Archives for posts with tag: climate

The following email was sent to Youth Food Movement Australia on 1st December 2017:

Hello,

I refer to your Facebook comment of 21st November 2017, inviting me to contact you at this email address regarding my article “Some questions for Youth Food Movement Australia“.

You indicated in your comment that we had “chatted” about your approach previously. However, I received little more than the following comment:

“#beefjam is a project collaboration with @Target100AUS amazeballs crew.”

You never responded to my Facebook question of 25th July 2015:

“What about misinformation promoted by Target 100 and published by Meat & Livestock Australia in the form of its primary level (age 5-12) ‘study guide’, ‘Cattle and the environment‘?“

You have also not responded to the straightforward questions contained in my latest article, as referred to above.

Nor have you commented on these extracts from that article:

  • The links between YFM and the livestock sector also include the fact that co-founder, Joanna Baker, spent nearly two years (while also holding senior positions with YFM) as manager for membership, communications and policy at Dairy Connect. That organisation describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.
    xxx
  • The other YFM co-founder, Alexandra Iljadica, was a speaker at the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, sharing speaking duties with high-profile industry participants. She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop, with the title of the latter being, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”.

As I said in my Facebook comments, the issues apply to much more than BeefJam, including the forced and permanent separation of cows and calves as a fundamental aspect of dairy production in all its forms (with the calves sent to slaughter or retained to become dairy cows themselves). Also the maceration (and other forms of killing) of male chicks as a fundamental aspect of supplying layer hens for all forms of egg production.

I would have thought the issues I have raised would be of interest to many of your subscribers, volunteers and others who follow you, including people who have attended your “meet the maker” events (including the event with dairy and egg producers) and those who generally rely on your “food education projects”.

I look forward to hearing from you in a display of your professed values of transparency and authenticity.

Regards,

Paul Mahony

 

Image

Unconsciously Cruel via Aussie Farms, Untitled showing sheep at Ballarat Saleyards, Alfredton, Victoria

I have written three articles dealing with Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and its relationships with the animal agriculture sector. Links to the articles can be found below this post, which outlines some questions for the organisation in the form of memes.

Some of the memes refer to “BeefJam”, which was a project in which YFM collaborated with “Target 100”, an initiative of: Meat & Livestock Australia; Australian Lot Feeders Association; Sheep Meat Council of Australia; Cattle Council of Australia; and Australian Meat Industry Council.

YFM has described BeefJam as “a 3-day event that takes young producers and consumers on a crash course of the Australian beef supply chain and gives them 48hrs to reshape the way we grow, buy and eat our red meat.

I’ve seen some very slick videos released jointly by Target 100 and YFM about the event that look to me like promotions for the meat industry. However, I have seen no evidence of the fifteen “young consumers” and “young producers” who attended reshaping the industry.

The links between YFM and the livestock sector also include the fact that co-founder, Joanna Baker, spent nearly two years (while also holding senior positions with YFM) as manager for membership, communications and policy at Dairy Connect. That organisation describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.

The other YFM co-founder, Alexandra Iljadica, was a speaker at the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, sharing speaking duties with high-profile industry participants. She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop, with the title of the latter being, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”.

I believe it is important for YFM to keep in mind its professed values of transparency and authenticity and its stated role of  running “food education projects for young people”.

Here are the memes. I hope they cause those involved with YFM to consider issues involved in food consumption beyond those that the organisation appears to have addressed to date.

Conclusion

I believe any group that states its mission is to “grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices” must highlight the issues raised in this post.

I look forward to seeing if YFM addresses the issues in future.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Animals Australia, “What you never knew about dairy”, http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/dairy.php

Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines for Cattle, http://www.animalwelfarestandards.net.au/cattle/

Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation, 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2015–16: Statewide Landcover and Trees Study report. DSITI, Brisbane

World Wide Fund for Nature, “Accelerating bushland destruction in Queensland: Clearing under Self Assessable Codes takes major leap upward”, March 2017, http://www.wwf.org.au/ArticleDocuments/360/pub-accelerating-bushland-destruction-in-queensland-21mar17.pdf.aspx?Embed=Yx

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, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10375217; http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/77/6/1392.full.pdf

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010, http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/04/08/grass-fed-beef-packs-a-punch-to-environment/

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, http://ijc.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.185/prod.269

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), http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full and http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full.pdf

Images

Bear Witness Australia and Aussie Farms | 5-day old bobby calves from the dairy industry | The Aussie Farms Repository | https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/photos/food/dairy

Branding a calf | anrodphoto | iStock

Brian Kinney | Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish | Shutterstock

The Wilderness Society | Land clearing: Olive Vale, Queensland, 2014 (Youtube video) | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc06o7ayx-g

Sherjarca | Australian beef cattle charolais bred for meat | Shutterstock

Nyul | Medical team in operating room | Dreamstime.com

Youth Food Movement Australia | YFM logo badge only | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0)

 

https://www.aussiefarms.org.au/uploads/photos/2052-000015360-3e9e74f6f9e27dba8e69.jpg

I have written previously of my concerns regarding the practices of Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM). Those concerns relate primarily to YFM’s close relationship with the meat and dairy industries, while seemingly saying nothing meaningful (and possibly nothing at all) about the negative impacts of those industries in terms of animal cruelty, environmental damage (including climate change) and human health.

Is its failure to highlight such issues inconsistent with the group’s stated values of authenticity and transparency? Possibly, but I am not in a position to explain its reasons for ignoring such critical issues.

However, I am able to convey publicly available information about the group’s involvement with the industries.

I admit to finding it odd that co-founder Joanna Baker, while still in senior positions with YFM, spent nearly two years as manager for membership, communications and policy with Dairy Connect, an organisation advocating on behalf of the dairy industry.

I am uncomfortable with the industry relationships in the context of YFM describing its role “in a nutshell” as running “food education projects for young people”.

It also claims to “provide a place – be that in pubs, in living rooms, on laptop screens – for information and skills to be exchanged and for learning to happen”.

I recently discovered another industry relationship in the form of co-founder Alexandra Iljadica’s involvement in the two-day 2016 Australian Dairy Conference.

Iljadica was a presenter, sharing speaking duties with industry luminaries such as: Abhy Maharaj, Chief Financial Officer and Commercial Director of Fonterra Australia; Barry Irvin, Executive Chair of Bega Cheese Ltd; and Philip Tracey, the then Chair of Murray Goulburn (at the time Australia’s largest dairy company and co-operative).

She was given two speaking opportunities; a plenary speech and a workshop. I found the online workshop slide show of particular interest.

Remember that Iljadica at the time was a founding director, and soon to be CEO, of a group that has said its mission is to “grow a generation of young Australians empowered with the ability to make healthy and sustainable food choices”.

A group with stated values (as mentioned earlier) of authenticity and transparency.

But also a group whose co-founder and future CEO presented a workshop session at the 2016 national dairy industry conference with the title:

“HOW TO HERD CONSUMERS TOWARD AUSTRALIAN DAIRY: A WORKSHOP IN HUMAN BEHAVIOUR CHANGE”

Is that the aim, regardless of the consequences for the animals, the planet and the health of YFM supporters and others who follow them?

So what are Iljadica’s recommended methods for herding youthful consumers toward the dairy industry?

Her tips (citing the book “Changeology” by Les Robinson) included (among six necessary characteristics overall): “positive buzz”; “an enabling environment”; and “the right inviter”

Immediately after Iljadica’s slides listed the six characteristics, another asked how those characteristics might apply to dairy.

Immediately following that came the concluding “thank you” slide, showing a YFM registration desk and people wearing YFM gear at an outdoor event.

The message I took from the slide show (without attending the presentation itself): The “right inviter” for the dairy industry, and the group with the other necessary characteristics, is Youth Food Movement Australia.

I’m liking YFM less every day.

Author

Paul Mahony

Further information

Do you love dairy? Please check out this video of forced separation of mothers and calves on a Tasmanian dairy farm. This standard practice occurs for the purpose of ensuring the mothers’ milk finds its way to supermarket shelves rather than the calves’ stomachs. The calves are generally either slaughtered for meat or raised for a life of misery as producers of milk many times beyond what would occur naturally, enduring physical and psychological distress and many more forced separations.

Source: Aussie Farms Repository, aussiefarms.org.au/videos/food/dairy, supplied by DropDairy.com.au, a campaign by Animal Liberation (animal-lib.org.au) and Animal Liberation Tas (al-tas.org).

Image

Bear Witness Australia on The Aussie Farms Repository, aussiefarms.org.au/photos/food/dairy

Caption: “As I was around these dairy farms, there were just paddocks full of calves without their mothers. Calling for their mothers, just so alone. There was one paddock that had recently been occupied by bobby calves, and as I was walking along the fence next to the main road, I saw a dead calf lying on the ground. He was not more than a week dead, he just lay there in the paddock. I discovered another dead calf further along the fence, that had also died alone, without his mother. This was just next to the fence, on the main road, so I can’t imagine how many more would have died out of sight. Both dead calves that I found would have had mothers that loved them and cared for them, and that right was taken away from them just so someone can have a glass of her milk. I can’t imagine their pain. Witness #4″

Sources

Youth Food Movement Australia, “About”, http://www.youthfoodmovement.org.au/about-us/

Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission, Annual Information Statement 2015, Youth Food Movement Australia Ltd, https://www.acnc.gov.au/AIS2015?ID=8E78E032-C0CF-482B-9879-DF609B494B6E&noleft=1

Australian Dairy Conference, http://www.australiandairyconference.com.au/viewStory/Past+Conferences

Alexandra Iljadica, “How to herd consumers toward Australian dairy: A workshop in human behaviour change”, 2016 Australian Dairy Conference, http://www.australiandairyconference.com.au/inewsfiles/ADC_2016_Presentations/Alexandra_Iljadica_-_Human_Behaviour_Change_Workshop_18-02-16.pdf

The latest campaign by Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) maintains the group’s almost complete lack of interest in the massive contribution of animal agriculture to: (a) climate change; and (b) destruction of Great Barrier Reef corals.

The latest campaign

Title: “For the love of the reef

The campaign is being run in conjunction with an AYCC branch known as SEED, which describes itself as “Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network”.

Related campaign

Title: “The 3 degree challenge

While also focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, the page highlights the impact of increasing global temperature on the production of sugar, wheat and meat.

The idea

For the main “for the love of the reef” campaign, AYCC is asking participants to go without something they enjoy for around two weeks. They have specified coffee, chocolate or avocado, seemingly assuming that people like at least one of those items.

Participants ask others to donate funds in recognition of their sacrifice. The funds are intended to assist AYCC’s reef campaigns.

For a supposedly more difficult challenge (presumably involving higher donations), participants can take “the 3 degree challenge”, in which they go without all three of the specified products.

Some history

AYCC ran a similar campaign in early 2016, with the title “For the love of our future”. Like this year’s campaign, it was run in conjunction with the “3 degree challenge”. On the challenge website (like this year), AYCC bemoaned the impact of climate change on beef production, completely ignoring the massive impact of that industry on climate change and the Great Barrier Reef.

In response to me highlighting the irony of their position, they added the words: “Going without meat for 2 weeks can also have a big impact in reducing your carbon footprint, as meat production contributes to global warming.”

Bizarrely, they retained the comment expressing concern over the impact of climate change on beef production.

I find it interesting that they seemed to assume that participants were regular meat eaters.

The current position

This year, AYCC has added another comment to its “3 degree challenge” page under the heading “A note on animal agriculture”. That note exemplifies AYCC’s failure to disclose critical information, as referred to below.

AYCC’s professed knowledge of animal agriculture’s impacts is limited to methane emissions

If I were to walk down the street and ask people to tell me what they knew about animal agriculture’s impact on global warming, most who responded may focus on one word: METHANE

That’s what AYCC has done on its “3 degree challenge” page.

Its only reference to livestock production’s negative impacts, in a campaign that addresses climate change and the destruction of corals, relates to methane, when the relevant factors are far more extensive than that single greenhouse gas.

That’s from a group whose reason for existence is to lead “solutions to the climate crisis”!

Such an approach is particularly concerning on a website focusing on the Great Barrier Reef, when many additional factors destroy corals or cause them to be less resilient than they would otherwise have been to the impacts of warming waters.

What is AYCC failing to disclose?

The issues have been covered extensively in articles on this site, including (in relation to land clearing and the reef) “Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef” and “Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem“. Here are some key points.

