loss of soil carbon from grazing and livestock-related land clearing may also have been overlooked.

Allowing for tropospheric ozone, loss of soil carbon resulting from livestock-related land clearing, a 20-year global warming potential (refer below) and other factors, researchers from the Sustainable Society Institute at the University of Melbourne and climate change advocacy group Beyond Zero Emissions (BZE) have estimated that the livestock sector is responsible for around fifty per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper. The figure compares to the official figure of around ten per cent, as referred to by the Drawdown authors.

The warming impact of greenhouse gases

A shorter time horizon for measuring the global warming potential (GWP) of the various greenhouse gases should have been considered in addition to the more common 100-year period (GWP100).

A commonly cited alternative period is 20 years (GWP20), with the IPCC and NASA providing relevant estimates. The GWP20 for methane is 86 times that of carbon dioxide after allowing for climate carbon feedbacks. Allowing for aerosol interactions, NASA researchers have estimated a multiple of 105.

The issue is critical in the context of climate change tipping points and feedback mechanisms with the potential to lead to runaway climate change over which (by definition) we would have no control.

A shorter time horizon would seem particularly relevant given the project’s focus on the next thirty years, and would have increased the impact of three of the top four solutions, namely refrigeration, food waste and a plant-rich diet.

Managed grazing

All Drawdown’s solutions are said to be “based on meticulous research by leading scientists and policymakers around the world”.

But how meticulous was the research?

The standard may have been lowered for the 19th-ranked solution, managed grazing, which is said to include techniques such as “improved continuous”, “rotational”, “adaptive multipaddock”, “intensive” and “mob” grazing.

Using similar terms, including “rotational” and “mob” plus “regenerative”, “cell”, “adaptive” and “management-intensive rotational”, researchers at the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) argued in 2017 that the “extremely ambitious claims” made by proponents of regenerative grazing and associated approaches are “dangerously misleading”.

FCRN is based at the University of Oxford. Other institutions that contributed to the relevant publication comprised: Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge and Wageningen; the Centre for Organic Food and Farming (EPOK) at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU); the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) in Switzerland; and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), Australia.

Although Drawdown credits the initial investigation of managed grazing to Frenchman André Voison in the 1950s, its description of the techniques appears to align with the work of Allan Savory and the Savory Institute. Drawdown states, “managed grazing imitates what migratory herds of herbivores do on wildlands”. Savory argues we must use livestock, bunched and moving, as a proxy for former herds and predators, and mimic nature“.

Hawken, Amory Lovins and Hunter Lovins wrote favourably about Savory’s methods in their 1999 book “Natural Capitalism: Creating the Next Industrial Revolution”. Hunter Lovins is a member of the Savory Institute’s “Advisory Circle”, and defended Savory’s methods in a response to a critique of his work by Guardian columnist, George Monbiot. Hawken has also praised Savory’s work individually.

Two other Savory supporters, Bill McKibben (co-founder of and Adam Sacks, are advisors to Project Drawdown. Sacks and another Savory Institute “Advisory Circle” member, Seth Itzkan, have taken credit for influencing McKibben in his support of Savory’s methods.

In prominent 2010 articles supporting Savory’s methods, McKibben and Sacks appear to have erroneously relied, in part, on what McKibben referred to as “preliminary research” favourable to livestock grazing. Critical measurements within that research were subsequently found to be out by a factor of 1,000. The articles from McKibben and Sacks have never been corrected. (I comment on them in item 2.2 here.)

Similar problems in relation to the same preliminary research have occurred in the work of Australian soils ecologist, Christine Jones, who has been cited by Sacks and others who promote Savory’s methods.

Errors can be difficult to avoid, and in this case the original research was corrected. However, the matter does not appear to have been adequately addressed in the material from McKibben, Sacks and Jones, referred to here, that utlilised it.

The FCRN authors cited a review by Swedish researcher Maria Nordborg, who analysed evidence put forward by the Savory Institute. She found the studies supporting Savory to be scanty, “generally anecdotal” and “based on surveys and testimonies rather than on-site measurements”.

Similarly, a 2014 article published in the International Journal of Biodiversity examined each of Savory’s claims. The authors stated that studies supporting Savory’s methods: “have generally come from the Savory Institute or anecdotal accounts of holistic management practitioners. Leading range scientists have refuted the system and indicated that its adoption by land management agencies is based on these anecdotes and unproven principles rather than scientific evidence.”

Drawdown appears to push aside scientific rigour in defending managed grazing practices. It does so, in part, by arguing that the transition period from traditional grazing to alternative approaches is two to three years, “about the same length of time as most of the studies that question the results shown by proponents”.

It is disappointing that a book which is claimed to be based on meticulous research argues that peer-reviewed papers criticising managed grazing practices are invalid because they are assumed to only cover the period of transition from one system to another. That is not meticulous work by the Drawdown team; it is subjective and extremely questionable.

The managed grazing issue seems almost a central theme for the authors. In addition to the chapter specifically focusing on the issue, it is mentioned in the foreword by Tom Steyer (using the term “regenerative grazing”) and in the chapters headed Plant-Rich Diet; Regenerative Agriculture; and A Cow Walks onto a Beach.

Although managed grazing may be viable on a relatively small scale subject to adequate water resources and livestock controls, it would never be sufficient to feed the masses. Animal-based food production is a grossly and inherently inefficient method of satisfying our nutritional requirements, and has a far greater impact on the natural environment than animal-free options. It causes us to use far more resources, including land, than would otherwise be required.

Permafrost and the mammoth steppe

A similar approach seems to have been taken in relation to the “coming attraction” of repopulating the mammoth steppe with grazing animals, as proposed by Russian scientist Sergey Zimov.

The steppe is a massive ecosystem that once extended “from Spain to Scandinavia, across all of Europe to Eurasia and then on to the Pacific land bridge and Canada”.

It contracted nearly 12,000 years ago, around the end of the most recent ice age. Large herbivores that once grazed its extensive grasslands also largely disappeared.

Zimov argues that reintroducing grazing animals would promote grasslands and remove the supposed insulating effect of snow on permafrost due to the animals’ practice of removing it in order to access pasture. He contends these  changes, along with a related restriction in wooded vegetation, would prevent the melting of permafrost, which would be critical to any efforts to overcome climate change.

Central to Zimov’s argument is the belief that the nature of the steppe’s flora changed due to hunting, which caused the extinction of large herbivores that once populated the region, keeping wooded vegetation in check and acting in favour of perennial grasslands.

The conventional view, on the other hand, is that the animals became extinct because of the warming climate, resulting in the growth of wooded vegetation at the expense of grassland.

The Drawdown authors flippantly disregard conventional “published papers” that have been unable to “taint” Zimov’s excursions in the mammoth steppe. Do those papers count for nothing in a project based on “meticulous research”?

A major concern with Drawdown on this issue is the sheer scale of the permafrost problem.

Permafrost is soil, sediment or rock that remains at or below 0°C for at least two years. It covers around twenty-four per cent of exposed land in the northern hemisphere and extends to offshore Arctic continental shelves. It ranges in thickness from less than 1 metre to more than a kilometre.

The Earth’s atmosphere contains about 850 gigatons of carbon. Researchers at the National Snow and Ice Data Center estimate that there are about 1,400 gigatons of carbon frozen in permafrost.  Figure 1 illustrates the extent of permafrost in the northern hemisphere.

Figure 1: Permafrost map. Darker shades of purple indicate higher percentages of permanently frozen ground.

NSIDC Map by Philippe Rekacewicz, (Used with permission)


With rising temperatures, the permafrost has begun to thaw, releasing methane and carbon dioxide from decomposing organic matter within.

The release of those greenhouse gases creates a significant climate feedback mechanism, as it causes more warming, resulting in more thawing, then more warming, and so on.

The Drawdown authors seek to add perspective to the potential impact of Zimov’s attempt to preserve permafrost by stating: “If it came to pass, it would be the single largest solution or potential solution of the one hundred described in this book.”

But could Zimov’s efforts, if we were to assume his theory was sound, put even a dent in the permafrost problem?

In 2011, the Russian head of the International Arctic Research Centre at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Igor Semiletov, was astonished by the extent of methane being released from permafrost in the seabed of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf. He said:

“We carried out checks at about 115 stationary points and discovered methane fields of a fantastic scale – I think on a scale not seen before. Some of the plumes were a kilometre or more wide and the emissions went directly into the atmosphere – the concentration was a hundred times higher than normal.”

Five years later, Dr Semiletov reported:

“The area of spread of methane mega-emissions has significantly increased in comparison with the data obtained in the period from 2011 to 2014. These observations may indicate that the rate of degradation of underwater permafrost has increased.”

Quite apart from the massive scale of the permafrost problem, would not the methane emissions from a growing population of ruminant animals such as bison, oxen and reindeer be a concern?

Seaweed and methane

In a chapter with the title “A cow walks onto a beach”, the authors highlight the ability of a livestock feed supplement containing the seaweed species, Asparagopsis taxiformis, to reduce methane emissions.

A key difficulty with this potential solution would be its application, which may be limited to dairy and feedlot animals, where the inclusion of dietary supplements is a straightforward process.