1.  Climate Change

Livestock’s climate change impacts arise from many inter-related factors, such as:

(a) its inherent inefficiency as a food source;

(b) the massive scale of the industry;

(c) resultant land clearing far beyond what would otherwise be required to satisfy our nutritional requirements;

(d) greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and

(e) other warming agents such as tropospheric ozone (derived from precursors such as volatile organic compounds and carbon monoxide) and black carbon.

It is important to note that official figures under-report animal agriculture’s overall and proportional emissions because relevant factors are: (a) omitted entirely, e.g. tropospheric ozone; (b) classified under different headings, e.g. livestock-related land clearing reported within the category “land use, land use change and forestry” (LULUCF); and (c) considered but with conservative calculations, e.g. methane’s impact based on a 100-year, rather than 20-year, basis for determining its “global warming potential” (GWP).

As acknowledged by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the choice of GWP time horizon is a value judgement. The shorter time horizon is critical in the context of climate change tipping points, beyond which we can lose any chance of influencing the climate system in a positive manner.

The land clearing is a double-edged sword, as it releases carbon in the form of CO2 from soil and vegetation, while reducing the biosphere’s ability to draw existing CO2 from the atmosphere.

In Queensland alone, livestock-related land clearing since 1988 (when detailed records began) has represented 91 per cent of total land clearing. It has equated to more than 11 million rugby fields at rates of 42 per hour overall and 50 per hour in 2015/16. For American readers, that equates to 17.5 million American football fields at rates of 71 per hour overall and 79 per hour in 2015/16. This chart shows the full record:

Here’s a short video from The Wilderness Society, showing land clearing on a northern Queensland cattle station in 2014 using two bulldozers connected by a huge chain. This widely-used method was introduced in the 1950s, with devastating consequences.

Reducing fossil fuel usage (which is AYCC’s focus) is an essential measure in our efforts to overcome climate change. However, even if we were to optimistically assume that global efforts in that regard will increase markedly from current levels, it would not be enough on its own.

Another double-edged sword in the battle against climate change can be found in the fact that reducing fossil fuel usage results in lower concentrations of atmospheric aerosols, the existence of which has a cooling effect (referred to as global dimming). In an effort to reduce the increase in temperature that would result from a reduction in aerosols, and to reduce temperatures from their present levels, we must draw down carbon as rapidly as possible through reforestation and other measures. We must also prevent further deforestation. We will not adequately address those issues without a general transition away from animals as a food source.

Methane and various other warming agents mentioned here have much shorter life spans than CO2. As a result, appropriate action will provide rapid benefits. That is critical in terms of global dimming and climate change tipping points. (AYCC’s “challenge” page fails dismally in relation to the timing issues.)

2. Great Barrier Reef

Like most climate change campaign groups that comment on the loss of coral reefs, AYCC focuses on the issue of coral bleaching caused by warming waters. Although that is a critical issue, other critical factors were affecting the reef’s corals decades before the first major bleaching event in 1998, and their destructive force continues.

They are tropical cyclones and predation by crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS). As demonstrated in the following chart, 57 per cent of coral loss on the Great Barrier Reef had occurred by 1985, thirteen years before the first major bleaching event.

Dr Jon Brodie from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, has reported that COTS were likely to have been the main cause between 1960 and 1985.

Dr Glenn De’ath and colleagues from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and Wollongong University have allocated causation between 1985 and 2012 as: cyclones 48 per cent; COTS 42 per cent; and bleaching 10%.

Like fossil fuel usage, animal agriculture contributes to warming waters and cyclone intensity through its significant global warming impact.

It also has other significant impacts on the reef.

Erosion caused by grazing on cleared and uncleared lands has released sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous to the reef’s waters via nearby streams and rivers. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral, making it less resilient than it would otherwise have been to the impacts of other stressors, such as warming waters.

The fertilisers promote algal growth that is a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae. Adult starfish eat nothing but coral, and have had a devastating impact. They were doing so decades before the first coral bleaching event in 1998, and the destruction is continuing.

The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that livestock grazing was responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.

Here’s an example of gully erosion initiated by cattle grazing on a property in northern Queensland.

© Griffith University – Andrew Brooks

Conclusion

AYCC and other climate change campaign groups are wasting their time if they ignore the impacts of animal agriculture on the climate and the Great Barrier Reef.

We face an emergency in respect of each issue, with action on animal agriculture representing a relatively fast, low-cost means of helping us to reach critical targets.

It must be included in our efforts if we are to have any chance of overcoming the climate crisis and saving natural wonders such as the reef.

Author

Paul Mahony

Sources

Australian Youth Climate Coalition, “For the love of the reef”, https://fortheloveof.org.au/

Australian Youth Climate Coalition, “3 Degree Challenge”, https://fortheloveof.org.au/page/3-degree-challenge

Myhre, G., Shindell, D., Bréon, F.-M., Collins, W., Fuglestvedt, J., Huang, J., Koch, D., Lamarque, J.-F., Lee, D., Mendoza, B., Nakajima, T., Robock, A., Stephens, G., Takemura, T., and Zhang, H., 2013: “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , pp. 711-712 [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

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, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

Stella, J., Pears, R., Wachenfeld, D., “Interim Report: 2016 Coral Bleaching Event on the Great Barrier Reef”, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, September 2016, http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/3044/5/Interim%20report%20on%202016%20coral%20bleaching%20event%20in%20GBRMP.pdf

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 May 2017, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/reef-health

Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 21st May 2017

Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

Images

Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish © Brian Kinney | Shutterstock

Football Field © Lucadp | Dreamstime.com

Cow flat icon © RaulAlmu | Shutterstock | ID: 516517108

Gully Erosion © Andrew Brooks, Griffith University

Video

The Wilderness Society | Land Clearing, Olive Vale, Qld, 2014 | https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uc06o7ayx-g

The New South Wales government’s Office of Environment and Heritage has just announced the winners of its 2017 Green Globe Awards, which are supposedly designed to “showcase people and projects making real progress toward sustainability” across the state.

This is the conservative government that passed legislation in 2016 to repeal the Native Vegetation Act, with a large increase in land clearing seemingly inevitable, involving increased carbon emissions, loss of ongoing sequestration and destruction of wildlife habitat. The repeal took effect in August this year.

It was in anticipation of such law changes in NSW and Queensland (and the livestock-related clearing that would result) that the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) listed eastern Australia as one of eleven global deforestation fronts for the period to 2030.

The NSW government’s poor legislative performance in relation to the environment may be consistent with it naming Youth Food Movement Australia (YFM) and one of its co-founders, Alexandra Iljadica, as finalists in the categories of Community Leadership and Sustainability Champion, with Iljadica winning the latter.

The main driver of land clearing in Australia and around the world is livestock production. In Queensland alone, livestock-related clearing since 1988 (when detailed records began) has represented 91 per cent of total clearing. It has equated to more than 11 million rugby fields at rates of 42 per hour overall and 50 per hour in 2015/16.

Despite that appalling record, YFM supports the sector and has failed miserably to highlight its negative environmental and other impacts.

Cattle grazing on cleared and uncleared land in Queensland has also contributed massively to the ongoing demise of the Great Barrier Reef’s corals. Erosion caused by grazing has released sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous to the reef’s waters. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral, making it less resilient than it would otherwise have been to the impacts of other stressors, such as warming waters. [Footnote 1]

The fertilisers promote algal growth that is a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae. Adult starfish eat nothing but coral, and have had a devastating impact. They were doing so decades before the first coral bleaching event in 1998, and the destruction is continuing.

As I have reported previously, YFM has collaborated with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) via its Target 100 “initiative” on some very questionable projects. A key output from one of those was what appeared to be an MLA promotional video, laughably described by the two organisations as a “documentary”. The video featured Iljadica’s fellow YFM co-founder, Joanna Baker. [Footnote 2]

Joanna Baker (left) and Alexandra Iljadica, YFM Australia

MLA is no mug in the PR game, and has won advertising industry awards such as Marketing Team of the Year and Advertiser of the Year. It has utilised  firms with expertise in PR, branding or advertising, such as: Republic of Everyone; Totem; One Green Bean; BMF; and The Monkeys, and prefers the term “community engagement” over “PR”.

The promotional concepts have included “Bettertarian”; “#Goodmeat”; “You’re better on beef”; “Generation Lamb”; “The beef oracle”; “The Opponent”; and Australia Day campaigns such as “Richie’s BBQ” and “Boat People”.

Republic of Everyone has also been nominated for a Green Globe Award. In addition to the “Bettertarian” campaign (launched by MLA as a “counter campaign” during Meat Free Week), its work for MLA has included graphics proclaiming the supposed health benefits of eating red meat. The evidence to the contrary is overwhelming.

That’s from a firm that claims to only create projects “that make the world a better place”, where “everything is fair” and where no animals are “harmed in the making”.

Why doesn’t it tell people that forced breeding, tail docking, castration and hot iron branding (all without pain prevention or relief) are all routine aspects of beef production?

Why doesn’t it tell people about the true environmental and health impacts of the industry?

Why doesn’t YFM do the same?

MLA prefers to provide primary school children with so-called “curriculum study guides”, containing erroneous information about its members’ products.

Another YFM link with the livestock sector involves Dairy Connect, a group based in New South Wales, which describes itself as “an advocacy body, 100% focused on being the voice for all partners in the dairy industry”.

During most of 2014 and 2015, Joanna Baker was Dairy Connect’s manager for membership, communications and policy. While in that role, she was also in senior positions with YFM.

I am not in a position to explain the motivation behind the collaborations and relationships mentioned here, but I do wonder if the Green Globes are effectively nothing more than straw man awards, with some straw man nominees.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that livestock grazing was responsible for 75% of sediment, 54% of phosporous and 40% of nitrogen in the Great Barrier Reef’s waters.
  2. In addition to MLA, the Target 100 “initiative” involves Cattle Council of Australia, Sheepmeat Council of Australia, Australian Meat Industry Council, Australian Lot Feeders Association and Australian Meat Processing Corporation. MLA maintains copyright over the Target 100 website, and some material (e.g. the so-called “curriculum study guides”) has been released under MLA’s name.

Images

Paul Looyen | A herd of cattle in pasture, standing in early morning fog | Shutterstock

Zo Zhou | Guerrilla Dinner 2013 | Flickr | Creative Commons NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Update

Footnote 2 added 23 October 2017 with minor text amendments.

12285498963_49d88efc6b_k

I have recently become aware of social media discussions supporting misleading interpretations of the 2016 study “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios” by Peters, et al., which was published in the journal Elementa: Science of the Anthropocene.

As I reported in my article, “Livestock chief gets it wrong on the vegan diet“, the purpose of the study was to compare, firstly, per capita land requirements and secondly, potential carrying capacity as measured by the number of people fed.

The study found that the vegan diet (which excludes all animal products) was the most efficient of the ten diet scenarios studied, in that it required the least amount of land per person fed. It was also extremely effective in terms of the overall number fed.

The study’s key findings are summarised in this chart:

Figure 1: Carrying capacity of US agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios

An article from August 2016 on the Quartz website focused on the fact that four of the ten diet scenarios could feed more people than the vegan diet. But at what cost in terms of human health, planetary health, biodiversity loss and impacts on food production animals themselves?

The author of the Quartz article, Chase Purdy, lost his way when he used the finding regarding carrying capacity to question the sustainability of the vegan diet scenario.

In any event, why isn’t the reported ability of the vegan diet scenario to feed 2.4 times the 2010 US population considered adequate? How many more people do we want in the US? Even the best performing scenario on that score was only marginally ahead of the vegan diet, at 2.6 times the population.

To their credit, the authors of the original study raised the possibility of the US sharing excess food production with other nations, noting that future work would be required to determine the best way of doing so.

Their findings indicate that the three diets that excluded meat were between 7.5 and 8.3 times more efficient (in terms of land area per person fed), and between 1.8 and 2 times more effective (in terms of number of persons fed), than the contemporary US diet. They were at least 77% more efficient than the best-performing diet containing meat.

My “livestock chief gets it wrong” article referred to an article by the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute, Dr Jimmy Smith in The Guardian. Although the authors of the Elementa study reported that the vegan diet required the least amount of land (per person fed and in absolute terms) out of ten alternative dietary scenarios, Smith erroneously claimed that the researchers had found that the it fell behind certain other diets (including some containing meat) on that measure. It seems The Guardian needs to vet material from guest contributors more closely, as Smith’s effort was very poor.

Conclusion

The Elementa study once again highlighted the ability of the vegan diet scenario to efficiently supply our dietary needs. It is time for more people to review the available evidence objectively, as our ability to overcome climate change and other existential threats may depend on it.

Author

Paul Mahony

References

Smith, J., “Veganism is not the key to sustainable development – natural resources are vital”, The Guardian, 16th August 2016, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/aug/16/veganism-not-key-sustainable-development-natural-resources-jimmy-smith

Purdy, C., “Being vegan isn’t as good for humanity as you think”, Quartz, 4th August 2016, https://qz.com/749443/being-vegan-isnt-as-environmentally-friendly-as-you-think/

Peters, C.J., Picardy, J., Darrouzet-Nardi, A.F., Wilkins, J.L., Griffin, T.S., Fick, G.W., “Carrying capacity of U.S. agricultural land: Ten diet scenarios”, Elementa, July 2016, https://www.elementascience.org/articles/10.12952/journal.elementa.000116/

Image

Indigo Skies Photography | Panorama | Flickr | Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Updates

Minor additional comments added on 21st September 2017, and the third and fourth last paragraphs added on 22nd September 2017, along with a sentence concerning the overall number of people fed.

 

 

I recently created a two-page infographic containing charts and images I had used in various articles and papers. The infographic highlights the following issues:

  • Livestock-related land clearing in Australia
  • Livestock production’s impact on the Great Barrier Reef
  • Greenhouse gas emissions intensity of animal-based foods
  • Livestock production’s share of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions
  • The relative nutritional value of plant-based and animal-based foods

The infographic can be seen and downloaded here:

Related articles

Meat Eaters vs the Great Barrier Reef

Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem

Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients

Less Meat Less Heat: Falling short of what’s required

Author

Paul Mahony

The City of Darebin (pronounced Darr-e-bin) encompasses various suburbs to the north of Melbourne, from Northcote to Bundoora and from Coburg to Alphington. It recently invited community feedback to its draft climate emergency plan for the period 2017-2022.

If you are interested in seeing my response, it can be accessed by clicking the image below. This version contains a supplement with additional comments on pig meat, poultry, fish, egg and dairy products.

The city’s draft plan covered the following topics:

  1. Climate Emergency mobilisation and leadership
  2. Energy efficiency
  3. Renewable energy and fuel switching
  4. Zero emissions transport
  5. Waste minimisation
  6. Fossil fuel divestment
  7. Adaptation and resilience
  8. Engaging the community
  9. Darebin Energy Foundation

A glaring omission from my point of view was the issue of food choices.

I covered the following issues in my response:

  1. Food-related emissions
  2. Land clearing
  3. The Great Barrier Reef
  4. Links between climate change and the consumption of sea animals
  5. Health and nutrition
  6. Social justice
  7. Engaging with the community and advocating to state and federal governments

In relation to food-related emissions, my submission included the latest emissions intensity estimates for beef from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Figure 1 below compares the beef figures to those for aluminium (regarded as extremely emissions intensive and at one stage responsible for 16 per cent of Australia’s electricity consumption with a lower tonnage than beef production) and soy beans (as reported by researchers from Oxford University). [1] [2] [3] [4]

The figures have been updated from estimates the FAO published in 2013, which utilised a 2005 reference period and an earlier version of its Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM 1.0). [5]

The FAO’s latest reference period is 2010, using its updated model, GLEAM 2.0.

It used the IPCC’s 2013 100-year global warming potentials (GWPs), and I have calculated 20-year GWPs for the chart, using IPCC estimates and the FAO’s apportionment of the various greenhouse gases for each product. (The IPCC’s 20-year GWPs are more conservative than estimates from NASA researchers, who have allowed for aerosol interactions.) [6]

Figure 1: Emissions intensity of various products based on product weight (2010 reference period for animal-based products) [Footnote]

A pleasing aspect of responding to the city’s plan was pointing out that some high-profile, mainstream climate scientists have stressed the need to address the issue of animal-based food consumption. Here are some relevant extracts:

EXTRACT 1:

“In a 2013 paper, [James] Hansen and co-authors argued that it was feasible to draw down 100 gigatonnes of carbon through reforestation between 2031 and 2080. They noted: (a) because of extensive deforestation in earlier decades, there is a large amount of land suitable for reforestation; and (b) although reforestation competes with agricultural land use; land needs could decline by reducing use of animal products, as livestock now consume more than half of all crops.” [7]

EXTRACT 2:

“[Hansen, et al.] estimated a maximum sequestration potential of 1.6 gigatonnes of carbon per year through reforestation. With a conversion factor of 3.67, the estimate equates to around 5.9 gigatonnes of CO2 per year.

That exceeds the annual drawdown target of 5 gigatonnes of CO2 established in a “carbon law” articulated by a group of leading climate scientists in early 2017, which they indicated would provide a 50 per cent chance of limiting global warming to 1.5°C by 2100 and a 66 per cent chance of limiting it to 2°C.

The authors (Johan Rockström, Owen Gaffney, Joeri Rogelj, Malte Meinshausen, Nebojsa Nakicenovic and Hans Joachim Schellnhuber) stated:

‘Agro-industries, farms, and civil society should develop a worldwide strategy for sustainable food systems to drive healthier, low-meat diets and reduce food waste.'” [8]

Another important aspect of the exercise is that the City of Darebin intends to actively engage with state and federal governments in relation to its aims. It has said, “a key part of our program is to take action to accelerate the process of getting these governments to declare a climate emergency and commit to programs of the necessary scope, scale and speed”.

Such action will provide additional leverage for the plan, including any feedback incorporated in the final version.

Conclusion

With no time to waste if we are to have any chance of overcoming the climate crisis, it is imperative that we use all tools at our disposal in our efforts to do so. The issue of food consumption and production offers one such tool, with some elements providing rapid benefits that would increase our chances of avoiding tipping points and runaway climate change.

I trust the City of Darebin includes the issue in the final version of its emergency plan, ultimately improving our ability to respond to the existential threat of climate change.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnote

The chart appeared as Figure 2 in the submission.

References

[1]      UNFAO email correspondence of 21st April, 2nd May and 27th June 2017

[2]      Australian Aluminium Council Ltd, “Climate Change: Aluminium Smelting Greenhouse Performance”, http://aluminium.org.au/climate-change/smelting-greenhouse-performance

[3]     Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 40

[4]     Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1

[5]      Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G., 2013, “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, Table 5, p. 24, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm ; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[6]      Shindell, D.T.; Faluvegi, G.; Koch, D.M.; Schmidt, G.A.; Unger, N.; Bauer, S.E. “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009; Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718; DOI: 10.1126/science.1174760, http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only

[7]      Hansen J, Kharecha P, Sato M, Masson-Delmotte V, Ackerman F, Beerling DJ, et al. (2013) Assessing “Dangerous Climate Change”: Required Reduction of Carbon Emissions to Protect Young People, Future Generations and Nature. PLoS ONE 8(12): e81648. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0081648

[8]      Rockström, J., O. Gaffney. J. Rogelj, M. Meinshausen, N. Nakicenovic, and H.J. Schellnhuber (2017) “A roadmap for rapid decarbonization”, Science 355: 1269-127, http://science.sciencemag.org/content/355/6331/1269.full and http://www.rescuethatfrog.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Rockstrom-et-al-2017.pdf cited in Dunlop, I. and Spratt, D., “Disaster Alley: Climate Change Conflict and Risk, June 2017, https://www.breakthroughonline.org.au/disasteralley

Main image

Henry Patton | Active moulin | Flickr | Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

It appears we may be witnessing the tragic demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). The process has justifiably been covered extensively by media outlets around the world, with much of the coverage focusing on coral bleaching, primarily caused by warming seas. However, has that been the main cause of coral loss?

It may surprise some to find that, until the past two years at least, the answer had been a resounding “no”. This article comments on the other causes. It also asks why environmental groups who campaign vigorously against the use of fossil fuels have said nothing meaningful about those other factors.

A major contributing factor has been erosion from livestock grazing (including related tree clearing), which releases sediment and nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) to the GBR waters via nearby streams and rivers. The sediment inhibits coral growth and promotes the excessive development of algae, while the nutrients contribute to outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish, which have had a devastating impact.

Before considering those issues in detail, let’s look at the extent to which live coral cover on the reef has declined.

EXTENT OF LIVE CORAL COVER

Let’s take the 1960s as the baseline period. Professor Jon Brodie from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University has reported that coral covered around 50 per cent of the reef at that time, compared to around 16 per cent in 2012. [1] The change represented a decline in coral extent of 68 per cent.

Estimates vary, and soon after Professor Brodie’s figure was published, Dr Glenn De’ath and fellow researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS) and the University of Wollongong estimated that the extent of coral cover around the same time was only 13.8 per cent, representing a decline of 72.4 per cent (again assuming 50 per cent as the base coverage extent). [2]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) has estimated a minimum figure of 17 per cent, followed by some recovery between 2012 and 2015, with an increase to 20 per cent. [3] On that basis, the decline from the 1960’s to 2012 (assuming that was the minimum) would have been 66 per cent, and to 2015, 60 per cent.

Two mass bleaching events in 2016 and 2017, along with other factors as referred to below, have caused further declines in live coral cover. In mid-2016, the GBRMPA’s interim assessment of the 2016 bleaching event indicated that 22 per cent of coral had died. It has since increased the estimate to 29 per cent. [4]

Although the latter figure related to shallow water corals, the authority  has said:

“Coral bleaching did extend to deeper corals beyond depths divers typically survey to, but mortality cannot be systematically assessed. . . . In 2017, further coral loss is expected from the second consecutive year of bleaching and the impacts of tropical cyclone Debbie. . . . A complete picture for 2017 won’t be available until early next year.”

Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, indicated on 21st May 2017 that the figure for 2017 is 19 per cent. [5] [Footnote 1]

If we assume that the figure of 29 per cent for 2016 applied to all GBR corals, and that the figure of 19 per cent for 2017 will be confirmed, the current extent of live coral cover (before allowing for declines caused by other factors over the past two years) would be around 11.5 per cent.

It seems reasonable to assume that estimates of percentage reductions are based on the extent of coverage that existed at the beginning of the period being assessed. If so, they are calculated on what has generally been a declining base.

On that basis, the decline from bleaching in 2016 and 2017 (to date) would equate to 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which is far less than indicated in much of the relevant media coverage, which indicated that around half had been lost. [6] The figures are represented in Figure 1. [Footnote 2]

The total reduction for the period from the 1960s to 2017, as represented here, is 77 per cent, with coverage of 11.5 per cent (2017) as a proportion of 50 per cent (1960s) being 23 per cent. [See update of 9 July 2017 below, along with more details on the causes in the following sections.]

Figure 1(a): Percentage of Coral Cover 1960s – 2017 (updated 25 July 2017)

Figure 1(b): Pre and Post 1985 Coral Loss (added 25 July 2017)

Coral-loss-pie-chart-terrastendo

Ominous warnings have been issued in the recent past, including the following comment from AIMS and University of Wollongong researchers in 2012, as referred to earlier:

” . . . coral cover on the GBR is consistently declining, and without intervention, it will likely fall to 5–10 per cent within the next 10 years.”

 

CAUSES OF CORAL DECLINE

In researching the causes of coral decline between 1985 and 2012, Dr Glenn De’ath and his co-authors (referred to earlier) assessed the relative contributions of tropical cyclones, crown-of-thorns starfish (COTS) and coral bleaching. Their results are shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Causes of GBR coral decline 1985 – 2012

In a profound indication of the relative impact of COTS predation, the researchers estimated that there would have been a net increase in average coral cover if such predation had not occurred, rather than their estimated reduction of 50.7 per cent.

Findings from Kate Osborne and fellow AIMS researchers in 2011 indicated there was no overall loss for the period 1995-2009, with loss in some areas and species offset by expansion in others. [7] However, in respect of those corals that did decline, they reported COTS as the major cause at 36.7 per cent compared to cyclones at 33.8 per cent, disease at 6.5 per cent, bleaching at 5.6 per cent, with the remainder comprising multiple or unknown causes.

Jon Brodie reported in 2012 that COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985, but pointed out that available data for the period was incomplete. [8]

Water quality has also been a major factor, as it affects the frequency of COTS outbreaks in the central and southern GBR.

CORAL BLEACHING

Many types of coral have a symbiotic relationship with marine algae known as zooxanthellae that live inside their tissue. The zooxanthellae are efficient food producers that provide up to 90 per cent of the energy corals require to grow and reproduce. They also give coral much of its colour. [9] [10]

When the relationship becomes stressed due to factors such as ocean temperature or pollution, the zooxanthellae leave the coral’s tissue. Without the zooxanthellae, the tissue of the coral animal appears transparent and its bright white skeleton is revealed.