The emissions intensity of dairy products and beef from feedlot cattle and the dairy herd is already extremely low compared to that of specialised beef from grazing animals, meaning that the relative benefits of the supplement may be smaller than initially assumed.

Some more research that is far from meticulous

Some more examples of material that is inconsistent with Drawdown’s claims of scientific rigour and meticulous research may be worth mentioning.

Percentage of land surface

In the section on silvopasture, the authors claim that cattle and other ruminants require 30 to 45 per cent of the world’s arable land (my underline). However, the cited sources based their figures on the world’s total land surface, not just arable land.

At the time of writing, the name of one of the editors, Veerasamy Sejian, had been omitted from the relevant source on the Drawdown website.

Gigaton volume

In a section on numbers, the authors seek to demonstrate the volume of a gigaton of carbon dioxide. However, they use the volume of a gigaton of water, which represents a small fraction of a gigaton of carbon dioxide’s volume.

To illustrate the dimensions, they use 2016’s emissions of 36 gigatons of carbon dioxide, indicating they would equate to around 14 million Olympic-sized pools. That is based on the fact that one tonne of water occupies one cubic metre.

However, one tonne of carbon dioxide occupies not 1 cubic metre, but 534.8! That is 8.12 x 8.12 x 8.12 metres, not 1 x 1 x 1.

Figure 2: Volume of one tonne of carbon dioxide


That means that 36 gigatons of carbon dioxide equates to around 7.7 billion Olympic-sized pools, not 14 million.

1.5°C vs 2°C

In their comments on the mammoth steppe (referred to earlier in this article), the Drawdown authors paint a clear line between the impacts on permafrost of temperature increases of 1.5°C and 2°C. In reality, there is no distinct line between the two.

They suggest that, beyond 2°C, “the emissions released from the permafrost will become a positive-feedback loop that accelerates global warming”. However, that is already happening; it is simply a question as to how strongly the feedback mechanism operates at different temperatures.

Carbon dioxide vs methane

Also in the section on the mammoth steppe, the authors refer to the release of “carbon and methane” to the atmosphere.

It is important to note that both carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) contain carbon atoms. The authors may have meant “carbon dioxide and methane” but their intention is unclear.

Where did the nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide go?

In the chapter on seaweed and methane (“A cow walks onto a beach”), the authors correctly point out that methane emissions from enteric fermentation in the digestive system of ruminant production animals represent around 39 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production.

They then mention that methane is not the only greenhouse gas caused by livestock, but fail to mention the others. They simply indicate that feed production and processing accounts for around 45 per cent of livestock-related emissions. Those emissions are split fairly evenly between carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.

Using the authors’ source document (from the UN FAO) the split is: methane 43.8% (including manure management and rice used as animal feed); nitrous oxide 29.3%; and carbon dioxide 26.9%.

Those apportionments are based on a 100-year global warming potential for measuring the relative impact of the various greenhouse gases. Based on a 20-year GWP, methane’s share increases to 66 per cent.

Animal suffering, human health, and more on climate change

The Drawdown authors appear to have fallen for the trap of assuming that animal agriculture outside the regime of factory farming has little negative impact on animals, human health and the climate. For example, they claim that there are “reams of data” regarding the contribution to climate change of conventional cattle raising systems that involve feedlots. But where is the data indicating such systems are worse than alternative forms of animal agriculture?

To the contrary, researchers from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Texas A&M University and Australia’s CSIRO have reported that ruminant animals eating grass produce methane at four times the rate of those eating grain. [Footnote]

Similarly, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, has reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that specialised beef from grazing animals is around 6.4 times as emissions intensive as that from animals partially reared in feedlots (95.1 kg CO2-e/kg product vs 14.8 CO2-e/kg product).

In terms of human health, an April 2016 study by researchers from the University of Oxford estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million. More than half the avoided deaths would result from reduced red meat consumption.

The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. They apply to all forms of red meat, and are consistent with findings of the World Health Organization, the World Cancer Research Fund and researchers from Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health, the German Institute of Human Nutrition, and elsewhere.

Alternative farming systems are not generally cruelty free. For examples, most jurisdictions permit horrendously cruel practices through exemptions to prevention of cruelty legislation in favour of the livestock sector. In terms of cattle, permitted practices generally include (without pain prevention or relief): castration; dehorning; disbudding; hot iron branding; and forced breeding, often involving artificial insemination. Such breeding practices cause the animals to be sexually violated, and may be considered illegal outside the food production system.


The Project Drawdown concept has much merit, but its excessive support for animal agriculture appears to conflict with its stated aims. For many who are following it in the hope of finding solutions to the climate crisis, the project may help to justify existing dietary patterns. However, a general transition away from animal agriculture is necessary, and should not be too high a price to pay in exchange for retaining a habitable planet.


Paul Mahony


Although the CSIRO subsequently reported a reduction of around 30 per cent in emissions from the northern Australian cattle herd, emissions from grass-fed cattle remain on a different paradigm to those of most food-based emissions.


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Volume Calculations

1 gigaton = 1 billion tonnes

1 tonne of H2O = 1 cubic metre

1 tonne of CO2 = 534.8 cubic metres

1 gigaton of H2O = 1,000,000,000 cubic metres

1 gigaton of CO2 = 534,800,000,000 cubic metres

36 gigatons of H2O = 36,000,000,000 cubic metres

36 gigatons of CO2 = 19,252,800,000,000 cubic metres

1 Olympic-sized pool = 2,500 cubic metres

36 gigatons of H20 = 14,400,000 Olympic-sized pools

36 gigatons of CO2 = 7,701,120,000 Olympic-sized pools


Drawdown’s figures are based on metric, rather than imperial, tons.

At standard pressure and 15°C, the density of carbon dioxide gas is 1.87 kg/m3. One tonne of carbon dioxide gas occupies 534.8 m3. It would fill a cube 8.12 x 8.12 x 8.12 metres, compared to a tonne of water, which would fill a cube 1 x 1 x 1 metres.


The item “Animal suffering, human health, and more on climate change” was added on 15th March 2018, subsequent to the initial release.

New paragraph and reference added in relation to managed grazing on 18th March 2018.

This post first appeared on the Planetary Vegan website on 2nd July 2018

Climate Council of Australia is a high-profile climate change campaign organisation, whose “Chief Councillor” is former Australian of the Year, Professor Tim Flannery. (It could be argued the Council has more than enough chiefs, with others occupying the roles of Chair and CEO.) Although he has written books on climate change, Flannery’s main areas of academic research have been zoology and palaeontology.

The Climate Council was created after the former Climate Commission, an independent body created by the federal Labor government in 2011, was disbanded two years later by the newly elected conservative Liberal/National coalition government. [1] Flannery had been Chief Commissioner.

The Council has issued ninety-five reports, with an unfortunate feature of some being what they’ve omitted rather than what they’ve included.

Two examples have dealt with the related issues of land clearing in Queensland and land carbon in vegetation and soils.

Land clearing in Queensland

The report Land clearing & climate change: Risks and opportunities in the sunshine state was issued in 2018. [2]

In addition to highlighting the extent of clearing, the main points of the report were: (a) government policies affect the rate of land clearing; (b) land clearing contributes to climate change; and (c) key aims of land use policy should be to avoid clearing, allow regrowth and encourage replanting.

The only risk referred to (despite the use of the plural “risks” in the title) was the supposed “risk of reversal”. The authors argued that we must not rely on land carbon to offset fossil fuel emissions, as sequestered carbon could be released back to the atmosphere by land clearing or natural disturbances, thereby reversing the initial sequestration.

There is no doubt that we must address the issue of fossil fuels, but that does not diminish the need to include land use in our efforts to overcome climate change. Indeed, we will not succeed without it. (More on that point below.)

The only opportunities referred to were those involved in strengthening a bill currently before the Queensland parliament, which proposes amendments to Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act 1999.

Queensland has been the most destructive Australian state in terms of native vegetation for decades. The Queensland government’s own Statewide Landcover and Trees Study has shown that, since records began in 1988, creation of pasture has been responsible for 91 per cent of clearing. In the most recent reporting period, the figure was 93 per cent. [3]

Despite those alarming figures, in its report dealing solely with land clearing in Queensland, the Climate Council said nothing about livestock-related clearing.

Indeed, almost laughingly (if it were not so serious) the report compared “land use sector” emissions with those of the “agriculture sector”.

Here we have an organisation whose reason for existence is to “provide independent, authoritative climate change information to the Australian public” willingly accepting the dangerous deception of “internationally agreed definitions and methodologies for carbon accounting”, without considering the reality that land clearing for livestock grazing is an agricultural sector activity.

It is those “internationally agreed definitions and methodologies” that have assisted policy makers to effectively ignore the livestock sector’s overall contribution to the climate crisis, willingly playing into the hands of their industry supporters.

The issue has been raised by this writer with Flannery and his fellow commissioners Amanda McKenzie (CEO) and Will Steffen, but they have chosen to ignore it.

Land Carbon

In its 2016 report, Land Carbon: No substitute for action on fossil fuels, the Council downplayed the influence of land carbon on climate change and its importance in respect of efforts to overcome it. [4]

Its main argument was that carbon sequestration on land should not be considered a valid offset for fossil fuel emissions, as it may be seen to excuse such emissions.