Without the zooxanthellae as a food source, corals generally begin to starve.

If conditions return to normal, corals can regain their zooxanthellae, return to their normal colour and survive. However, this stress is likely to cause decreased coral growth and reproduction, and increased susceptibility to disease. Bleached corals often die if the stress persists.

Rising sea temperature is the main cause of coral bleaching. Other stressors can also contribute to it but generally to a smaller extent. They include: tropical cyclones; freshwater inflows from flooding events (with low salinity); sedimentation; pollution from urban or agricultural run-off; over-exposure to sunlight; and disease. [11] [12]

Major bleaching events have occurred on the GBR in 1998, 2002, 2016 and 2017.

Reefs can often recover from such events if given enough time, but two in quick succession in 2016 and 2017 may have caused permanent loss of large sections of the reef. The images in Figure 3, from the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, highlight the degree of impact of those two events.

Figure 3: Coral Bleaching Events 2016 and 2017

There is no doubt that coral bleaching is a critical, perhaps catastrophic, issue. Although De’ath et. al. highlighted the need to improve water quality and develop relevant control measures, they stressed that such measures would only succeed if climatic conditions were stabilised, as losses from bleaching and cyclones will otherwise increase.

As a result, given the lack of meaningful response from so-called world leaders to the climate change threat, and taking into account the impact of other stressors that have destroyed much of the reef and weakened the resilience of much of the remaining coral, we may have lost the opportunity to save the reef. [13]

CROWN-OF-THORNS STARFISH (COTS)

COTS are marine invertebrates that occur naturally on reefs throughout the Indo-Pacific region, feeding exclusively on coral. Certain conditions enable them to reach plague proportions and devastate hard coral communities.

Figure 4: Crown-of-thorns starfish devouring coral off northern Queensland

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island

Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island (Ryan McMinds, Flickr)

 

The long-term monitoring program conducted by AIMS has shown that outbreaks have begun in the north and migrated southward, generally over periods of around 15 years, with ocean currents transporting larvae between reefs. There have been four major outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef since the 1960s: in that decade itself; the late 1970s; the early 1990s; and 2010 (which is still under way). [14]

De’ath et. al. have reported that COTS were likely to have occurred every 50-80 years before European agricultural nutrient runoff commenced.

Healthy reefs generally recover between outbreaks, taking 10 to 20 years to do so. However, recovery takes longer on reefs that are affected by additional stresses, such as coral bleaching, cyclones or poor water quality, so the coral may not fully recover before the next wave of outbreaks occurs. [15]

Jon Brodie has stated “it is now well established” that the major COTS outbreaks since 1962 were most likely caused by nutrient enrichment associated with increased discharge of nitrogen and phosphorus from the land due to soil erosion and large scale fertiliser use. The nutrients promote phytoplankton growth suitable to COTS larvae. [16]

The impact of livestock production within the reef’s catchment area is particularly relevant to the water quality issue (including sediment and nutrient discharge), as referred to later in this article.

Fishing also appears to be a major factor in relation to COTS outbreaks. In the mid-shelf region of the GBR, where most outbreaks occur, the frequency of outbreaks as of 2008 on reefs that were open to fishing had been 3.75 times higher than on those where it was prohibited. Although exploited fish species are unlikely to prey on COTS directly, changes in interactions between species at different positions in the food web may be the cause. [17]

These short videos from AIMS and Stanford University help us to better appreciate the extent of the COTS problem. The Stanford researchers state (with my underline):

“Low numbers of this starfish increase reef diversity, but large numbers can destroy reefs. Avoiding human activities that increase starfish numbers is more effective than trying to control Crown-of-Thorns outbreaks once they happen.”

Video 1: Australian Institute of Marine Science (Duration 1:23):

Video 2: Standford University (Duration 2:29)

Figure 5 shows the location, severity and areal extent of COTS outbreaks between 1982 and 2015. [18]

Figure 5: COTS outbreaks 1982 – 2015 (Animation)

THE IMPACT OF LIVESTOCK PRODUCTION

AIMS has highlighted the fact that deterioration in coastal water quality has negatively affected the function, productivity and resilience of tropical marine ecosystems.

They have reported that the main coastal and marine water quality issues in northern Australia are: (a) increasing sediment, nutrients and contaminants entering coastal waters in runoff from agricultural, industrial and urban land uses (increasing five to nine fold from pre-European settlement); and (b) rising seawater temperatures and increasing seawater acidity associated with climate change. [19]

Livestock production within the reef’s catchment has been a major factor in the release of sediment and nutrients. Eroded material, including nutrients, enters streams and rivers and is then carried to the coast, and from there to the Great Barrier Reef.

The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that grazing landscapes, primarily in the Fitzroy and Burdekin catchments, were responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the reef’s waters. [20]

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority has expressed its concern: [21]

“Most sediment entering the Great Barrier Reef comes from catchments in major pastoral areas such as the Burdekin, Herbert and Fitzroy rivers.”

“Changes in water quality affect the biodiversity and resilience of Reef systems. Higher concentrations of pollutants, such as suspended sediments, nitrogen and phosphorus, indicated by higher levels of chlorophyll and lower water clarity, leader [sic] to more algae and less coral diversity. In these conditions, algae take over and reduce the chances for new hard corals to establish and grow.”

Queensland has been Australia’s main beef production state since around 1885. [22] Trees have been extensively cleared to establish grazing areas, with the level of activity increasing after World War 2 when the technique of dragging a massive chain, linked to two bulldozers, was introduced. (The Wilderness Society has credited the innovation to a young Joh Bjelke-Petersen, who eventually became Queensland’s longest-serving premier.)

For many decades, farmers were required to clear the land as a condition of their government lease, with economic development being the driver. [23]

The Queensland government’s State Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) has shown that, between 1988 and 2015, 90,340 square kilometres of land were cleared or re-cleared for pasture in Queensland, which is equivalent to nearly 11 million rugby fields (or nearly 17 million American football fields), with the process accelerating in recent years after a partial ban on broadscale clearing was lifted in 2013. [24] [25] [Footnote 3]

It is also equivalent to a tract of land 10 kilometres (6 miles) wide running between Melbourne and Cairns nearly four times!

Figure 6: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on Australian continent (Arrow width not to scale)

For more context, it is also equivalent to a 10 kilometre wide tract of land running 2.3 times between Los Angeles and New York.

Figure 7: Livestock-related land clearing in Queensland 1988-2015 expressed as 10 km-wide tracts of land equivalent on contiguous states of USA (Arrow width not to scale)

A deleterious outcome of livestock-related land clearing and livestock grazing in cleared and uncleared areas is gully erosion.

The Victorian government has highlighted the role of those activities in gully erosion generally (with my underline): [26]

“Under natural conditions, run-off is moderated by vegetation which generally holds the soil together, protecting it from excessive run-off and direct rainfall.

Excessive clearing, inappropriate land use and compaction of the soil caused by grazing often means the soil is left exposed and unable to absorb excess water. Surface run-off then increases and concentrates in drainage lines, allowing gully erosion to develop in susceptible areas.”

Soils with dispersible subsoils are very common in Queensland and are vulnerable to gully erosion when the shallow layer of relatively stable top soil is disturbed. As water penetrates through early-stage erosion (referred to as rill erosion up to 30 centimetres deep), the subsoil is dispersed, leaving the topsoil unsupported. The topsoil then collapses and the process is repeated.

From that stage, even with little or no surface flow, the gully walls can become saturated, causing them to slump and the gully to expand. The Queensland government has likened the process at that point to digging a hole to the depth of the water table at the beach, with the hole expanding as the sides slump away. [27]

The underlying rock will often limit gully depth to around two metres, but they can be as deep as fifteen metres in alluvial and colluvial soils.

Figure 8: Gully erosion on cattle property in northern Queensland

gully_erosion

© Griffith University – Andrew Brooks

 

The following video provides several examples of grazing-related gully erosion in Queensland’s Fitzroy Basin, which has caused massive amounts of sediment to flow to the GBR. Mitigation efforts are highlighted, but to a large extent the damage has been done and is continuing in other areas, with potential to expand elsewhere as more land is cleared for cattle.

The Queensland government’s most recent Reef Water Quality Protection Plan report card scored graziers’ response to the calamity a “D” for “poor”. [28]

In any event, it is estimated that expenditure ranging from $5.3 billion to $18.4 billion (most likely $7.8 billion) would be required to reduce sediment flow by 50 per cent, which is a target established under the Australian and Queensland governments’ Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan. [29]

Video 3: Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin (Duration 11.55)

Stream bank erosion has also significantly increased sediment discharge to the reef. Here are some thoughts from the Queensland government on that issue (with my underline): [30]

“The major cause of stream bank erosion is the destruction of vegetation on river banks (generally by clearing, overgrazing, cultivation, vehicle traffic up and down banks or fire) and the removal of sand and gravel from the stream bed.”

In commenting on the need to improve water quality, journalist Calla Walqhuist recently indicated in The Guardian that Jon Brodie had recommended a shift from sugar cane production in the reef’s catchment to cattle grazing. [31]

She neglected to say that it is only in the areas where sugarcane is grown that beef grazing would have little impact. Erosion is low in those areas due to high rainfall and extensive vegetation cover, with minimal use of fertilisers and pesticides. Cattle grazing on the large, low rangelands in the Burdekin and Fitzroy catchments, with variable rainfall, is responsible for greatly increased erosion and sediment delivery to the GBR. [32]

Professor Brodie has previously reported that cattle grazing for beef production is the largest single land use in the reef’s catchment area, with cropping (mainly of sugarcane) and urban/residential development “considerably less in areal extent”. [33] As a result, the scope for transitioning from sugarcane production to cattle grazing may be limited.

KEY ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS EFFECTIVELY IGNORE THE LIVESTOCK ISSUE

The following slideshow includes: Adam Bandt of The Greens political party; Kirsty Albion of Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC); Paul Sinclair of Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF); Charlie Wood of 350.org; and Tim Flannery of Climate Council Australia. [Footnote 4]

What do these people have in common?

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

One answer is that their organisations have all campaigned to save the Great Barrier Reef from the ravages of climate change and the related activities of coal mining, dredging and shipping, but have ignored or understated: (a) livestock production’s direct reef impacts; and/or (b) livestock production’s climate change impacts. The Greens’ statement on protecting the reef is an example. [34]

To the extent the groups have mentioned COTS outbreaks and water quality issues, they appear to have avoided commenting on the contribution of diet, which is ultimately responsible for livestock production within the reef’s catchment.

How can they and their organisations justify their assumed roles as defenders of the environment, while effectively choosing to ignore such a critical contributor to the ongoing environmental catastrophe?

It is ironic that Tim Flannery implores us to “start talking about the reef”, including around the dinner table, but fails to meaningfully highlight the role of diet in its demise. [35]

I have previously highlighted links between the livestock sector and ACF, AYCC, Climate Council Australia and others. The links include the fact that ACF’s high-tech headquarters in inner Melbourne, in which AYCC and a Greens member of the Victorian parliament are tenants, were donated to it by livestock interests. [36] I am not in a position to comment on the links (details of which are publicly available), other than to say they exist.

Other scientists are ahead of the pack on this issue, leaving Flannery and his Climate Council colleagues in their wake.

Professor Terry Hughes (referred to earlier) and co-authors of a paper that appeared in the June 2017 issue of Nature, have pointed out that scientists have often ignored human behaviour as the ultimate driver of environmental change. [37] For example, they may focus on pollution or climate change, without acknowledging that factors such as human population growth, socio-economic development, and culture and values are the ultimate cause.

Hughes and his co-authors have argued that governments, non-government organisations and social movements “can actively encourage changes in social norms that lead to improved environmental behaviours” through the use of taxes, incentives, subsidies, education and communication. Governments and the groups mentioned here are failing miserably in that regard.

In Australia, criticising the traditional meat-based barbecue may be considered a form of heresy, despite meat consumption being a key factor in the destruction of a global treasure and critical economic asset in the form of the GBR. Indeed, even without climate change, the reef’s demise may have been assured due to decades of relentless sediment and nutrient pollution from grazing and other properties within the reef’s catchment.

Using the phrase “death by a thousand cuts”, the authors also highlighted the need to consider the interaction between multiple factors contributing to the deterioration of coral reefs. They referred to models indicating that “synergistic human impacts can reduce resilience and cause unexpected ecological collapse, even when individual drivers or stressors remain at levels that are considered to be safe”.

Even if we focus solely on climate change, the livestock sector is a key driver. For example, 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. [38] The findings were reinforced in a subsequent peer-reviewed journal article, which had two co-authors in common with the BZE paper. [39]

The authors focused on factors that are ignored, under-stated or attributed to non-livestock categories in the national greenhouse gas inventory.

BEEF vs TOURISM

Two-thirds of Australia’s beef was exported in 2012-2013, with the figure likely to have grown since then due to an expansion of the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement (ChAFTA).  [40] [41] As a result, modification of diet by the nation’s residents will not be enough to adequately reduce beef production’s negative impacts.

At present, the environmental cost of beef production is not adequately allowed for in the price paid by the end user. Consequently, beef producers are effectively subsidised, while consumers in Australia, China and elsewhere are paying artificially low prices with no effective price signal encouraging them to purchase products with less environmental impact.

The words of CSIRO researcher, Dr Barney Foran, come to mind: [42]

“We should be paying more for products that have a high environmental account balance. The consumer should be expected to pay a realistic price for food so that we play a part in fixing up the bush, instead of sitting in town and wringing our hands about it.”

The current, low-price arrangements may soon come at the expense of the tourism industry as the GBR deteriorates further. In Queensland alone, the industry generates revenues of nearly $23 billion and supports nearly 220,000 jobs directly and indirectly. With 42 per cent of international visitors ranking the reef as the most appealing tourist attraction in Australia, it is also a significant factor in the tourism industry nationally, for which the corresponding figures are $98 billion and 922,000. [43] [44] [45]

By comparison, the beef industry generated less than $18 billion in revenues nationally in 2015/16 (less than tourism in Queensland alone), including $10 billion of exports, with 200,000 people employed (also less than tourism in Queensland), including on-farm production, processing and retail. [46]

CONCLUSION

To the extent that we have any chance of saving the Great Barrier Reef, it is critical that prominent individuals and groups campaigning for that purpose communicate honestly about the factors that are contributing to its parlous state. If it is too late to save it, then we must ask how and why those individuals and groups have failed to address key issues.

It may be easy to feign concern and diligence while conveniently overlooking essential contributing factors, but such abrogation of responsibility will undoubtedly result in catastrophic outcomes unless others can successfully convey the truth to the point that meaningful action is taken.

With that aim in mind, I hope you will help to inform others of the message conveyed in this article.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Professor Hughes also indicated a figure of 30 per cent for 2016. I have assumed he was rounding up the official figure of 29 per cent, and I have used the latter.
  2. A reduction in areal extent from 20 per cent to 14.2 per cent represents a reduction of 5.8 percentage points, and from 14.2 per cent to 11.5 per cent a further 2.7 percentage points, i.e. a total of 8.5 percentage points for those two years. The reduction of 8.5 per cent represents 17 per cent of the 1960s coverage, which was 50 per cent of the reef.
    Due to their close proximity in terms of timing, it is possible that the 2016 and 2017 declines were both expressed as a percentage of the 2015 areal extent. That approach would accentuate the reduction, leaving 10.4 per cent in 2017 rather than the figure of 11.5 per cent indicated here. The figures will be amended if my assumptions are found to be incorrect. Either way, they would appear to represent reasonable approximations.
    On the other hand, media outlets have reported that half the coral has been lost in the past two years. Clearly, a 50 per cent reduction using the 1960s base figure would not be possible when around 80 per cent of that base figure had already been lost by 2015.
  3. The area represents original clearing and re-clearing, demonstrating the ability of wooded vegetation to regenerate if given the opportunity.
  4. All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th December, 2016, and arranged by ACF, AYCC and 350.org. Tim Flannery’s image is from a video recorded on the reef, where he spoke solely about climate change.

Updates

9 July 2017:

The GBRMPA has reported that, in addition to bleaching, corals during 2017 have been affected by: (a) tropical cyclone Debbie (late March 2017); (b) subsequent flooding of the Burdekin and Fitzroy Rivers and resultant flood plumes; (c) ongoing outbreaks of coral disease; and (d) crown-of-thorns starfish. [47] Those factors may have resulted in current coral coverage being below 11.5 per cent. Animal agriculture is relevant to each, including: (i) the flood plumes resulting from eroded soils in the Burekin and Fitzroy catchments; and (ii) tropical cyclones which are affected by the sector’s global warming impact.

Even if we attributed all the coral loss in 2016 and 2017 to bleaching (which was not the case), its contribution since the 1960s is likely to have been well below that of cyclones and COTS.

As mentioned within the article, Jon Brodie of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies believes COTS were probably the major cause of coral mortality in the period from 1960 to 1985. A major COTS outbreak occurred in the 1960s, while the first major bleaching event occurred in 1998, so bleaching may have had no impact during that period.

5 August 2017:

One paragraph has been amended to clarify the fact that erosion from cattle grazing occurs on uncleared, as well as cleared, land (consistent with many of my previous articles).

References

[1] Brodie, J., “Great Barrier Reef dying beneath its crown of thorns”, The Conversation, 16th April, 2012, http://theconversation.com/great-barrier-reef-dying-beneath-its-crown-of-thorns-6383

[2] 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, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

[3] Stella, J., Pears, R., Wachenfeld, D., “Interim Report: 2016 Coral Bleaching Event on the Great Barrier Reef”, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, September 2016, http://elibrary.gbrmpa.gov.au/jspui/bitstream/11017/3044/5/Interim%20report%20on%202016%20coral%20bleaching%20event%20in%20GBRMP.pdf

[4] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 May 2017, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/media-room/reef-health

[5] Professor Terry Hughes on Twitter, 21st May 2017

[6] Chang, C. and AAP, “Half the Great Barrier Reef may have died in last two years”, 23 May 2017, http://www.news.com.au/technology/environment/climate-change/half-the-great-barrier-reef-may-have-died-in-last-two-years/news-story/d1a7e2974597f40d04700d7313c9f713

[7] Osborne, K., Dolman, A. M., Burgess, S. C., & Johns, K. A. (2011). Disturbance and the Dynamics of Coral Cover on the Great Barrier Reef (1995–2009). PLoS ONE, 6(3), e17516. http://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0017516https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3053361/ and https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3053361/pdf/pone.0017516.pdf

[8] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[9] National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Ocean Service, “What is coral bleaching?”, revised 17 March 2016, http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/facts/coral_bleach.html

[10] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef – Coral bleaching” (undated), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/climate-change/what-does-this-mean-for-species/corals/what-is-coral-bleaching

[11] Australian Government, Bureau of Meteorology (undated), http://www.bom.gov.au/oceanography/oceantemp/GBR_Coral.shtml

[12] The Nature Conservancy, Ocean and Coasts, “Coral bleaching: What you need to know” (undated), https://www.nature.org/ourinitiatives/habitats/coralreefs/coral-reefs-coral-bleaching-what-you-need-to-know.xml

[13] Dunlop, I., “Time for honesty on climate and energy policy”, The Sydney Morning Herald, 12 December 2016, http://www.smh.com.au/comment/time-for-honesty-on-climate-and-energy-policy-20161208-gt7g1k.html

[14] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef”, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/animals/crown-of-thorns-starfish/history-of-outbreaks (accessed 11 June 2017)

[15] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns starfish” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots.html (accessed 11 June 2017)

[16] Brodie, J., op. cit.

[17] Sweatman, H., “No-take reserves protect coral reefs from predatory starfish”, Current Biology, Volume 18, Issue 14, pR598–R599, 22 July 2008, http://www.cell.com/current-biology/fulltext/S0960-9822(08)00671-4 and http://www.cell.com/current-biology/pdf/S0960-9822(08)00671-4.pdf

[18] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots-animation.html (Accessed 11 June 2017)

[19] Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Water Quality” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/water-quality/water-quality.html

[20] Kroon, F., Turner, R., Smith, R., Warne, M., Hunter, H., Bartley, R., Wilkinson, S., Lewis, S., Waters, D., Caroll, C., 2013 “Scientific Consensus Statement: Sources of sediment, nutrients, pesticides and other pollutants in the Great Barrier Reef Catchment”, Ch. 4, p. 12, The State of Queensland, Reef Water Quality Protection Plan Secretariat, July, 2013, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/about/scientific-consensus-statement/sources-of-pollutants.aspx

[21] Australian Government, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “Managing the reef”, undated, http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/managing-the-reef/threats-to-the-reef/declining-water-quality

[22] May, D., “The North Queensland beef cattle industry: an historical overview“, from Lectures on North Queensland history. No. 4 chapter 6 pp. 121-159, Edited by Dalton, B. J.. Townsville. James Cook University of North Queensland, 1984, http://www.textqueensland.com.au/item/chapter/9b938237e189a1274770d0d2e94209ad

[23] The Wilderness Society, “Land Clearing in Queensland” (undated) https://www.wilderness.org.au/land-clearing-queensland (Accessed 12 June 2017)

[24] Queensland Department of Science, Information Technology and Innovation. 2016. Land cover change in Queensland 2014–15: a Statewide Landcover and Trees Study (SLATS) report. DSITI, Brisbane

[25] Mahony, P., “Beef, the reef and rugby: We have a problem”, Terrastendo, 26 March 2017, https://terrastendo.net/2017/03/26/beef-the-reef-and-rugby-we-have-a-problem/

[26] Agriculture Victoria, “Gully Erosion”, Nov 1999, http://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/farm-management/soil-and-water/erosion/gully-erosion (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[27] Carey, B., Queensland Government, Natural Resources and Water, “Gully Erosion”, March 2006, https://www.qld.gov.au/dsiti/assets/soil/gully-erosion.pdf

[28] Queensland Government, “Great Barrier Reef Report Card 2015: Reef water quality protection plan”, http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/ and http://www.reefplan.qld.gov.au/measuring-success/report-cards/2015/assets/gbr-2015report-card.pdf

[29] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan – Progress on Implementation Review by Great Barrier Reef Independent Review Group, February 2017, p. 50, http://www.environment.gov.au/marine/gbr/long-term-sustainability-plan

[30] Queensland Government, “Types of erosion”, Last updated 18 December 2013, last reviewed 14 October 2015, https://www.qld.gov.au/environment/land/soil/erosion/types/ (Accessed 13 June 2017)

[31] Wahlquist, C., “Great Barrier Reef: Australia must act urgently on water quality, says Unesco”, The Guardian, 3 June 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/jun/03/great-barrier-reef-australia-must-act-urgently-on-water-quality-says-unesco?CMP=share_btn_fb

[32] Brodie, J., Email correspondence, 9 June 2017

[33] Brodie, J., Christie, C., Devlin, M., Haynes, D., Morris, S., Ramsay, M., Waterhouse, J., and Yorkston, H., “Catchment management and the Great Barrier Reef”, pp. 203 & 205, Water Science and Technology Vol 43 No 9 pp 203–211 © IWA Publishing 200, May 2001, http://wst.iwaponline.com/content/43/9/203

[34] The Greens, “Protecting the Great Barrier Reef” (undated), https://greens.org.au/save-the-reef

[35] The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/raise-the-reef

[36] Mahony, P., “The link that too many ignore”, Terrastendo, 26 August 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2016/08/26/the-link-that-too-many-ignore/

[37] Hughes, Terry P., Barnes, Michele L., Bellwood, David R., Cinner, Joshua E., Cumming, Graeme S., Jackson, Jeremy B.C., Kleypas, Joanie, van de Leemput, Ingrid A., Lough, Janice M., Morrison, Tiffany H.,  Palumbi, Stephen R., van Nes, Egbert H., Scheffer, Marten, “Coral reefs in the Anthropocene”, Nature, 546, 82–90, 1 June 2017 (published online 31 May 2017), doi:10.1038/nature22901, http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature22901

[38] 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, http://bze.org.au/landuse

[39] 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, http://ijc.cgpublisher.com/product/pub.185/prod.269

[40] Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Australian Food Statistics 2012-13″, Table 2.4, p. 53, http://www.agriculture.gov.au/ag-farm-food/food/publications/afs

[41] Tingle, L., “China trade deal adds $400 million to beef exports”, Australian Financial Review, 24 March 2017, http://www.afr.com/news/politics/china-trade-deal-adds-400-million-to-beef-exports-20170324-gv5qzl

[42] Anon., “Counting the Ecological Cost”, The Canberra Times, 29 May 2005

[43] Australian Government, Austrade, Tourism Research Australia, State Tourism Satellite Accounts 2014-15, https://www.tra.gov.au/tra/2016/research/State-Tourism-Satellite-Accounts_2014-15.html and https://www.tra.gov.au/tra/2016/documents/Economic-Industry/State_summaries.pdf

[44] Australian Government, Department of Environment and Energy, op. cit., p. 52

[45]  Farm Weekly, “Australian beef exports hit world top”, 30 April, 2017, http://www.farmweekly.com.au/news/agriculture/livestock/general-news/australian-beef-exports-hit-world-top/2755103.aspx?storypage=0

[46] Meat & Livestock Australia, Beef Fast Facts 2016, https://www.mla.com.au/globalassets/mla-corporate/prices–markets/documents/trends–analysis/fast-facts–maps/mla_beef-fast-facts-2016.pdf

[47] Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, Reef Health, 29 June 2017 (relating to 29 July 2017 update), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/reef-health

Images

Brian Kinney, Wonderful and beautiful underwater world with corals and tropical fish (within Figure 1(b)), Shutterstock

Ryan McMinds, Crown-of-Thorns Starfish (Acanthaster planci), Lizard Island, Flickr, Creative Commons, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)  http://tinyurl.com/yaswsjes

skvoor, Australia map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

skvoor, United States map light blue map with shadow, Shutterstock

Slideshow images (except Tim Flannery): Takver, Photographs by: Julian Meehan, “Reef not coal snap action”, 5th Dec 2016, Flickr,  Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Tim Flannery’s image: The Climate Council of Australia, “Raise the reef”, 13th October 2016, http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/raise-the-reef, Creative Commons attribution 3.0 Australia license (CC By 3.0 AU) (Climate Council reports note that “Climate Council of Australia Ltd copyright material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Australia License.”)