Key concerns were the risk of reversal (referred to earlier) and scale, as they argue that the extent of sequestration would be dwarfed by fossil fuel emissions. (p. 39)

However, in a landmark 2008 paper, Dr James Hansen and his fellow authors argued that sequestration of carbon in land sinks was an essential component of returning atmospheric carbon concentrations to 350 parts per million (ppm). [5] Hansen had been prompted to establish a target by climate change campaigner and author, Bill McKibben, who adopted the figure as the name of the organisation he co-founded,

Hansen’s supplementary material indicated a maximum sequestration potential of 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year through action in relation to forests and soils, which represents a rate of sequestration nearly fifty per cent higher than that relied upon by the Climate Council. Current carbon emissions from fossil fuels are around 10 gigatonnes per year. Converting the figures to carbon dioxide results in figures of 5.9 and 36.7 gigatonnes respectively. [6]

Despite the differences in estimates, even the Climate Council states (with my underlines), that we must “return back to the land as much as possible of the atmospheric carbon that originated from the land”. (p. 15) Yet it effectively ignores key measures required to do so, including the critical measure of a general transition away from animal agriculture.

An example of the Climate Council appearing to ignore the issue is its view that cattle grazing represents an ongoing limitation to the amount of land that can be used for carbon sequestration. (pp. 29-30) That is a similar approach to that of climate change author, Philip Sutton, who referred to the need for reforestation in a September 2015 seminar, while expressing concern over perceived difficulties of such a requirement  in relation to food production. Both ignore the fact that far less land would be required for food production if we were not relying on animals as a nutrient source.

The Climate Council has mentioned “strategic grazing management” favourably, even though that measure represents little more than tweaking around the edges of the problem. Using similar terms, including “rotational”, “mob”, “regenerative”, “cell”, “adaptive” and “management-intensive rotational” grazing, researchers at the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) at the University of Oxford argued in 2017 that the “extremely ambitious claims” made by proponents of such approaches are “dangerously misleading”. [7]

When citing deforestation as the main reason for loss of carbon from human land use, the Climate Council failed to refer to the overwhelmingly dominant cause of that deforestation, which has been meat production. (p. 16) [Footnote 1]

When mentioning agriculture in the caption to a related image, there was no reference to the animal variety.

It also acknowledged the importance of protecting carbon stored in coastal ecosystems (including mangroves and coastal wetlands), but did not link such a measure to the impact of fishing and therefore diet. (p. 27)

Although the Climate Council is willing to use alternatives to standard methods of reporting in relation to fossil fuels (by including exported fossil fuel emissions in Australia’s figures), it has retained conservative standard reporting methodologies in relation to land use emissions. (p. 20).

Given the massive extent of livestock production across the Australian land mass, the extent of land clearing should be no surprise. In the sixth largest country on the planet, livestock grazing covers 54 per cent of the land area, as demonstrated by Figure 1. [8]

Figure 1: Australian Land Use

Much of the land that is grazed has not been cleared, but the grazing has had other destructive impacts, including: the introduction of invasive pasture grasses; manipulation of fire regimes; degradation of land and natural water sources; and (particularly relevant to climate change) loss of soil carbon. The introduced species are destroying fragile landscapes that have not evolved to cope with them.

The Great Barrier Reef

Another issue in which the Climate Council has ignored livestock production’s impacts has been coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef.

Here is how it highlighted its recent reef-related activities in its 2016-17 annual report:

“Over the past year, we’ve had a particular focus on the unprecedented back-to-back coral bleaching taking place on the Great Barrier Reef. Our work has included a series of reports, original video content, a newspaper advertisement, two journalist trips and engaging with local tourism operators.”

Despite all that activity, it appears to have published nothing that highlights the horrendous impact of animal agriculture. Cattle grazing has been the main source of sediment and phosphorus in the reef’s waters, and a major contributor to nitrogen loads. A key result has been major outbreaks of crown-of-thorn starfish, which had had a far greater impact than coral bleaching until at least 2012 and possibly overall. [9]

A token article on animal agriculture’s impact

Less than two months after this author posted an online presentation highlighting links between environmental organisations and the livestock sector, the Climate Council (which had been included in the presentation) posted a short article on the impacts of animal agriculture. [10, 11] [Footnote 2] The article appeared more than five years after the councilors came together in the council’s predecessor organisation, the Climate Commission. The adverse impacts it referred to were conservative, and the council still couldn’t help itself; it concluded with comments not on the livestock sector, but on power generation.


If we are facing a climate crisis requiring emergency action, why are critical measures seemingly off-limits for the Climate Council?

It appears to have fallen well short of its claim to have been “changing the narrative and ensuring Australians are equipped with the best information on climate change and solutions”. [12]


Paul Mahony


  1. At that point in the paper, the Climate Council went from items (i) – (iii) to items (i) and (ii) with no commentary between them. This appears to have been a typographical error.
  2. The presentation was not suggesting that anyone had been influenced by the links or that anyone was trying to influence others; it simply noted that the links exist.


[1] Arup, Tom, “Abbott shuts down Climate Commission”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19th September 2013,

[2] Steffen, W., Dean, A., Climate Council of Australia, “Land clearing & climate change: Risks and opportunities in the sunshine state” , 23rd April 2018,

[3] Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2015-16: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane,

[4] Steffen, W., Fenwick, J., Rice, M., Climate Council of Australia, “Land Carbon: No substitute for action on fossil fuels”, 29th September 2016,

[5] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008, Open Atmos. Sci. J., 2, Supplementary Material, p. xvi, doi:10.2174/1874282300802010217,

[6] IPCC Working Group III: Mitigation, IV Units, Conversion Factors, and GDP Deflators,

[7] Garnett, T., Godde, C., Muller, A., Röös, E., Smith, P., de Boer, I., zu Ermgassen, E., Herrero, M., van Middelaar, C., Schader, C., van Zanten, H. (2017), “Grazed and Confused?”, Food Climate Research Network,

[8] Australian Government, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, ABARES
National scale land use (based on Land Use of Australia 2010-11, Version 5, ABARES 2016)
Last reviewed 5th March 2018,

[9] Mahony, P. “Meat eaters vs The Great Barrier Reef”, Terrastendo, 18th June 2017,, citing Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, and De’ath, G., Katharina Fabricius, K.E., Sweatman, H., Puotinen, M., “The 27–year decline of coral cover on the Great Barrier Reef and its causes”, PNAS 2012 109 (44) 17995-17999; published ahead of print October 1, 2012, doi:10.1073/pnas.1208909109,

[10] Mahony, P., “The link that too many ignore”, Terrastendo, 26th August 2016,

[11] The Climate Council of Australia, “From farm to plate to the atmosphere: food-related emissions”, 16th October 2016,

[12] Climate Council of Australia, Annual Report 2016-17, p. 2,


Adwo, “Free range Australian bull”, Shutterstock


This post contains the text of my open letter to the Sydney Peace Foundation concerning its decision to award the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize to author and activist, Naomi Klein.

The organisation is a University of Sydney foundation that was created in 1998. It says it “promotes peace with justice and the practice of nonviolence by awarding the annual Sydney Peace Prize and encouraging public interest and discussion about issues of peace, social justice, human rights, and non-violent conflict resolution”.

It describes the prize as “Australia’s international prize of peace”.

My letter

The Sydney Peace Foundation
Mackie Building K01
University of Sydney
New South Wales
Australia, 2006


30th September 2016

Dear Sydney Peace Foundation,

Re: Sydney Peace Prize 2016

I understand you have awarded the 2016 Sydney Peace Prize to author and activist Naomi Klein, with the following citation:

For exposing the structural causes and responsibility for the climate crisis, for inspiring us to stand up locally, nationally and internationally to demand a new agenda for sharing the planet that respects human rights and equality, and for reminding us of the power of authentic democracy to achieve transformative change and justice.

Unfortunately, in her writing and campaigning, Ms Klein appears to have overlooked or ignored a major “structural cause” of the climate crisis, namely animal agriculture.

Leading climate scientist, Dr James Hansen (along with his fellow researchers), argues that we will not overcome the crisis without massive reforestation and significant cuts in emissions of non-CO2 climate forcers, such as methane, nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone and black carbon. [1] Meaningful action in that regard cannot be achieved without a general move toward a plant-based diet.

Consistent with that view were the findings of a 2009 study by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, indicating that a global transition to a completely animal-free diet would reduce climate change mitigation costs by around 80 per cent. A meat-free diet would reduce them by 70 per cent. A key factor would be the ability of lands cleared or degraded for livestock grazing and feed crop production to regenerate forests and other forms of vegetation. [2]

The assessment was based on a targeted atmospheric CO2 concentration of 450 ppm. The issue is even more critical when aiming for essential lower levels.

Similarly, a paper from researchers at the Institute for Social Ecology, Vienna, published in April 2016, reported on the potential to avoid further deforestation while feeding a growing global population. [3] They considered 500 food supply scenarios using forecasts for crop yields, agricultural area, livestock feed and human diet supplied by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). The lead author, Karl-Heinz Erb, has stated: [4]

“The only diet found to work with all future possible scenarios of yield and cropland area, including 100% organic agriculture, was a plant-based one.”