All photos in the slideshow, other than Tim Flannery’s, are from the “Reef not coal snap action”, held in Melbourne on 5th Dec 2016, and arranged by Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) and 350.org.

Andrew Brooks, Griffith University, Gully erosion at Springvale Station, from “Research leads to Great Barrier Reef Rescue Purchase”, Griffith News, 23 June 2016 (Used with permission), https://app.secure.griffith.edu.au/news/2016/06/23/research-leads-to-great-barrier-reef-rescue-purchase/

ARC Centre of Excellence, Media Release “Two-thirds of Great Barrier Reef hit by back-to-back mass coral bleaching”, 10th April 2017, https://www.coralcoe.org.au/media-releases/two-thirds-of-great-barrier-reef-hit-by-back-to-back-mass-coral-bleaching

Animation (Figure 5)

Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-Thorns Starfish distribution” (undated), http://www.aims.gov.au/docs/research/biodiversity-ecology/threats/cots-animation.html (Accessed 11 June 2017)

Videos

Australian Institute of Marine Science, “Crown-of-thorns survey video”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0tcYJ0cAuDU

Stanford University, Microdocs Project, “Crown-of-thorns starfish”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_SpLgzPqCV8

Australian Government and Fitzroy Basis Association, “Gully erosion in the Fitzroy Basin”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nhkFiQR4Axs

 

 

 

1445667842_4f0d864a5d_b

Less Meat Less Heat (LMLH) is an Australian climate change campaign group that was created in early 2015. Its mission is “to reduce the consumption of meat most damaging to the climate by promoting a Climatarian diet”.

It describes such a diet as one that involves “. . . choosing what you eat based on the carbon footprint of different foods”, and focuses on a reduction in the consumption of cattle and sheep meat (“beef” and “lamb”). The group’s founder, Mark Pershin, has said, “the only guideline we have for the climatarian diet is cutting back beef and lamb consumption to one standard serving a week”.

This post considers some of the climate change, animal rights and health aspects of LMLH’s campaign. Much of the LMLH material referred to comes from the FAQs concerning its “Climatarian Challenge“, which LMLH describes as a challenge to eat in a carbon-conscious way . . . for 30 days. Participation occurs via a specially-prepared smartphone app.

LMLH is a relatively recent arrival on the scene of climate change campaigning, and the basis of its message is not new. In fact, Pershin has said he was inspired to take action by (in addition to some post-graduate environmental studies) the 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy”, which was also a relatively late (albeit effective) arrival with the livestock message.

The group’s approach seems to be largely marketing based (reflecting Pershin’s background), in seeking behavioural change to an extent that it considers achievable. LMLH seems to see a reduction in ruminant meat consumption as “low hanging fruit” with a “big bang for the buck” in terms of climate change mitigation, as reflected in the relative greenhouse gas emissions intensity of different products.

That might seem a reasonable approach, but there are many shortcomings, some of which I aim to highlight in this post.

The urgent need to act

It seems impossible to overstate the extent of the crisis we are facing in the form of climate change. I agree with LMLH on the urgent need to act in order to avoid a global catastrophe. Feedback mechanisms within the climate system are (by definition and in practice) accelerating, potentially leading to runaway climate change beyond the scope of any mitigation efforts we might seek to initiate.

Nevertheless, we must fight to retain a habitable planet, and I also agree with LMLH that a key plank in the required emergency action must be a general change in dietary practices. However, rather than adopting LMLH’s approach of focusing almost exclusively on certain types of meat, I argue for a general transition toward a plant-based diet. More on that below.

The danger of “bright-siding”

To support its position, LMLH cites global “high meat” and “low meat” scenarios developed by UK “think tank” Chatham House, along with its own more optimistic scenario. The scenarios utilise the “global carbon calculator” developed by the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change, the World Resources Institute and others. It has used the two low meat scenarios to argue that a reduction in beef and lamb consumption will give us a reasonable chance of staying within a 2°C temperature target.  Here’s some of what it has said.

LMLH STATEMENT:

“If we can all cut back our consumption of beef and lamb down to once a week for a standard serving size (65g) or once a month for a large portion such as a roast or steak then we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels . . .

This sounds too easy, like changing light bulbs, but that is what the climate models used by world leaders tell us and hence what we are telling you. So be part of the solution, take part in The Climatarian Challenge and become a climatarian!” [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge]

RESPONSE: That is a major overstatement that masks the true danger

The first problem with LMLH’s statement is that the 2°C target is widely considered politically expedient and lacking scientific merit.

The former head of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Dr James Hansen, has described it as “a prescription for disaster”.

Authors of “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have said:

“A rise of 2 degrees over pre-industrial temperatures will initiate climate feedbacks in the oceans, on ice-sheets, and on the tundra, taking the Earth well past significant tipping points.”

Although LMLH understands the danger of runaway climate change and the need to stay well below 2°C, its message is inconsistent, and it appears to give challenge participants the impression that all will be well if people simply reduce their red meat consumption.

LMLH also fails to say that Chatham House’s low-meat scenario gives us less than a 50% chance of staying below 2°C. They are horrendous odds when the future of the planet (as we know it) is at stake.

It should perhaps also highlight the fact in its challenge material that an aspirational target of 1.5°C (which is also dangerous but perhaps inevitable) was established at the 2015 Paris climate summit.

Critically, Chatham House’s low meat scenario assumes: (a) global meat consumption will fall below current projections, with monogastric meats, such as chicken and pork, largely replacing ruminant meats like beef and lamb; and (b) nations will comply with pledges to limit energy-related emissions and seek to improve energy efficiency.

LMLH’s third scenario is consistent with the dietary aspects of Chatham House’s low meat scenario, but is more optimistic regarding energy-related emissions, assuming a general transition to renewables. It would almost certainly also involve a high risk of failure relative to what is at stake, and may reflect a high degree of wishful thinking.

LMLH’s notion that “we can actually limit climate change to what climate scientists consider safe levels” by reducing consumption of beef and lamb may represent a form of what David Spratt calls “bright-siding“. Spratt uses the term to describe the tendency of many environmental groups to act on the belief that only positive “good news” messages work, thereby avoiding “bad news” such as climate change impacts (or in this case, the fact that continued consumption of all animal-based foods will contribute significantly to climate catastrophe). LMLH seems to be offering a potential solution to climate change that falls well short of the mark if we want to have a reasonable chance of overcoming the crisis.

A key component of LMLH’s bright-siding approach is its aim “to drive behavioural change in the mainstream population by taking a pragmatic approach”. That approach is consistent with the fact that “pragmatism” is one of its stated values, and reflects the marketing background of its founder.

In the words of David Spratt:

“Is selling ‘good news’ and avoiding ‘bad news’ the way to engage communities in understanding how climate change will affect them and what they can do about it?   In the commercial world the answer is yes, you can sell a ‘solution’ without a real problem, because half the game is about fabricating demand (status, for example) for things people don’t need (a new car) . . .

But with climate change, the problem is not a commercial or political construct, and not fully solving the problem will be catastrophic beyond most peoples’ imaginations and current understandings.”

LMLH dangerously ignores the actual and potential impacts of animal products other than beef and lamb. With meat consumption currently increasing in developing nations such as India and China, we cannot afford to focus solely on beef and lamb in our efforts to create dietary change. Some more focus by LMLH on the impact of fossil fuels and the Catch 22 of aerosols would also be helpful.

Greenhouse gas emissions intensity

LMLH’s main concern is the high greenhouse gas emissions intensity of beef and lamb.

Per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity of those foods is high relative to that of other foods, including other animal-based and plant-based foods, and LMLH is justified in being concerned. However, if we measure the emissions per kilogram of protein, those other animal-based foods do not seem such favourable choices, as shown in Figure 1. The charts show the emissions intensity based on 100-year and 20-year time horizons for determining the global warming potential (GWP) of various greenhouse gases. [Footnote 1]

Figure 1(a): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for beef, sheep meat and cow’s milk

Figure 1(b): Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e/kg protein) for other products

Even when measured per kilogram of product, the emissions intensity figures of other animal-based foods are multiples of the figures for plant-based options, with the emissions intensity of eggs, chicken, fish and pork being between 160 and 340 per cent higher than that of soy beans. Economic rationalists may be horrified at efficiency differentials of 5 or 10 per cent, but here we have climate change inefficiencies that are up to 68 times as bad as those figures (5 per cent versus 340 per cent).

A related point is that the inherent inefficiency of all animal-based food products means we require far more resources, including land, than with plant-based options. That creates grave risks for what are currently carbon sinks, such as the Amazon rainforest. With no buffer in our need to deal with the climate crisis, we must use every mitigation opportunity available, including revegetation and avoidance of further land clearing.

The second point is highlighted by the fact that we need many kilograms of plant-based protein to produce one kilogram of the animal-based variety, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios

Some major impacts of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system are not accounted for in emissions intensity figures or national greenhouse gas inventories.

The problem arises 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 loss of ocean predators such as large carnivorous fish, sharks, crabs, lobsters, seals and sea lions, and the corresponding population increase of herbivores and bioturbators (creatures that disturb ocean sediment, including certain crabs) causes loss of carbon from vegetated coastal habitats and sediment. The ocean predators are either caught intentionally by fishing fleets, or as by-catch when other species are targeted.

These factors also reduce the ability of the oceans to sequester carbon. 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.

In respect of emissions intensity figures generally, a major inconsistency in the approach of LMLH is that in written material it refers to methane’s GWP on a 20-year basis (e.g. methane’s warming impact is 86 times that of CO2), but figures used for the app are based on the more conservative 100-year timeframe.

Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge

LMLH expresses concern for animals, as demonstrated in the quotations below.

LMLH STATEMENTS:

“Let it be clear that we are firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system . . . we do encourage you to understand the compassionate footprint of your food and engage with other organisations that advocate for animal rights and bravely fight against factory farming. We think that together we can work towards a safer and more compassionate world . . .”  [LMLH, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Other Issues, What about animal rights?]

“When we buy meat that is not free range it is factory farmed. Animals raised in factory farms are subject to intensely stressful conditions and sometimes unimaginable cruelty all in the name of cutting costs. These conditions are fuelled and passively accepted by us, the consumers who demand more for less.” [LMLH, “Why free range?”, The Animals]

RESPONSE: The expressions of compassion and concern are not consistent with other aspects of LMLH’s campaign.

If LMLH is “firmly against the cruel treatment of animals in the factory farming system“, then why is it continually encouraging people to replace beef and lamb with chicken and pig meat?

As stated by Eric Baldwin in the short 2002 documentary, “Meet your meat“, “chickens are probably the most abused animals on the face of the planet”. Pigs are not far behind.

Every animal is an individual, with the ability to suffer physical and psychological pain. The fact that one is smaller than another, or perceived as less cuddly, does not reduce the suffering.

If you have a spare couple of minutes, why not watch this short clip, demonstrating the link between a mother hen and her chick, who (unlike most) were given the opportunity to live in a natural way.

xxx

Quite apart from the horrendous conditions experienced by most chickens and pigs in the food production system, to replace the meat from one cow with chicken meat in the top beef-consuming nations would require between 101 and 360 additional chickens to be bred, raised and slaughtered. (88 per cent of the 70 billion land animals slaughtered around the world annually are chickens. In Australia, they represent 90 per cent of the 642 million slaughtered.) The number of pigs is smaller, but still a multiple of cows.

Here are the comparisons by country, determined by the relevant production yields for each product. (Yes, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) publish pig meat figures for all the countries shown here.)

Figure 3(a): Number of chickens required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Figure 3(b): Number of pigs required to replace one cow in top per capita beef-eating countries

Here is a statement that appears to demonstrate LMLH’s lack of concern for animals:

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Fill your plate with ethical deliciousness. Trade your centrepiece of Christmas roast beef or lamb shanks for a lower-carbon alternative. Turkey, ham, chicken, and kangaroo will be sure to satisfy the hunger of your guests with less of a heating effect on the Earth. [LMLH, “An Ethical Christmas Guide”, Dec 2016]

RESPONSE: Shouldn’t cruelty feature in a discussion on the ethics of consuming turkey, ham, chicken or kangaroo?

Here are some examples of legalised cruelty involving chickens, turkeys and pigs, enshrined in Australian livestock codes of practice and legislation (with similar arrangements in place in many other countries):

Chickens and turkeys:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • beak trimming without anaesthetic;
  • removing the snood of turkeys (the skin drooping from the forehead) without anaesthetic;
  • removing terminal segment of males’ inward pointing toes without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding;
  • killing of “surplus” chicks (mainly male) in the egg industry through gassing with CO2 or by “quick maceration”. (The Oxford defines “macerate” as “soften or become softened by soaking in a liquid”. In the case of chicks, they are sent along a conveyor belt to an industrial grinder while still alive.)

Pigs:

  • life-long confinement indoors;
  • confinement in a sow stall, with insufficient room to turn around, for up to 16.5 weeks, day and night;
  • confinement in a farrowing crate, with insufficient room to turn around or interact with piglets, for up to 6 weeks, day and night;
  • tail docking without anaesthetic;
  • ear notching without anaesthetic;
  • teeth clipping without anaesthetic;
  • castration without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

They are some of the legal forms of cruelty, and do not include brutality which has frequently been recorded with under-cover cameras.

It should go without saying that the slaughter process is also not something to be taken lightly, but that seems to be how most people consider it. According to the animal advocacy group, Aussie Farms:

Due to the high demand for meat and other animal products, abattoirs are required to kill very large quantities of animals per day, resulting in a typically rushed environment where ineffective stunning can easily occur. Animals that reach the kill floor without first being properly stunned are then ‘stuck’ and bled out while still conscious.

Regardless of the effectiveness or otherwise of different stunning methods, the sights, sounds and smells of an abattoir create a terrifying experience for animals awaiting their terrible fate.

If interested, you can see undercover footage from the Aussie Farms website here and from Animal Liberation NSW here. (Warning: Graphic footage.)

The great majority of pigs in Australia are stunned for slaughter using the CO2 method, whereby they are directed into a cage, which is then lowered into a CO2 chamber. Many people may wrongly believe that the process is free of pain and stress for animals. This video (Warning: Graphic footage) from Animal Liberation Victoria appears to indicate otherwise, a view supported by Donald Broom, Emeritus Professor in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University.

LMLH also overlooks the horrific suffering of fish and other aquatic animals. Like other animals, those in the oceans and other waterways feel pain. In the aquaculture industry, they spend their lives in crowded, often filthy enclosures, with many suffering from parasitic infections, diseases, and debilitating injuries. In the wild, hundreds of billions of fish and non-target “bycatch” are caught each year in nets or dragged for hours on long-lines. Most fish die slowly through suffocation, and many aquatic animals are prepared by cooks for eating while still alive or killed in horrific ways.

Please also see comments below in relation to kangaroos and free range systems.

Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach

It is pleasing that LMLH recently stated that it would cease advocating the consumption of kangaroo meat as a low-carbon option. However, three items in which it does so were appearing on its website at the time of writing, and kangaroo meat was mentioned by Mark Pershin in a radio interview as recently as 10th April 2017, without reference to its negative aspects.

To the extent that it applies, the decision may have been prompted by interactions on social media with individuals who pointed out various aspects of the kangaroo meat trade, such as its extreme and inherent cruelty (including the plight of joeys who are clubbed to death or abandoned) and the fact that it is not viable as a food source on a scale anywhere near that of the cattle and sheep meat sectors.

A grave concern is that the prime targets of shooters are the largest, strongest individuals, with potentially critical impacts on the prospects of their mob (the term used to describe their group), along with the gene pool and the resilience of the species in increasingly challenging environmental conditions.

Most modern kangaroo species have evolved over a million years or more. Without human intervention on the scale imposed by Europeans commencing just over 200 years ago, they would have continued to live in harmony with the landscape to the extent that it remained habitable. Like our interaction with most non-human animals, the power balance in our favour and a lack of compassion in respect of kangaroos create an example of gross injustice, for which we should be ashamed.

In any event, we consume kangaroo meat at our peril. Parasite infestations and the role of red and processed meat in bowel cancer, heart disease and stroke are major concerns in terms of human health. The fact that kangaroo meat is relatively low in cholesterol may offer little comfort, as it is high in L-carnitine, a compound associated with increased incidence of cardio vascular disease in the form of atherosclerosis.

The folly of “free range” and “grass-fed”

LMLH is a strong advocate of “free range” and “grass-fed” production systems, but free range production methods will never be able to respond on the scale required to feed the masses.

Here are some issues to consider.

Greenhouse gases

LMLH STATEMENT:

“When selecting your beef and lamb meal for the week we recommend opting for a grass-fed option . . .”

RESPONSE: Why does LMLH recommend grass-fed when the emissions intensity is far higher than the alternative?

Meat from grass-fed animals is far more emissions intensive than that from animals fed in mixed systems. [Footnote 2]

Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) has estimated that cows fed on grass produce four times as much methane as those fed on grain. [Footnote 3]

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 estimates from CSIRO and Eshel relate to the period an animal is eating grass as opposed to grain. The “mixed-fed” result allows for both feeding regimes, resulting in a comparison that is less stark. For example, the FAO has recently reported that the global average emissions intensity of “grass-fed” beef was 62 percent higher than beef from mixed systems, based on the 2010 reference period (95.1 kg vs 58.6 kg CO2-e/kg product). [Footnote 4]

Cruelty

Please see comments from LMLH under the earlier heading “Multiply your cruelty footprint with the Climatarian Challenge”.

There are no legally enforceable free range standards in Australia, and the systems still involve cruelty.

In respect of cattle (who generally live in free range systems for most of their lives), the livestock industry codes of practice (endorsed by legislation) permit:

  • castration without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • dehorning without anaesthetic if under six months old or, under certain circumstances, at an older age;
  • disbudding (prior to horns growing) without anaesthetic. Caustic chemicals may be used for that process under certain circumstances, including an age of less than fourteen days;
  • hot iron branding without anaesthetic;
  • forced breeding.

Here is a calf, possibly “free range”, enduring the horror of hot iron branding.

Major problems have been exposed in relation to pig meat production on the “Free Range Fraud” website of Animal Liberation Victoria, involving brands accredited as free range by the RSPCA. A related point is that the RSPCA has been reported to earn a royalty equal to 2 per cent of sales from accredited producers. In any event, the RSPCA has no power in relation to the legalised forms of cruelty.

Many free range farmers send their animals to regular abattoirs for slaughter. Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms has confirmed that her business sends the animals to Diamond Valley Pork in Laverton, Victoria, where the CO2 stunning shown in Animal Liberation Victoria’s video, referred to earlier, occurs. (Warning: Graphic footage)

In its FAQ on dairy, LMLH recommends “grass-fed cheese”. The failure to acknowledge the animals whose milk is used seems to demonstrate a lack of empathy. It also highlights a failure to recognise the immense, inherent cruelty involved in dairy production, whereby cows are impregnated in order to stimulate their mammary glands, only to have their newborn calves removed within a day of birth so that the milk that was meant for them can be consumed by supermarket customers.

LMLH erroneously uses the term “animal rights”, when in reality it means “animal welfare”. The latter assumes that animals have no rights, and must be available for our use.

Health

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Meat is nowhere near as good for you as when the animal is raised on pasture and eats what it has evolved to eat.”

RESPONSE: Whether “grass-fed” or “grain-fed”, red meat has serious health implications.

The only health issue raised by LMLH is the fatty acid composition of meat. However, whether a cow eats grass or grain, the meat represents a serious health risk, with the detrimental impacts being well documented by the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF), 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. 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 health organisations classify pig meat as red meat.) The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes.

In 2012, Harvard University released a study involving more than 120,000 participants over twenty-six years, with similarly damning results. Citing the study, the New York Time reported that “eating red meat is associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease . . . and the more of it you eat, the greater the risk . . . Previous studies have linked red meat consumption and mortality, but the new results suggest a surprisingly strong link”.

Land use

LMLH STATEMENT:

“Cows provide many valuable services to the grasses that they graze on, including feeding them with nitrogen from their manure.”

RESPONSE: The impact on land of cattle grazing is overwhelmingly negative.

Much of the land on which cattle graze was once forest or other forms of wooded vegetation, with an ongoing loss of carbon sequestration on top of the impact of carbon being released at the time of clearing. Even perennial grasslands are no match for forest in terms of sequestration, with Australia’s Chief Scientist reporting that forests are typically more than ten times as effective as grasslands, per hectare, at storing carbon.

Rather than promoting the growth of healthy grass, cattle grazing generally degrades soil, with devastating impacts well beyond the pasture. For example, the erosion generated by cattle grazing is one of the largely hidden reasons behind the ongoing demise of one of the world’s natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef. Cattle grazing is responsible for 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters, along with 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen. The sediment blocks the sun and smothers coral. The fertilisers promote algal growth that represents a food source for crown-of-thorns starfish larvae.

Researchers from the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong estimated in 2012 that the reef had lost around half of the coral cover that existed in 1985. [Footnote 5] The research attributed the loss to three main factors in the following order: cyclones (48 per cent), crown-of-thorns starfish (42 per cent) and coral bleaching (10 per cent). It is estimated that if crown-of-thorns starfish predation had not occurred during that period, there would have been a net increase in average coral cover.

The release of carbon due to soil erosion following livestock-related land clearing was a key factor in Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute (University of Melbourne) estimating that animal agriculture was responsible for around 50 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other factors included an allowance for short-lived climate forcers and a 20-year GWP.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have reported on the destructive environmental impacts of livestock grazing in remote areas of Australia, including the introduction of invasive pasture grasses, manipulation of fire regimes, tree clearing, and degradation of land and natural water sources.

According to Professor Ian Lunt of Charles Sturt University, managed grazing systems are only suitable in a small number of Australian ecosystems, particularly lowland grasslands and grassy woodlands on productive soils in areas of moderate to high rainfall.

Conclusion

LMLH appears to have been effective in engaging with the public and media on climate change and the impact of diet, but there is too much at stake to avoid highlighting concerns over various aspects of its campaign.

Although those involved can be proud of their efforts in many respects, they appear to be: (a) understating the true dangers; (b) ignoring or overlooking key mitigation measures; and (c) failing to adequately recognise or acknowledge the plight of food production animals.

I hope LMLH will reconsider some aspects of its current approach, potentially enhancing its effectiveness while also raising awareness of various issues that are currently largely out of public view.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions intensity and GWP: The 100-year figures have been published by the FAO, while the 20-year figures represent an adjustment allowing for the apportionment of various greenhouse gases for each animal-based product as also reported by the FAO, along with  and the IPCC’s 2013 GWPs for methane and nitrous oxide. The GWP-20 figures are approximations, as the apportionment of greenhouse gases per product was based on results from GLEAM 1 (2005 reference period), while the latest FAO GWP100 figures are from GLEAM 2 (2010 reference period). [GLEAM is the FAO’s Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model.] Some figures are higher than estimates I have conservatively reported elsewhere, where I chose not to adjust for yield. The beef figures include beef from the dairy herd, the emissions intensity of which is lower than that of the specialised beef herd, as emissions are also attributed to other products, such as milk and cheese.
  2. FAO reporting: A recent FAO spreadsheet using the 2005 reference period indicated the opposite result, but the organisation has confirmed that emissions from land use change for pasture expansion had inadvertently been attributed to mixed, rather than grassland, systems. The spreadsheet has been withdrawn, and correct results will be published for the 2010 reference period.
  3. Emissions from grass-fed cattle: 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. The same can be said for potential reductions in methane emissions through the use of seaweed and chemicals in animal feed, which are likely to have the added problem of being an impractical option for grass-fed animals.
  4. Feeding regimes for cattle: Cows are not fed grain exclusively. They have not evolved to consume it, and if it is used at all, they are generally only “finished” on it for up to 120 days prior to slaughter.
  5. Loss of coral from the Great Barrier Reef: The precise figure lost since 1985 was 50.7 per cent.