In Australia, since European settlement, we have cleared nearly 1 million square kilometres of our 7.7 million square kilometre land mass. Of the cleared land, around 70 per cent has resulted from animal agriculture, including meat, dairy and wool. [5]

The World Wildlife Fund has identified Australia as one of eleven global “deforestation fronts” in the twenty years to 2030 due to livestock production. [6]

The grossly and inherently inefficient nature of animals as a source of nutrition causes us to use far more resources, including land, than would be required on a plant-based diet.

Peace with Justice

A general transition toward a plant-based diet is also consistent with the Sydney Peace Foundation’s promotion of peace with justice and the practice of non-violence.

The issue of social justice was highlighted in a 2013 paper from the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota, which stated: [7]

“The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption”.

Animal feed crops represent 90% of that figure (in turn representing 3.6 billion people), and biofuels only 10%.

The FAO estimates that around 795 million people were chronically under-nourished in the period 2014-2016. [8]

The lead author of the University of Minnesota paper, Emily Cassidy, has said:

“We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate. Depending on the extent to which farmers and consumers are willing to change current practices, existing croplands could feed millions or even billions more people.”

And let’s not forget the animals themselves. We currently breed and slaughter around 70 billion land animals annually, compared to a human population of around 7.4 billion. [9] The livestock reproduction rate is significantly above natural levels, and involves abuse and confinement on a massive scale, even for so-called “free range” systems.

In Australia and elsewhere, animal cruelty has been legalised by way of exemptions to so-called “prevention of cruelty to animals” legislation in favour of livestock and other industries.

Human health

I note that you support the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, including the goal to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages”.

The detrimental health impacts of animal-based foods have been well documented by organisations such as the World Cancer Research Fund, the World Health Organization, and others.

A recent example was the April 2016 study by researchers from the Oxford Martin School (University of Oxford) reporting on the health and climate change benefits of changing diets, including reduced consumption of animal products. [10]

The researchers estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. If a vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million per year.

More than half the avoided deaths would be due to reduced red meat consumption. The results would primarily reflect reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

Former winner calls for vegan diet

The 2002 winner of the Sydney Peace Prize, Mary Robinson, has recently called for those who care about climate change to stop eating animals and animal-based products. [11]


Here is some of what she said:

“We have to change, we cannot go on with business as usual. We need each of us to think about our carbon footprint. Eat less meat, or no meat at all. Become vegetarian or vegan.”

Mrs Robinson was speaking at the “One Young World Summit” in Ottawa, Canada, earlier this month, attended by young leaders from 196 nations.


A positive gesture to highlight these critical issues would be to serve only vegan food at the Sydney Peace Prize Gala Dinner on 11th November.

You may also wish to consider broadening your approach on peace, social justice and non-violence to include animals.

I would be pleased to discuss the issues in more detail if you are interested in doing so.

Kind Regards,

Paul Mahony


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


[1] Hansen, J; Sato, M; Kharecha, P; Beerling, D; Berner, R; Masson-Delmotte, V; Pagani, M; Raymo, M; Royer, D.L.; and Zachos, J.C. “Target Atmospheric CO2: Where Should Humanity Aim?”, 2008.

[2] Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also

[3] Erb, K-H, Lauk, C., Kastner, T., Mayer, A., Theurl, M.C., Haberl, H., “Exploring the biophysical option space for feeding the world without deforestation”, Nat. Commun. 7:11382 doi: 10.1038/ncomms11382 (2016), and

[4] Kehoe, L., “Can we feed the world and stop deforestation? Depends what’s for dinner”, The Conversation, 20 Apr 2016 (Updated 26 Apr 2016),

[5] Derived from Russell, G. “The global food system and climate change – Part 1”, 9 Oct 2008, ( and “Bulbs, bags, and Kelly’s bush: defining `green’ in Australia”, 19 Mar 2010 (p. 10) (, which utilised: Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, State of the Environment Report 2006, Indicator: LD-01 The proportion and area of native vegetation and changes over time, March 2009; and ABS, 4613.0 “Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends”, Jan 2010; and ABS 1301.0 Australian Year Book 2008, since updated for 2009-10, 16.13 Area of crops

[6] World Wildlife Fund (World Wide Fund for Nature), “WWF Living Forests Report”, Chapter 5 and Chapter 5 Executive Summary,;

[7] Emily S Cassidy et al., 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015, cited in University of Minnesota News Release, 1 Aug 2013, “Existing Cropland Could Feed 4 Billion More”,

[8] World Hunger Education Service, Hunger Notes, “2016 World Hunger and Poverty Facts and Statistics”, (Accessed 30th September 2016)

[9] FAOSTAT, Livestock Primary, Slaughter numbers 2013,

[10] Springmann, M., Godfray, H.C.J., Rayner, M., Scarborough, P., “Analysis and valuation of the health and climate change cobenefits of dietary change”, PNAS 2016 113 (15) 4146-4151; published ahead of print March 21, 2016, doi:10.1073/pnas.1523119113, (print edition 12 Apr 2016), and

[11] Virk, K., “‘Eat less meat, or no meat at all’ – Mary Robinson suggests going vegan to reduce carbon footprint”, The Independent, 29 Sep 2016,


Troy Page | | “Naomi Klein” | Flickr | Creative Commons | NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Simon Ruf | United Nations Information Centre | “Climate Envoy Mary Robinson” | Flickr | Creative Commons | NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0)


Second paragraph introducing the letter amended 2nd October 2016.

Comment on World Wildlife Fund added 2nd October 2016.


Note from author

This article first appeared on the Viva la Vegan website on 14th October 2015.


I became vegan in late 2007. The trigger was a two-minute video from Animals Australia, with the title “In defence of mothers“, showing sow stalls used in the pig meat industry. The video opened my eyes to the fact that there was something very wrong in the use of animals as food. I had found it via the website of Vegetarian Victoria (then known as “Vegetarian Network Victoria” or “VNV”), which had appeared in a Google search for vegetarian recipes. I was not vegetarian at the time, but liked to cook vegetarian meals when my turn came to be the family chef.

Vegetarian Victoria turned out to be a great source of information on the relevant issues, including the impacts of the dairy and egg industries, and other forms of animal exploitation.

I suspected that my decision may come as a shock to my family, and felt that a gradual transition may be in order, to be fully implemented by the time of a forthcoming milestone birthday. However, as I read more about the issues, I brought the decision forward, and by then it had changed fundamentally; I was to become vegan.

I knew almost nothing about veganism before that time, but Animals Australia’s video had opened my eyes and caused me to investigate the issues.

From a physical point of view, it was one of the easiest things I have ever done, and I have not missed meat, fish, dairy or egg products for one second in the eight years since. Nutritional information from Vegetarian Victoria assisted at the time, as did its online forum. That was in the pre-Facebook days (it’s hard to imagine now), and rudimentary communication via the forum with other vegans provided great support.

From the VNV site and elsewhere, I also found information on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture. In the same way that I was shocked to realise what we were doing to animals, I was also shocked about the impacts on the planet.

Naively, I felt that the only reason others were not concerned about the issues was that they were unaware of them. That view prompted me to write letters to the newspapers. My first letter on livestock and climate change was published in The Age newspaper (Melbourne) in February, 2008, under the heading, “Feeling scared? Eat less meat”. I’ve included it at the end of this post. I’ve been fortunate to have many letters published since then, dealing with animal rights, climate change (including the impact of animal agriculture), and politics.

Soon after that letter were published, I wrote to Victoria’s minister for the environment. A member of his department responded, informing me that a summit known as “A climate of opportunity” had been held earlier that year, and that they were inviting submissions in response to the relevant paper. I submitted mine on the deadline of 30th June, 2008. That was followed in September, 2009 by a submission on behalf of VNV in relation to the state government’s green paper on the subject, and another in September 2012 in response to the federal government’s National Food Plan Green Paper. I launched my Terrastendo website in late December, 2012, dealing with animal rights, climate change in general, climate change and animal agriculture, and the health impacts of eating animals.

Earlier, in February 2011, I commenced presenting to community groups and others on climate change and the impact of animal agriculture. I often inform the audience at the start of a presentation that I became vegan because of animal cruelty, and that I subsequently learnt of the environmental impacts. I inform them of that background as a form of disclosure, as I would not anyone to assume that I am talking about the environment as a backdoor way of advocating for animals. I argue that animal rights and the environment are, in their own right, sufficient justification for adopting a vegan lifestyle. Health benefits can be added to the list.

Over the years, I have approached various pro-environment groups about the livestock issue, commencing with the Greens political party in 2008 (Bob Brown, Christine Milne and subsequently Adam Bandt), and progressing through to Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Bill McKibben of, Environment Victoria, the Climate Commission (and its successor the Climate Council), and others. Their lack of interest is a major concern, and I have written about three of them in the linked articles.

Outside the environment movement, I have liaised with Youth Food Movement Australia via Facebook and Twitter. The group “aims to build the skills, knowledge and experience that young people have around food”, but fails to meaningfully inform them of the environmental and cruelty impacts of animal agriculture. Indeed, the group generally praises and interacts closely with the beef industry.

In September, 2015, I attended a presentation by climate change author, Philip Sutton, and asked why he had ignored the issue when one of his key points was the urgent need to draw down atmospheric carbon through deforestation and other means. (Livestock is a critical factor in that regard.) I reminded him that I had asked him the same question at the Breakthrough Summit in April, 2014. I could also have mentioned that I had emailed him in early 2009, and that his two-line response only referred to climate change in general, with no reference to animal agriculture.

At the April, 2014 presentation, Sutton responded by saying he realised the issue was important, but did not know enough about it to comment. At the recent presentation, he said that we were not at a point where people would be willing to change. I respect much of Sutton’s work. However, when witnessing a person who has co-authored a leading book on climate change not meaningfully considering the livestock issue, I have felt a sense of frustration and despair.

The feeling has been similar in relation to prominent scientist and head of the Climate Council, Tim Flannery. When I asked him and fellow (at the time) climate commissioner, Will Steffen, about the issue at a presentation in April, 2013, Steffen (like Sutton) said that he realised it was important, but the commission had insufficient resources to investigate it.

I sent a detailed email the following day, requesting that it be passed on to Steffen. I received a response from a Commission employee, stating that Steffen was overseas and unable to respond personally. She said he had asked her to thank me for the references and that the Climate Commission was considering a new report which would include discussion of agricultural emissions and soil carbon. To my knowledge, no such report was prepared by either the Climate Commission or the Climate Council. The issue is not included in the Council’s latest publication, “Climate Change 2015: Growing Risks, Critical Choices”, which includes a section titled, “Now is the time for strong action on climate change”.

In his latest book, Flannery highlights potential climate change mitigation measures (which he has labelled the “third way”) with long lead times, while ignoring the enormous mitigation potential that already exists in the form of a general move away from animal agriculture in favour of plant-based nutrition. Some or all of the measures he refers to may have merit, but we need to urgently address the climate crisis, and acting on animal agriculture can provide almost immediate benefits that will increase very significantly over time.

Flannery has previously declared himself to be a “proud eater of flesh”, which he subsequently modified by referring to so-called “sustainably produced” flesh. However, livestock production is not sustainable at the levels that would be required to feed the masses. Like Sutton, Flannery’s “Atmosphere of hope” had the opposite effect to what is implied in the title, by filling me with despair.

The despair in relation to Sutton and Flannery has been short-lived, as there is too much to write and say in response to allow the feeling to remain for long.

Something I have enjoyed over the past couple of years is critiquing and challenging material from Australian meat industry participants in the form of so-called “curriculum guides” for primary and secondary students, along with their responses to the 2014 documentary, “Cowspiracy, the sustainability secret”. In my view, their output does little to support their interests, as I have referred to in the linked articles and elsewhere.

Through Melbourne Pig Save, I have also had the opportunity to advocate directly for animals. Our interaction with the community through social media and at peaceful rallies in Bourke Street Mall, Melbourne, highlights people’s concern for animals, their general lack of knowledge over the abhorrent treatment, and the duplicity of governments and corporations in creating and maintaining a world of make-believe and fairy tales.

Those concerns apply equally to the environment, and it is essential that activists fighting for both causes (using Gough Whitlam’s words on another issue) “maintain the rage”. I hope to never become a robot or automaton.


Paul Mahony


Also on Twitter, Slideshare, Sribd, Melbourne Pig Save , A Well-Fed World, New Matilda and Viva la Vegan.

Definition (Oxford dictionary)

Automaton: (Noun) A moving mechanical device made in imitation of a human being.

First letter on livestock and climate change

Feeling scared? Eat less meat (The Age, 22nd Feb, 2008)

Professor Garnaut’s ominous predictions on climate change (The Age, 21/2) must be taken seriously by us all. If we were under threat by another country, we’d do whatever it took to protect our homeland. Kevin Rudd needs to treat the current threat in the same way that Winston Churchill and the citizens of Britain treated the threat to their country and Western Europe in World War II.

An easy step, which no one in Australian politics seems to mention, is to eat less meat. Could it be that they’re afraid of a backlash from the livestock sector? Just look at the findings of UN bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in regard to the disastrous effects of the livestock sector on climate change, land degradation, water use and loss of biodiversity. For example, the FAO has said that the livestock sector is “responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.”

The livestock sector converts vegetable protein to animal protein in an incredibly inefficient manner. It typically takes around 20 kilograms of vegetable protein fed to cattle, to produce one kilogram of animal protein. We’d use an awful lot less land, and produce far less greenhouse gas, if that vegetable protein came straight to us.


Beautiful twilight landscape in rain forest ©

Correction 29th April 2017

“At the April, 2014 presentation, Sutton responded by saying he realised the issue was important, but did not know enough about it to comment.”

giant penne IMG_2833(1)

We recently released a booklet in conjunction with Vegetarian Victoria and Vegan Australia, titled “The Low Emissions Diet: Eating for a safe climate”.

If interested, you can download it here or by clicking this image:


In a nutshell:

  • The booklet includes a sample of vegan recipes from The Kind Cook, with charts showing their greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The charts show how emissions would increase if you added various ingredients, such as meat and fish.
  • We’ve provided some context to emissions from animal-based foods by comparing them to emissions from:
    – plant-based foods
    – high-emissions activities such as aluminium smelting and fossil fuel based power generation
    – motor vehicles
  • There are comments on nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, calcium, vitamin D and vitamin B12.
  • There are sections on:
    – greenhouse gases and black carbon
    – land clearing
    – emissions intensity of Australian beef
  • There are also comments on the so-called “climatarian” diet, which avoids products from ruminant animals, such as cattle and sheep. Due to the global community’s precarious position on the edge of a climate change precipice, we argue that if the diet is to achieve its intended aims, it must also exclude pig meat, chicken meat, fish, egg and dairy products.

We hope you find it useful.


Paul Mahony


The Kind Cook, Giant Penne Pasta with Mushroom Sauce,

The Kind Cook on Facebook





On the final weekend of November, 2015, marches will occur around the world, with participants demanding urgent and effective action on climate change. The organisers of the Australian marches, like so-called world leaders who will meet at the Paris climate summit, are focusing almost exclusively on the impact of fossil fuels. In doing so, they are overlooking or ignoring another critical contributor to climate change, animal agriculture.

This post is a recap of some of the key issues, along with some new information.

What is the problem?

Producing animal-based foods affects the environment in dramatic ways. Here are some examples of prominent organisations and individuals sounding the alarm over many years:

“[Animal food products] place undue demand on land, water, and other resources required for intensive food production, which makes the typical Western diet not only undesirable from the standpoint of health but also environmentally unsustainable.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and World Health Organization (2002)

“[Livestock production] is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO, 2006)

“Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”
United Nations Environment Programme (2010)

“Please eat less meat; meat is a very carbon intensive commodity.” Former head of the IPCC, Rajendra Pachauri (2010)

Livestock’s climate change impacts arise from many inter-related factors, such as its inherent inefficiency as a food source; the massive scale of the industry; land clearing far beyond what would otherwise be required to satisfy our nutritional requirements; greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and other warming agents such as black carbon.

Livestock’s impacts are understated

The adverse climate change impact of livestock production is understated in most official figures, because relevant data is either omitted, classified under non-livestock headings, or included on the basis of conservative calculations.

Allowing for the relevant factors, the 2014 Land Use, Agriculture and Forestry discussion paper prepared by Australian climate change advocacy group, Beyond Zero Emissions in conjunction with Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne), indicated that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper.

Some key contributors

Methane (CH4) is produced in the digestive system of ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep. In Australia, measured over a 20-year time horizon, methane from livestock produces more warming than all our coal-fired power stations combined. That’s in a country with amongst the highest per capita emissions in the world due to our heavy reliance on coal.

The 20-year time horizon (including its associated “global warming potential”) is critical in terms of potential climate change tipping points, with potentially catastrophic and irreversible consequences. [See footnote.]

Although methane is a critical problem (including methane from livestock-related savanna burning), so are livestock-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, resulting from the clearing of forest and other vegetation. The carbon locked in cleared vegetation is released as CO2. We are hit twice, as once the vegetation is gone, we no longer have the benefit of its ability to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

In Australia, nearly a third of our non-arid and semi-arid land has been cleared for livestock production. A large portion of the remainder has been severely degraded by livestock grazing, with significant loss of soil carbon.

According to the World Resources Institute, overgrazing is the largest single cause of land degradation, world-wide. Much of the degradation occurs in the semi-arid areas. Cattle are heavy animals with hard hooves, big appetites, and a digestive system that produces large quantities of manure. Turned loose on fragile, semi-arid environments, they can soon devastate a landscape that has not evolved to cope with them.

Nitrous oxide (N2O) is also emitted in great quantities from animal manure and fertiliser used on animal feedcrops, along with livestock-related savanna burning. It is nearly 300 times as potent as CO2 as a greenhouse gas.

Two warming agents generally omitted from official figures, and prominent in animal agriculture, are tropospheric ozone and black carbon. They remain in the atmosphere for a short period, but have a significant impact.

The impact of chicken, pig and dairy consumption

Chickens and pigs are not ruminant animals belching significant amounts of methane (although methane and nitrous oxide are emitted from their excrement). However, we are sitting on a climate change precipice while continuing to destroy the Amazon rainforest and occupy previously cleared land in order to grow soy beans (and graze cattle).

A significant proportion of those soy beans are fed to billions of chickens and pigs in a grossly inefficient process. Cows in the dairy industry are also major recipients.

Seafood’s impacts

Like chickens and pigs, fish and other sea creatures do not belch methane, and they do not require us to destroy massive areas of rainforest for grazing (although they are fed soy meal in fish farms).

The oceans cover 71 percent of our planet’s surface. They are home to complex ecosystems that are being disturbed by industrial and non-industrial (including recreational) fishing in ways that may profoundly affect our climate system.

A recent paper in Nature Climate Change has helped to highlight some of impact. The problem arises largely from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The paper focused on the phenomenon of “trophic downgrading”, the disproportionate loss of species high in the food chain, and its impact on vegetated coastal habitats consisting of seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes.

The loss of predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures who disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from the vegetation and sediment.

Those habitats are estimated to store up to 25 billion tonnes of carbon, making them the most carbon-rich ecosystems in the world. They sequester carbon 40 times faster than tropical rainforests and contribute 50 per cent of the total carbon buried in ocean sediment.

Estimates of the areas affected are unavailable, but if only 1 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats were affected to a depth of 1 metre in a year, around 460 million tonnes of CO2 could be released. That is around the level of emissions from all motor vehicles in Britain, France and Spain combined, or a little under Australia’s current annual emissions.

Loss of ongoing carbon sequestration is the other problem. If sequestration capability was reduced by 20 per cent in only 10 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats, it would equate to a loss of forested area the size of Belgium.

These impacts only relate to vegetated coastal habitats, and do not allow for loss of predators on kelp forests, coral reefs or open oceans, or the direct impact on habitat of destructive fishing techniques such as trawling.

Will we grasp a golden opportunity?

A 2009 study by the PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency estimated that a global transition to a completely animal free diet would reduce climate change mitigation costs by around 80 per cent. A meat-free diet would reduce them by 70 per cent.

Will we grasp the opportunity that those figures represent, or continue to effectively ignore the issue?

The failure of prominent environmental groups

Prominent organisations, such as Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Greens political party in Australia, and, have failed to campaign meaningfully, if at all, on the livestock issue.

ACF advocates consumption of “grass fed as opposed to grain fed meat”, seemingly unaware that the emissions intensity of grass-fed is far higher than that of the grain-fed alternative (with both being on a different paradigm to plant-based foods). Bill McKibben of has made similar claims, with neither citing evidence for their position to my knowledge. Despite what they may wish to believe, the natural way is not always best in every respect.

AYCC describes itself as “a real force to be reckoned with”, but has failed miserably on this topic.

Hopefully, those groups and others will add the livestock issue to their campaigning efforts, helping to inform their supporters and significantly enhancing their effectiveness.

Social Justice

Environmental groups in Australia are using the catch-cry “Climate justice, climate peace” in the weeks before the Paris climate summit. It may have merit, but to the extent campaigners consume animal-based foods, they ignore the injustice of livestock production.

For example, researchers from the University of Minnesota have estimated that we would have the capacity to feed another 4 billion people with a general transition to a plant-based diet. That would enable us to resolve the current crisis that exists in the form of nearly 800 million people who are chronically under-nourished.

Of course, with livestock’s massive climate change impacts, ignoring the issue flies directly in the face of the message of climate justice and peace intended to be conveyed by the campaigners.

Personal choice?

Many people argue that food consumption is a matter of personal choice, and that their choices should not be challenged by others. However, we can no longer regard food choices as strictly personal when their impacts have far-reaching, adverse consequences.

Governments could assist with information campaigns, and by creating pricing mechanisms that ensure the environmental cost of consumption is allowed for in the price paid by the end-user, thereby reducing demand for high emissions intensity products, along with the resultant supply.


The road to Paris may have been difficult so far, but the way forward, with potential tipping points and runaway climate change, could be very ugly indeed. It is time to wake up, face the ultimate inconvenient truth, and take all necessary steps in an effort to avoid catastrophe.


Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Facebook, Scribd, Slideshare, New Matilda, Rabble and Viva la Vegan)


For more on the “global warming potential” of different greenhouse gases, see GWP explained.

Even in the absence of clear tipping points, climate feedback mechanisms create accelerating, non-linear changes, which are potentially irreversible.


Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization, “Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements: Report of a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation Bangkok, Thailand”, 2001, pp. 14, and

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock impacts on the environment”, Spotlight 2006, November 2006

UNEP (2010) Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials, A Report of the Working Group on the Environmental Impacts of Products and Materials to the International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management. Hertwich, E., van der Voet, E., Suh, S., Tukker, A., Huijbregts M., Kazmierczyk, P., Lenzen, M., McNeely, J., Moriguchi, Y.

Agence France-Presse, “Lifestyle changes can curb climate change: IPCC chief”, 15 January, 2010,

Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, October, 2014,

Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., Longmire, A., Rickards, L., “Neglected Transformational Responses: Implications of Excluding Short Lived Emissions and Near Term Projections in Greenhouse Gas Accounting”, International Journal of Climate Change: Impacts and Responses, Volume 7, Issue 3, September 2015, pp.11-27. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Published Online: August 17, 2015,

Mahony, P., “The Electric Cow”, Terrastendo, 27th May, 2014,

Russell, G., “Bulbs, bags, and Kelly’s bush: defining ‘green’ in Australia”, 19 Mar 2010 (p. 10) (, which utilised: Dept. of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, State of the Environment Report 2006, Indicator: LD-01 The proportion and area of native vegetation and changes over time, March 2009; and ABS, 4613.0 “Australia’s Environment: Issues and Trends”, Jan 2010; and ABS 1301.0 Australian Year Book 2008, since updated for 2009-10, 16.13 Area of crops

Australian Bureau of Statistics, “Themes – Environment, Land and Soil, Agriculture”, citing World Resources Institute, World Resources, 1998-99: A Guide to the Global Environment, Washington, DC, 1998, p. 157, cited in “The Ethics of What We Eat” (2006), Singer, P & Mason, J, Text Publishing Company, p. 216

Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015,

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Ocean” (undated),

Atwood, T.B., Connolly, R.M., Ritchie, E.G., Lovelock, C.E., Heithaus, M.R., Hays, G.C., Fourqurean, J.W., Macreadie, P.I., “Predators help protect carbon stocks in blue carbon ecosystems”, published online 28 September 2015,

Macreadie, P., Ritchie, E., Hays, G., Connolly, R., Atwood, T.B., “Ocean predators can help reset our planet’s thermostat”, The Conversation, 29th September, 2015,

Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also

Australian Conservation Foundation, “Meat Free Week: eat less, care more, feel good”, 17th March, 2014,

Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, Terrastendo, 5th September, 2013,

Mahony, P. “Do the math: There are too many cows!”, Terrastendo, 26th July, 2013,

Harper, L.A., Denmead, O.T., Freney, J.R., and Byers, F.M., Journal of Animal Science, June, 1999, “Direct measurements of methane emissions from grazing and feedlot cattle”, J ANIM SCI, 1999, 77:1392-1401,;

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010,

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014”,


Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 Photo © Delstudio |


My recent presentation “Risk Management, Insurance and the Climate Crisis” focussed on the increase in likelihood and consequences of extreme weather events resulting from climate change. Here’s a sample of points from that presentation and elsewhere, including points relevant to specific industry sectors (with some irony existing in respect of certain high-emissions sectors).


Inundation by sea:

  • Projections of sea level rise by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) do not take into account critical factors such as ice sheet dynamics on Greenland and Antarctica or the melting of permafrost in Siberia, Canada and elsewhere (releasing massive amounts of methane and carbon dioxide). Taking those and other relevant factors into account, the former long-term head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, says that sea level rise of several metres is feasible by 2100 if we continue with “business as usual”, subject to the impact of certain negative feedback mechanisms.
  • A 50 centimetre (18 inch) rise in sea level increases the likelihood of a major inundation event by between several hundred and 1,000 times. That means that what was a 1-in-100 year event could occur nearly monthly.

Storm intensity:

  • A warming climate results in more water vapour in the atmosphere. Water vapour is a key greenhouse gas in its own right, and also causes more energy in the form of latent heat to be present in the atmosphere to fuel storms.
  • The likelihood of a hurricane with the strength of Hurricane Katrina or greater increases 2 – 7 times for every 1 degree celsius increase in global temperature.
  • The extent of building damage increases by around 650 percent from just a 25 percent increase in wind speed from 40 – 50 kmh to 50 – 60 kmh. (10 kmh = 6 mph.)

Bushfire (wildfire):

  • Climate change can affect bushfire (wildfire) conditions by increasing the probability of extreme fire weather days. As an example, many parts of Australia have seen an increase in extreme fire weather over the last 30 years. The projections for the future indicate a significant increase in dangerous fire weather for southeast Australia.

Non-linear trends:

  • Many of the trends in the frequency and intensity of extreme events and in the destructive capacity of those events resulting from climate change are non-linear, meaning that the past history of events is not necessarily a reliable guide to current and future impacts.
  • Given the conservative nature of many of the IPCC’s projections (refer above), other credible sources should also be considered. Australia’s former Chief Climate Commissioner, Professor Tim Flannery, has described the IPCC as “painfully conservative” because of the parties involved and the desire to achieve consensus.

Property and Construction:

  • In Australia, $159 billion worth of buildings are vulnerable to sea level rise, including 8,000 commercial, 6,000 industrial and 274,000 residential properties. Similar problems exist elsewhere.
  • The frequency of hail storms in Sydney, Australia, is predicted to increase by 20 percent by 2050. Australia’s costliest insurance claim arose from a one-hour hail storm in that city in 1999, which caused damage of A$4.3 billion (2011 dollars).


  • Cyclone Yasi and flooding in 2011 shut down 85 percent of coal mines in the state of Queensland, Australia, costing $2.5 billion. (Australia is the world’s second largest coal exporter, and Queensland is a major source.)


  • The US Department of Energy has said that climate change has created an increased risk of shutdowns at coal, natural gas and nuclear power plants due to decreased water availability affecting cooling at thermoelectric power plants.
  • They also say there are higher risks to energy infrastructure located along the coasts due to sea level rise, the increasing intensity of storms, higher storm surge and flooding and that power lines, transformers and electricity distribution systems face increasing risks of physical damage from hurricanes, storms and wildfires.
  • At the Hazelwood power station in Australia, an open coal mine fire started from bushfire in 2006. The coal fire was 2 kilometres (1.25 miles) long and took weeks to control.


  • The storm surge from Hurricane Katrina in 2005 caused the closure of nine refineries, resulting in the total shutdown of oil production in the Gulf of Mexico for six months and reducing annual US oil production by more than 20 percent.
  • The Gorgon LNG project off Western Australia experienced construction cost blow outs of US$15 billion, partially due to cyclones and other extreme weather events.
  • Up to 50 percent of Australia’s oil refineries are on the coast not far above sea level.

Employer Groups and Unions:

  • The 2003 European heatwave that was responsible for more than 35,000 deaths was 6 times more likely due to climate change.
  • An Australian heatwave in early 2009 resulted in 62 percent more heat-related deaths than normal in the city of Melbourne.
  • There is an 80 percent probability that the 2010 Moscow heat wave, responsible for 11,000 deaths, was caused by climate change.
  • According to Dr. Liz Hanna of Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health, part of Australia are reaching the threshold where it was impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat. She said, “If employers ask people to continue to work in temperatures above 37°C, they will be killing them in increasing numbers”.

Federal, State and Local Planning Regulators:

  • Possibly inadequate planning controls in relation to flooding, bushfire and other hazards may expose regulators such as local councils and state and federal governments to risk of legal action.
  • A report from Australian National University and the Investor Group on Climate Change stated: “There is a growing recognition of how inadequate current regulatory frameworks are to protect company assets and operations from more intense extreme weather events.”
  • Barbara Norman of the University of Canberra has stated: “As the science on the coastal impacts of climate change gets stronger, the protections for Australia’s coastal communities are getting weaker. If that continues, everyone will pay. Along the eastern seaboard of Australia, where most of us live, state governments are relaxing their policies and largely leaving it to local councils to decide if homes can be built in low-lying areas.”

Other Issues:

  • Various cities are considered to be at extreme risk from climate change, including:
    – Dhaka, Bangladesh;
    – Manila, Philippines;
    – Bangkok, Thailand;
    – Yangon, Myanmar;
    – Jakarta, Indonesia;
    – Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam; and
    – Kolkata (Calcutta), India.
  • 31 percent of global economic output will be based in countries facing ‘high’ or ‘extreme’ risks from the impacts of climate change by 2025.
  • An advisor to a state government in Australia prepared a comprehensive report for the state’s captive insurer in 2010 (updated in 2011) on impacts of climate change on the insurer’s portfolio, reflecting significant impacts.
  • Researchers from Cornell and Rutgers Universities have suggested that the severe loss of Arctic summer sea ice appears to have intensified Arctic air mass invasions toward middle latitudes.
  • Records between 2003 and 2008 reflected a 10-fold increase in extreme summer temperatures (hot and cold) relative to the base period of 1951-1980. Extreme temperatures are considered to be more than three standard deviations from the historical mean temperature.

In relation to the final point, the following chart from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies demonstrates the changing patterns for the period 2000-2010:


I have no doubt that the massive impacts of climate change are being recklessly ignored by key decision makers. Do you concur? I’d welcome your feedback in the comments section below.

Blog Author: Paul Mahony (also on on Twitter, Slideshare and Sribd)

April Saylor, US Dept of Energy, “Climate Change: Effects on Our Energy”, 11 July 2013,

Dr Michael H. Smith, Australian National University/Investor Group on Climate Change: “Assessing Climate Change Risks and Opportunities for Investors: Property and Construction”; “Assessing Climate Change Risks and Opportunities for Investors: Property and Construction”; “Assessing Climate Change Risks and Opportunities for Investors: Oil and Gas”,

James Hansen and Makiko Sato, “Update of Greenland Ice Sheet Mass Loss: Exponential?”, 26 December 2012,

Dr Myles Allen and colleagues, Oxford University, cited in “Cuts in emissions are at a premium” by Liam Phelan, Sydney Morning Herald, 25 January, 2011,

David Spratt, “Parts of Australia reaching threshold where it is impossible for normal life to continue because of the heat, says climate impacts researcher”, Climate Code Red, 17 Nov 2013,

World Coal Association, Coal Statistics (2012),

Maplecroft Climate change and environmental risk atlas:;

Environment Victoria, “Victorian government insurance premiums to soar due to climate change”, 7 Jan 2013,

Tom Arup, The Age, “Climate threat to state assets”, 7 Jan 2013,

Jennifer A. Francis, Stephen J. Vavrus,Evidence linking Arctic amplification to extreme weather in mid-latitudes”, Geophysical Research Letters Volume 39, Issue 6, March 2012, cited in Freedman, A., “Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows”, 30 Sep, 2012,

Hansen, J., Sato, M. & Ruedy, R. “Climate Variability and Climate Change: The New Climate Dice” (Preliminary Draft), 10 Nov 2011,

Tullis, P. “Global Warming: An Exclusive Look at James Hansen’s Scary New Math”, Time Science & Space, 10 May, 2012,

Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, 2 Aug 2012 “Shifting Distribution of Northern Hemisphere Summer Temperature Anomalies, 1951-2011”, Animation No. 3975, Australian Climate Commission, Apr 2013, “The Critical Decade: Extreme Weather”,

David Spratt,“Global Warming – No more business as usual: This is an emergency!”, Environmental Activists’ Conference 2008: Climate Emergency – No More Business as Usual, 10 October, 2008, reproduced in Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal,

Barbara Norman, “Scrapping sea level protection puts Australian homes at risk”, The Conversation, 11 December, 2013,

Image: Car hit by Hail © Robert Ruggiero |

I was very pleased to present on the climate crisis at two recent events in Melbourne. The first was the Annual General Meeting of the Mullum Mullum Festival, covering the municipalities of Whitehorse and Manningham, while the second was the Animal Activists Forum, held at Trades Hall.

In the second presentation, a member of the audience asked two related questions.

  1. Don’t we need manure from animals to fertilise the soil?
  2. Don’t animals enable us to extract nutrition from land which is not suitable for cropping?

In response to the first question, I suggested that we could possibly retain animals on farmland without killing them for food, and that the number involved could be a small fraction of the number maintained for the livestock sector.

Because of the sector’s scale, which results primarily from its inherent and gross inefficiency, effluent is produced at an unsustainable level. I have cited examples in previous papers:

  • American journalist Jim Motavelli has provided a stark example of the disastrous effects on waterways of intensive farming practices. He has stated: “The much-publicized 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska dumped 12 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, but the relatively unknown 1995 New River hog waste spill in North Carolina poured 25 million gallons of excrement and urine into the water, killing an estimated 10 to 14 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal shellfishing beds. Hog waste spills have caused the rapid spread of a virulent microbe called Pfiesteria piscicida, which has killed a billion fish in North Carolina alone.”
  • In December 1997, the U.S Senate Agricultural Committee released a report stating that livestock raised for food, produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the country, roughly equivalent to five tons per annum for every US citizen. In that year, cattle, pigs, chicken and turkeys produced an estimated 1.36 billion tons of solid waste, 90% of which was from cattle. On that basis, it’s not surprising that spills such as the New River incident occur.

In relation to the second question, we would not need to encroach on lands that are not suitable for cropping if we were not producing livestock. That’s because the inefficiency of livestock as a food source is causing us to use many times the land area that would be required if we relied only on plants as our source of nutrition.  Land that is currently used for animal feedcrops could be converted to crops for human consumption.

A recent paper released by the Institute on the Enviroment at the University of Minnesota suggested that, “The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption”.

The lead author, Emily Cassidy, has been quoted as saying: “We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate. Depending on the extent to which farmers and consumers are willing to change current practices, existing croplands could feed millions or even billions more people.”

Much agricultural land could also be allowed to regenerate as forest if we were to cease using it for livestock grazing and feedcrop production. As I have stated elsewhere, such an approach is essential if we are to have any hope of overcoming the climate crisis.

In Australia, grazing in the rangelands is severely degrading the soil and releasing massive amounts of carbon.


It can be intuitively appealing to believe that livestock are an essential component of the food production system. However, the only essential aspect of livestock production is that we replace it with the plant-based alternative.

It is also essential that we accept the absolute necessity of addressing the climate crisis, rather than avoiding the issue. In my presentation at the Animal Activist Forum, I ended without showing my usual concluding slide, in which I quote Dr Andrew Glikson of Australian National University. I greatly admire Dr Glikson as someone with outstanding academic credentials, who is willing to say it as it is. Here is the slide:


Note: Click here if you would like to download the presentation.

Blog author: Paul Mahony (also on Twitter, Slideshare and Sribd)

See also: Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue

Additional slideshow images from the presentation:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.


Motavelli, J.,“The Case Against Meat”, E Magazine, 3 January 2002,

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Minority Staff: “Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem”, Dec.1997, cited in United States General Accounting Office Report to Hon. Tom Harkin, Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, US Senate, “Animal Agriculture Waste Management Practices”, July, 1999,, as at 2 July, 2008 and Liang, A.P., “Current State of Foodborne Illness”, Conference for Food Safety Education, Florida, 17 Sep, 2002

Doyle, Michael P., “Food Safety Challenges from Farm to Table”, Center for Food Safety, College of Agricultural Sciences (undated),1,Food Safety Challenges from Farm to Table

Emily S Cassidy et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015, cited in University of Minnesota News Release, 1 Aug 2013, “Existing Cropland Could Feed 4 Billion More”,

Glikson, A., “As emissions rise, we may be heading for an ice-free planet”, The Conversation, 18 January, 2012, (Accessed 4 February 2012)


We recently published an open letter to Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms regarding the exercise she is conducting with ABC Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program, involving a piglet named Wilbur.

Here’s Tammi’s response to that letter, which she posted on our Facebook page on 6 June, 2013:

Hi Karina and Paul – Thanks for the ‘open letter’ (though I stumbled upon it by accident – perhaps you could have pinged me at least?), and for addressing me (and presumably my husband Stuart and children who are partners in our farm) respectfully. I’m happy to discuss our farming practices with you or anyone, hence our involvement in the RN Bush Tele series. I’ll be brief here though as I already invite this engagement across two blogs and now the ABC sites.

My point about asking omnivores, not vegans, was that we wanted to discuss farm animal management, which is difficult to do with a group whose stock position is ‘don’t farm animals’. Of course you and anyone has a right to comment, just as we have a right to ignore you if we choose. You’ll note we have not chosen to ignore even the abolitionists, though as time goes on, I can’t promise I will remain willing to respond or engage with that particular group of people when they attack us.

On anaesthesia – it’s not true that we hadn’t considered it before the Fb poll, nor that the vote and discussion there are the only reason we’re using it now. This was part of a long conversation here on the farm, one that farmers have all the time, and for us, one that always encompasses the well being of our animals (who, yes, are commodities, but also living creatures whose lives we want to be as good and ‘natural’ as possible while they live – unlike you, we don’t think it’s contradictory to believe it’s okay to eat animals but still want them to live a life without fear or pain insofar as possible and within our control). We will continue to revisit this discussion and practice, and I’ll keep the public updated on our farm blog. Regarding anaesthesia for ear notching – we have no intention of using pain relief for this very minor physical intervention. It’s the equivalent of piercing your ears.

On abattoirs, I am well on the record with concerns about the treatment of animals at some abattoirs, and approached that part of our decision to farm free-range pigs with trepidation. What I can say about our abattoir (Diamond Valley), is that we are very happy with their practices as we have observed them. The Animal Liberation quote you provided in no way represents the experience of our animals, and I will be writing a detailed account of our abattoir’s practices (eg they don’t stun, the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and are rendered immediately unconscious). Obviously, I cannot speak for other abattoirs, but I’m aware of many in Australia using the CO2 method now. I could not in good conscience call myself a transparent, ethical farmer if I didn’t believe the slaughtering process was as quick and relatively stress-free as it is.

I’m not entirely sure what your objective was in writing the ‘open letter’, but I hope I’ve answered some of your questions, such that they were. If your objective is for us to stop farming in what we firmly believe is an ethical manner, I’d recommend that you not waste your time. Like you, we don’t believe that intensive farming is ethical. But perhaps unlike you, we think that the work of people like us is critical to improving the lot of pigs and poultry in Australia and elsewhere.

We want people to have all the information to make ethical choices – whether for them that means they’ll be vegan, vegetarian, or omnivore.


Tammi and the Jonai [Team]

Here’s our response of 13 June, 2013, prepared by Paul Mahony and co-signed with Melbourne Pig Save co-founder Karina Leung:

Hi Tammi,

Thanks for your comments. We provide some further comments below.

Our objective:

We’re aiming to create some balance by providing a voice for animals in addition to the voice of those who breed them for food.

Anaesthesia for castration:

You said “it’s not true that we hadn’t considered it before the FB poll, nor that the vote and discussion there are the only reason we’re using it now.”

Your comments imply that we indicated you had not considered using anaesthesia for castration before the FB poll. That’s not so. We simply said that you had not used it, which we understand is an accurate comment.

You said in the interview with Cameron Wilson that you would not use it on Wilbur if he were to be castrated.

Subsequent to that interview, you said on FB:

“Thanks for the comments, everyone – we’re investigating Tri-Solfen, which was developed for mulesing sheep, actually. A topical anaesthetic would be our preference. Note that we’ve only castrated one litter so far – this will be our next batch, and we’ll see about sourcing Tri-Solfen or similar from our vet.”


“Again, thanks to those who have engaged respectfully on this important issue with significant animal welfare as well as management implications. We’ve certainly taken the feedback regarding anaesthetic seriously and are talking to our vet about our options, including Tri-Solfen. If Wilbur 101 and his brothers are castrated, it will be with anaesthetic.”

Anaesthesia for ear notching:

You have said, “we have no intention of using pain relief for this very minor physical intervention. It’s the equivalent of piercing your ears”.

We assume that your piglets are less than a week old when their ears are notched.

We note that the Model Code of Practice for the Welfare of Animals – Pigs (2007), states: “Ear notching should be avoided where possible. Where ear notching is performed, it should be carried out before the piglets are 7 days of age”

We also note that the Humane Society of the United States has released a report titled “An HSUS Report: The Welfare of Piglets in the Pig Industry“. Here’s an extract:

“There has been very little research assessing the painfulness of ear notching, but two studies report behavioral differences between piglets who were ear notched and piglets who were similarly held and restrained, but did not undergo the actual ear-notching procedure. The piglets who were ear notched displayed more grunting vocalizations, head shaking, squeals, and escape attempts.” [References provided.]


You have said, “the pigs are lowered into a carbon dioxide chamber and are rendered immediately unconscious”.

We understand that the reaction of pigs in carbon dioxide chambers is very breed-specific, so we assume from your comments that rare breed Large Black pigs react more favourably than some. However, we are concerned that other factors may also play a part.

This is how the process has been described by Anita Krajnc, co-founder of our sister organisation, Toronto Pig Save, based on information from former abattoir workers in Canada:

“The carbon dioxide chamber takes about two or three pigs at a time, and then they’re lowered into the basement because carbon dioxide is heavier than air, and so they’re stunned there, and it takes about 20 to 30 seconds and is excruciatingly painful, and they’re trying to escape and they’re jumping on each other, and then by the time the elevator comes back up, they’re stunned, they’re not dead they’re stunned, then they’re shackled and hung upside down on one leg, and then they’re bled with a big hollow knife stuck in their throat as they’re upside down, and as their heart is then pumping out the blood, and then they’re thrown into a scalding tank, that’s boiling water in order to loosen their hair. What happens with these carbon dioxide gas chambers is it works differently for different pigs, depending on how healthy they are, depending on whether they took a big breath before they went into the gas chamber, so some of them will wake up sooner, will be alive while they’re being bled and also in some cases when thrown into the scalding tank. These kind of atrocities happen every day in slaughterhouses.”

Ethical Farming:

You have said, “Like you, we don’t believe that intensive farming is ethical.”

We believe that all animal farming is a form of exploitation, and therefore unethical.

Kind Regards,

Karina Leung and Paul Mahony, Melbourne Pig Save


The following comments were added by veterinary student Julian Forbes on 14 June, 2013:

Can I also add something about carbon dioxide stunning: when animals die of suffocation, it is actually the elevated CO2 levels in their bodies that cause the sense of suffering and panic. This is mediated by central chemoreceptors in the brain (and to a lesser extent, carotid and aortic bodies). This explains the levels of suffering noted by Anita Krajnc. Here is an independent study of the effectiveness of different stunning methods, including CO2, which is described as inducing “severe respiratory distress prior to loss of consciousness”. It is very clear that there can never be a guarantee of “humane slaughter”.

Image: Large Black sow feeding on grass | © whitemay | iStockphoto

Here’s an outline of my speech from the Melbourne Pig Save rally held on 13th October, 2012:


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