Some minor concerns

Here are some less serious concerns with LMLH’s material:

  1. In explaining the use of “carbon points” in its climate challenge app, LMLH has linked to a 2011 article from the Guardian, explaining Global Warming Potential. The problem is that the figures are out of date, and do not represent the figures used in the app.
  2. Twice on its Climate Challenge FAQ page, LMLH refers to “The United Nations Farming and Agriculture Organisation”. The title used is incorrect, with the main problem being the use of the word “Farming” rather than “Food”.

References

TedX St Kilda, Reclaim Our Future with the Climatarian Diet Mark Pershin TE”, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zLE6Z4YLsM

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge FAQ, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/

Room with a view, 3RRR 102.7 FM, 10th April 2017, http://www.rrr.org.au/program/room-with-a-view?an_page=2017-04-10

Pershin, M., “Meat the Biggest Threat and Opportunity to Climate Change”, 22 November 2015, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/meat-the-biggest-threat-and-opportunity-to-climate-change-2/

The Global Calculator: Pathways, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org/pathways

The Global Calculator, http://uncached-site.globalcalculator.org

Hannam, P., “Paris 2015: Two degrees warming a ‘prescription for disaster’ says top climate scientist James Hansen”, Sydney Morning Herald, 5th May 2015, http://www.smh.com.au/environment/un-climate-conference/paris-2015-two-degrees-warming-a-prescription-for-disaster-says-top-climate-scientist-james-hansen-20150504-ggu33w.html

Wellesley, L., “Left Unchecked, Western Diets Could Derail Climate Action”, Chatham House, https://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/16752

Spratt, D and Sutton, P, “Climate Code Red: The case for emergency action”, Scribe, 2008, p. 47

Phillips, S., “Paris climate deal: How a 1.5 degree target overcame the odds at COP21”, 13th December 2015, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-12-13/how-the-1-5-degree-target-overcame-the-odds-in-paris/7024006

ABC News, “The Paris Agreement Explained”, updated 9th December 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-12-09/the-paris-agreement-explained/8107100

Spratt, D., Climate Code Red, “Always look on the bright side of life: Bright-siding climate advocacy and its consequences”, 17th April 2012, http://www.climatecodered.org/2012/04/always-look-on-bright-side-of-life.html

Less Meat Less Heat, About, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/about

Hansen, J, “Storms of my Grandchildren”, Bloomsbury, 2009, pp. 97-98

Mahony, P., “On the edge of a climate change precipice”, Terrastendo, 3rd March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/03/03/on-the-edge-of-a-climate-change-precipice/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM) – Results, http://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/

USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/http://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/foodcomp/search/ via Nutrition Data at http://www.nutritiondata.com

Scarborough, P., Appleby, P.N., Mizdrak, A., Briggs, A.D.M., Travis, R.C., Bradbury, K.E., & Key, T.J., “Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters, fish-eaters, vegetarians and vegans in the UK”, Climatic Change, DOI 10.1007/s10584-014-1169-1, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10584-014-1169-1

Myhre, G., D. Shindell, F.-M. Bréon, W. Collins, J. Fuglestvedt, J. Huang, D. Koch, J.-F. Lamarque, D. Lee, B. Mendoza, T. Nakajima, A. Robock, G. Stephens, T. Takemura and H. Zhang, 2013: “Anthropogenic and Natural Radiative Forcing. In: Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group 1 to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change” , Table 8.7, p. 714 [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, http://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1/

Gerber, P.J., Steinfeld, H., Henderson, B., Mottet, A., Opio, C., Dijkman, J., Falcucci, A. & Tempio, G. 2013. “Tackling climate change through livestock – A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), Rome, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

Mahony, P. “GWP Explained”, 14th June 2013, updated 15th March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/gwp-explained/

Tilman, D., Clark, M., “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”, Nature515, 518–522 (27 November 2014) doi:10.1038/nature13959, Extended Data Table 7 “Protein conversion ratios of livestock production systems”, http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v515/n7528/full/nature13959.html#t7, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/10/05/chickens-pigs-and-the-amazon-tipping-point/

Less Meat Less Heat, Facts, Emissions, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/facts/

Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, New Matilda, 23rd November, 2015, https://newmatilda.com/2015/11/23/seafood-and-climate-change-the-surprising-link/

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, http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate2763.html, cited in Mahony, P., “Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”, ibid.

Less Meat Less Heat, Climatarian Challenge, FAQ, Meal Entry, What if my meal contains two or more types of meat?, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/app/faq/#Meal_Entry

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Meet your meat”, 2002, http://www.peta.org/videos/meet-your-meat/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, Livestock Primary, http://www.fao.org/faostat/en/#data/QL

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, OECD Data, Meat Consumption, Kilograms/capita, 2015 (Source: OECD-FAO Agricultural Outlook 2016), https://data.oecd.org/agroutput/meat-consumption.htm

Less Meat Less Heat, “An ethical Christmas guide”, http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/article/an-ethical-christmas-guide/

Aussie Farms, “Aussie Abattoirs: Overview”, http://www.aussieabattoirs.com/facts

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Fish and Other Sea Animals Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Lobsters and Crabs Used for Food” (undated), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/factory-farming/fish/lobsters-crabs/

Animals Australia, “Fishing” (undated), http://www.animalsaustralia.org/issues/fishing.php

Mood, A. and Brooke, P. “Estimating the Number of Fish Caught in Global Fishing Each Year”, July 2010, http://www.fishcount.org.uk and http://www.fishcount.org.uk/published/std/fishcountstudy.pdf

Nelson, B., “7 animals that are eaten alive by humans”, Mother Nature Network, 11th March 2011, http://www.mnn.com/food/healthy-eating/photos/7-animals-that-are-eaten-alive-by-humans/octopus#top-desktop

Croft, D.B., “Kangaroos maligned: 16 million years of evolution and two centuries of persecution” from “Kangaroos: Myths and realities” by Maryland Wilson and David B. Croft, 2005, Australian Wildlife Protection Council

Koeth, R.A., Wang, Z., Levison, B.S., Buffa, J.A., Org, E., Sheehy, B.T., Britt, E.B., Fu, X., Wu, Y., Li, L., Smith, J.D., DiDonato, J.A., Chen, J., Li, H., Wu, G.D., Lewis, J.D., Warrier, M., Brown, J.M., Krauss, R.M., Tang, W.H.W., Bushman, F.D., Lusis, A.J., Hazen, S.L.,“Intestinal microbiota metabolism of l-carnitine, a nutrient in red meat, promotes atherosclerosis”, Nature Medicine 19, 576–585 (2013) doi:10.1038/nm.3145, Published online, 07 April 2013, http://www.nature.com/nm/journal/v19/n5/full/nm.3145.html

Kennedy P. M., Charmley E. (2012) “Methane yields from Brahman cattle fed tropical grasses and legumes”, Animal Production Science 52, 225–239, Submitted: 10 June 2011, Accepted: 7 December 2011, Published: 15 March 2012, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/AN11103

CSIRO Media Release, “Research sheds new light on methane emissions from the northern beef herd”, 27th May 2011, https://csiropedia.csiro.au/research-sheds-new-light-on-methane-emissions-from-the-northern-beef-herd/

Mahony, P.,Methane breakthrough not what it may seem, Terrastendo, 20th September 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/09/20/methane-breakthrough-not-what-it-may-seem/

Battaglia, M., “Seaweed could hold the key to cutting methane emissions from cow burps”, CSIRO Blog, 14th October 2016, https://blog.csiro.au/seaweed-hold-key-cutting-methane-emissions-cow-burps/

Australian Lot Feeders Association, “What happens in a feedlot?”, http://feedlots.com.au/industry/feedlot-industry/what-happens-on-a-feedlot/

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, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10375217; http://www.journalofanimalscience.org/content/77/6/1392.full.pdf

Eshel, G., “Grass-fed beef packs a punch to environment”, Reuters Environment Forum, 8 Apr 2010, http://blogs.reuters.com/environment/2010/04/08/grass-fed-beef-packs-a-punch-to-environment/

Emails to the author from the Food and Agriculture Organization of United Nations, 8th and 21st April, 2017

Smith, A., “RSPCA stamp ‘dupes buyers’”, The Age, 9th January, 2012, http://www.theage.com.au/business/rspca-stamp-dupes-buyers-20120108-1pq6z.html

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Free Range Fraud”, http://freerangefraud.com/

Mahony, P., “More on our open letter with Tammi Jonas of Jonai Farms”, Terrastendo, 25th June 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2013/06/25/more-on-our-open-letter-to-tammi-jonas-of-jonai-farms/

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), http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full and http://www.pnas.org/content/113/15/4146.full.pdf

World Cancer Research Fund UK, “Informed – Issue 36, Winter 2009”, http://www.wcrf-uk.org/cancer_prevention/health_professionals/informed_articles/processed_meat.php

Phares, E.H., “WHO report says eating processed meat is carcinogenic: Understanding the findings”, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, 3rd November 2015, https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/2015/11/03/report-says-eating-processed-meat-is-carcinogenic-understanding-the-findings/

Bakalar, N., “Risks: More Red Meat, More Mortality”, The New York Times, 12 March, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/13/health/research/red-meat-linked-to-cancer-and-heart-disease.html?_r=1&scp=2&sq=red%20meat%20harvard&st=cse#

Australia’s Chief Scientist, Australian Government, “Which plants store more carbon in Australia: forests or grasses?”(undated), http://www.chiefscientist.gov.au/2009/12/which-plants-store-more-carbon-in-australia-forests-or-grasses/

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, “History of crown-of-thorns outbreaks on the Great Barrier Reef” (undated – post October 2012), http://www.gbrmpa.gov.au/about-the-reef/animals/crown-of-thorns-starfish/history-of-outbreaks

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, http://www.pnas.org/citmgr?gca=pnas%3B109%2F44%2F17995

Longmire, A., Taylor, C., Wedderburn-Bisshop, G., “Zero Carbon Australia – Land Use: Agriculture and Forestry – Discussion Paper”, Beyond Zero Emissions and Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute of The University of Melbourne, October, 2014, http://bze.org.au/landuse

Woinarski, J., Traill, B., Booth, C., “The Modern Outback: Nature, people, and the future of remote Australia”, The Pew Charitable Trusts, October 2014, p. 167-171 http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2014/10/the-modern-outback

Lunt, I., Can livestock grazing benefit biodiversity?, The Conversation, 19th November, 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/can-livestock-grazing-benefit-biodiversity-10789, citing Lunt, I., Eldridge, D.J., Morgan, J.W., Witt, G.B., Turner Review No. 13 – A framework to predict the effects of livestock grazing and grazing exclusion on conservation values in natural ecosystems in Australia“, Australian Journal of Botany 55(4) 401–415, http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/BT06178 and http://www.publish.csiro.au/paper/BT06178

The Guardian, “What are CO2e and global warming potential (GWP)?”, 27th April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/27/co2e-global-warming-potential

Images

Naqueles tempos | duardo Amorim | Flickr | Creative Commons | Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

noBorders – Brayden Howie | Young Kangaroo on east coast of Australia. Close up of head and face. Photographed in the wild | Shutterstock

Videos

Mama Hen & Baby Chick (English Subtitles) – from Peaceable Kingdom film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gLxSg42Oj5E

Aussie Farms, “Australian lambs slaughtered at Gathercole’s Abattoir, Wangaratta Vic”, Undated, https://vimeo.com/117656676?lite=1

Animal Liberation New South Wales, “Cruelty exposed at Hawkesbury Valley Abattoir”, 9th February 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zp-8PpA4upM

Animal Liberation Victoria, “Pig Truth”, Undated, https://www.alv.org.au/pig-truth/watch-pig-truth/

Update

Comments and references concerning aquatic animals and livestock grazing expanded on 26th April 2017, along with other minor revisions to text.

The second sentence under the heading “Kangaroos: The gross injustice of our present approach” amended on 10th May 2017.

Comment on crown-of-thorns starfish modified on 26th June 2017.

%d bloggers like this: