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I was recently requested to comment on a 2011 TEDx presentation by Tony Lovell. [1] It seems the video of the presentation has been posted in recent climate change discussions involving the impact of animal agriculture.

Lovell is a director and co-founder of Sustainable Land Management Partners (SLM). The Australian firm describes itself as an asset manager acquiring and managing rural land on behalf of institutional investors. It focuses on so-called “holistic management” or “short duration grazing” systems of livestock production developed by Allan Savory. I have argued against Savory’s approach previously, and many of my comments from the relevant articles apply equally to Lovell’s presentation. [2] [3] [4]

The need to draw down carbon: Arguing a point over which no argument exists

Lovell spends much of the first half of the presentation seeking to convince the audience that we need to draw carbon from the atmosphere in order to reduce the impact of climate change.

He might be surprised to learn that, even at the time of his presentation in 2011, there was nothing new in that argument, and that most of us who argue for a reduction in livestock numbers would agree.

The same comment applies to his point that biological sequestration in particular, in the form of improved vegetation, is beneficial.

People’s thinking abilities relative to climate change and the carbon cycle

Lovell discussed what he felt were limitations in many people’s ability to adopt “complex, cyclical thinking”. Specifically, he bemoaned the supposed preponderance of “simplistic linear thinking” that links effects to a cause.

The example he gave was his belief that many people see greenhouse gases solely in a negative light. He argues that, because methane is a greenhouse gas, they don’t like it and, because cattle emit methane, they don’t like them either.

He argues that the supposed inability to think soundly is one of several reasons for people finding it difficult to deal with climate change. The others are: fear of the unknown or unusual; difficulty in dealing with large numbers; difficulty in understanding compound growth; and being loss averse.

It was not clear from his comments, but his reference to compound growth may have related to feedback mechanisms in the climate system that create exponential trends or compounding impacts.

Seemingly related to those points, he talks about people behaving irrationally in relation to economic decisions, and says, rather loosely, “climate change is talking about cost benefits and that”.

His points seem largely irrelevant to the case he tries to mount for his preferred form of agriculture.

The specific cycle he discussed in terms of “complex, cyclical thinking” was the carbon cycle.

He seems to contend that most people who are concerned about climate change do not realise that greenhouse gases are essential to avoid freezing temperatures, and that the problem is one of excess.

Once again, he might be surprised to learn that most of us who argue for a reduction in livestock numbers would agree.

He then uses the carbon cycle as a means to defend ruminant animals emitting methane, which contains carbon. He says, “these things are actually cycling carbon”.

They are, but he neglects to mention the extreme climate warming potential of the methane (comprising carbon and hydrogen atoms) created by those cattle and sheep.

Methane is “carbon on steroids”

Although it eventually breaks down to water and CO2 as part of the carbon cycle, methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas prior to that time.

Over a 20-year time horizon, the IPCC estimates it is 86 times as potent as CO2. [5] NASA’s estimate is 105 times after allowing for aerosol (atmospheric particulates) responses. [6]

In the words of Kirk Smith, Professor of Global Environmental Health at the University of California, Berkeley, it is “truly carbon on steroids”. [7]

The fact that the carbon in methane is eventually recycled provides little comfort while it is doing its damage.

The issue is critical as we march toward potential tipping points that could lead to runaway climate change over which, by definition, we will have virtually no control. [8]

Modern livestock numbers are unnatural and massive

Lovell cites the wildebeest on the Serengeti Plain in Africa to effectively contend, like Savory, that cattle grazing can be arranged in a way that mimics nature. However, the forced and selective breeding of food production animals for increased population size and accelerated growth is an unnatural process, and has greatly increased the overall animal biomass and related environmental impacts.

How do the numbers compare? [9] [10]

  • Wildebeest in Africa: 1.2 million [Footnote 1]
  • Cattle in Africa: 310 million
  • Cattle in countries where wildebeest exist: 72 million
  • Cattle in Tanzania and Kenya where the annual wildebeest migration occurs: 43 million
  • Biomass of cattle in countries where both species exist: 28.8 million tonnes
  • Biomass of wildebeest: 0.24 million tonnes [Footnote 2]

Let’s see how those numbers look in charts.

Figure 1: Wildebeest and Cattle (Millions)

Animal-numbers

Figure 2: Estimated biomass of cattle and wildebeest in countries where wildebeest exist (Million tonnes)

Biomass-2

Cattle’s estimated biomass is 120 times that of wildebeest in the countries where they co-exist.

Images shown by Lovell included another ruminant animal, the giraffe. With only around 80,000 remaining in the wild, it’s hard to believe they represent a threat in terms of climate change, relative to other factors. [11]

Lovell says ruminant animals evolved between 10 and 26 million years ago, and that there have been billions of them. There may have been over that time frame, but the number and biomass of ruminants in the wild are minuscule relative to those used as livestock.

An extraordinary contradiction

Around twelve minutes into his presentation, Lovell states that land-based plants draw around 8 per cent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every year. He contends that “if we didn’t have ruminant animals or breakdown or oxidation or whatever is happening to cycle the material back up, in 12 years there would be no carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

What he doesn’t mention is that we don’t require ruminant animals for the carbon cycle to work. The breakdown and oxidation of organic matter would occur without them.

It seems extraordinary that Lovell can spend so much time early in his presentation arguing that we need to draw CO2 from the atmosphere, then argue that we need ruminant animals in order to prevent that atmospheric CO2 from disappearing.

In any event, a critical problem is loss of vegetation due to meat production, reducing the ability of the biosphere to draw carbon from the atmosphere.

Livestock production reduces biodiversity

At around the 18:30 mark, Lovell seems to blame crop production (along with removal of predators and microbes) for loss of biodiversity and related negative environmental impacts.

A key point globally is that we could reduce the area used for food production significantly if we were to increase the proportion of people on a plant-based diet. The reason is that such diets are far more efficient than the animal-based alternative in supplying our nutritional requirements, thereby requiring fewer resources, including land.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has stated that livestock production is one of the major causes of biodiversity loss, along with other examples of our “most pressing environmental problems”.

Tropical rainforest stores ten times as much carbon as perennial grasses

Lovell claims (13:40) that a hectare of healthy, functioning perennial grass contains more carbon than tropical rainforest. He says:

“The reason is the gaps between the trees versus the soil.”

Profound indeed.

An authoritative independent source disagrees. Australia’s Chief Scientist has reported:

“Based on data from typical perennial grasslands and mature forests in Australia, forests are typically more than 10 times as effective as grasslands at storing carbon on a hectare per hectare basis.”

In any event, grazing has a devastating effect on perennial grasslands.

The Pew Charitable Trusts have commented extensively on the destructive environmental impacts of Australian livestock grazing, including land clearing, introduction of invasive pasture grasses, degradation of land and natural water sources, and manipulation of fire regimes. Importantly, they have reported on improvements to land when pastoralists transition from grazing to eco tourism.

Lovell’s prejudice

Lovell displays clear prejudice at two points.

Firstly, in discussing linear versus complex thinking, he says (at 3:50):

“You ask somebody anything past that, you’ll find that is the full depth of their knowledge of the topic. They’re opposed to cattle, they’re opposed to ruminant animals, they’re opposed to agriculture, and that’s about the level of depth they get to.”

That is a gross generalisation.

Secondly (at 6:20):

“We go to solar power, wind power, and it’s all peace, love and mung beans, etc.”

Like the rest of his argument, both points lack substance.

Conclusion

The systems promoted by Lovell and Savory may have some merit on a small scale where water points are plentiful and labour relatively cheap. However, despite the romantic notion of cattle grazing harmlessly on natural grasslands, those systems could not be scaled up sufficiently, in an environmentally friendly manner, to satisfy the needs of a growing global population.

Footnotes

  1. The wildebeest population is limited to Botswana, Kenya, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
  2. The average weight of adult cattle is more than twice that of wildebeest. A reduced weight of 400 kg has been assumed for cattle, allowing for the fact that younger animals represent a higher proportion of a herd than that of wild animals, as they are slaughtered at a relatively young age. The figure is conservative, as members of the most common breed in Africa, Bos indicus, typically weigh 800-1,100 kg (adult bull) or 500-700 kg (adult cow). [12] [13] The full adult weight of wildebeest (assumed at 200 kg and typically 150 – 250 kg) has been used. [14]

Author

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

References

[1] Lovell, A. Soil carbon – Putting carbon back where it belongs – In the Earth”, TEDx, Dubbo, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wgmssrVInP0 (uploaded 9th September, 2011)

[2] Mahony, P. “Livestock and climate: Why Allan Savory is not a saviour”, Terrastendo, 26th March, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/03/26/livestock-and-climate-why-allan-savory-is-not-a-saviour/

[3] Mahony, P. “Savory and McKibben: Another postscript”, Terrastendo, 7th August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/07/savory-and-mckibben-another-postscript/

[4] Mahony, P. “More on Savory, livestock and climate change”, Terrastendo, 23rd August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/23/more-on-savory-livestock-and-climate-change/

[5] 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/

[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] Smith, K.R., “Carbon dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas”, ABC Environment, 25th January, 2010, http://www.abc.net.au/environment/articles/2010/01/25/2778345.htm; Smith, K.R., “Carbon on Steroids:The Untold Story of Methane, Climate, and Health”, Slide 67, 2007, http://www.arb.ca.gov/research/seminars/smith/smith.pdf

[8] Spratt, D. and Dunlop, I., “Dangerous Climate Warming: Myth, reality and risk management”, Oct 2014, p. 5, http://www.climatecodered.org/p/myth-and-reality.html

[9] Poole, R.M., “For Wildebeests, Danger Ahead”, Smithsonian Magazine, May, 2010, http://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/for-wildebeests-danger-ahead-13930092/?no-ist

[10] Food & Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAOSTAT, Live animals, 2013, http://faostat.fao.org/site/573/DesktopDefault.aspx?PageID=573#ancor

[11] Schaul, J.C., “Safeguarding Giraffe Populations From Extinction in East Africa”, National Geographic, 17th June, 2014, http://voices.nationalgeographic.com/2014/06/17/safeguarding-giraffe-populations-from-extinction-in-east-africa/

[12] Mwai, O., Hanotte, O., Kwon, Y., Cho, S., “African Indigenous Cattle: Unique Genetic Resources in a Rapidly Changing World”, Asian-Australas J Anim Sci. 2015 Jul; 28(7): 911–921, 10.5713/ajas.15.0002R and http://ajas.info/upload/pdf/ajas-28-7-911.pdf

[13] Fasae, O.A., Sowande, O.S., Adewumi, O.O., “Ruminant animal production and husbandry”, Department of Animal Production and Health, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Nigeria, http://www.unaab.edu.ng/attachments/461_APH301%20NOTES%20[1].pdf

[14] National Geographic, “Wildebeest” (undated), http://animals.nationalgeographic.com.au/animals/mammals/wildebeest/

Image

Blue wildebeest | PublicDomainPictures 18043 images | CC0 Public Domain | Pixabay

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Imagine you’re a committed climate change campaigner. You’ve just spent a few hours with tens of thousands of like-minded souls, gathering and marching in protest against the fossil fuel sector and governments who pander to it.

You’re confident that you and your friends have made an impact. Media representatives were there, and you reckon you’ll get a minute or two on the evening news and maybe some decent coverage online and in print.

By the time it’s over, you’re tired and hungry, so you head home with your partner and a couple of campaigning pals for a celebratory dinner. You travel from the city to your hip inner suburban neighbourhood by tram, keeping your transport emissions to a minimum. Tomorrow you’ll head back to the city, but you’ll ride your bike for some exercise.

You volunteer to cook, and serve your signature dish of grass-fed beef steak with peppercorn sauce and vegetables. Your partner had offered to cook her favourite spicy sweet potato and bean enchiladas, but you reckon you need a decent dose of protein and iron after all that activity.

You devour your meal, enjoy some chat, then get ready for bed, satisfied with your day’s efforts in helping to save the planet.

But not so fast.

Before you snuggle up for the night, let’s check how you’ve performed in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. We’ll focus on two things; food and transport.

Food

Based on estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, by cooking grass-fed steak for four, you may have generated over 200 kilograms of greenhouse gas.[1]

If you’d accepted your partner’s offer to cook enchiladas, the figure would have been around 3 kilograms.

The beef figure is based on the global average emissions intensity of grass-fed beef, allowing for a 20-year time horizon to determine the “global warming potential” of methane and other greenhouse gases.[2] If you live in the United States, Australia or other countries with well-developed agricultural systems, the figure may be lower, but still potentially more than 30 times that of the enchilada option.

How about the tram?

Researchers investigating food’s greenhouse gas impacts, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, have estimated that the consumption of 1 kilogram of beef is equivalent to 160 kilometres (99 miles) of automobile use.[3] That estimate was conservative for several reasons, but let’s use it in that knowledge.

You traveled 4 kilometres each way by tram, so your total distance of 8 kilometres has prevented greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to consuming 50 grams of steak. That means those steaks (1 kilogram between the four of you) have resulted in 20 times the emissions that would have been generated if you drove (noting that 8 kilometres is one 20th of 160 kilometres and 50 grams is one 20th of 1 kilogram).

The big picture

It’s time you and your friends looked at the big picture of emissions, and stopped slapping each other on the back over your current campaigning efforts.

Sure, it’s essential that we move away from coal and other fossil fuels, but it’s also essential that we move away from animals as a food source.

Or do culinary habits override any desire to retain a habitable planet? (Even relatively low emissions intensity animal-based products may have a catastrophic impact.)[4]

Habits can change with a little effort, so why not try?

Nutrition

Okay, I understand you’re worried about nutrition, but you needn’t be.

Here’s what Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council says about vegetarian and vegan diets: [5]

“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle. Those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can meet nutrient requirements as long as energy needs are met and an appropriate variety of plant foods are eaten throughout the day. Those following a vegan diet should choose foods to ensure adequate intake of iron and zinc and to optimise the absorption and bioavailability of iron, zinc and calcium. Supplementation of vitamin B12 may be required for people with strict vegan dietary patterns.”

The Council’s suggestion to supplement vitamin B12 is a more natural approach than destroying rainforests and operating other aspects of livestock production systems. Because of more widespread fortification of foods in the US, the American Dietetic Association didn’t even mention B12 when making a similar statement.[6]

Obtaining other nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc and calcium should also not be a problem.[7] The US Department of Agriculture has shown us some reality by confirming (for example) that soybeans have 35 per cent more protein per kilogram than beef, with all the essential amino acids.[8]

The way ahead

So what’s the next step? It’s simple. Keep campaigning for meaningful action on climate change. All you need to do is broaden your scope by including action on animal agriculture, and preferably modifying your eating habits to be consistent with that approach.

Author

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

Additional Resources

Veganeasy from Animal Liberation Victoria

Vegetarian Starter Kit from Animals Australia

References

[1] Derived from Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, Figure 7 and 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 and 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/, cited in Mahony, P., “The Low Emissions Diet: Eating for a safe climate”, 5th February, 2016, , Table 1, p. 6 and Figure 4, p. 7, https://terrastendo.files.wordpress.com/2016/02/low-emissions-diet-4u.pdf

[2] Myhre, G., et al., ibid. cited in Mahony, P. “GWP Explained”, 14th June 2013, updated 15th March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/gwp-explained/

[3] Carlsson-Kanyama, A. & Gonzalez, A.D. “Potential Contributions of Food Consumption Patterns to Climate Change”, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Vol. 89, No. 5, pp. 1704S-1709S, May 2009, http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/content/abstract/89/5/1704S

[4] Mahony, P., “The climatarian diet must exclude pig, chicken, fish, egg and dairy”, Terrastendo, 31st January, 2016, https://terrastendo.net/2016/01/31/the-climatarian-diet-must-exclude-pig-chicken-fish-egg-and-dairy/

[5] National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013), p. 35, http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55

[6] Craig, W.J., Mangels, A.R., American Dietetic Association, “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.”, J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864

[7] Mahony, P., Eating for a safe climate: Protein and other nutrients, Terrastendo, 12th February, 2016

[8] 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

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Environmental activists © Rrodrickbeiler | Dreamstime.com

 

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Lentils

This article is an extract from my booklet “The Low Emissions Diet: Eating for a safe climate“. It updates and expands on previous articles.

One of the most common questions heard by any vegetarian or vegan is: “Where do you get your protein?”

The question arises because of a common misconception that protein is only available in meat or other animal products, such as chickens’ eggs or cows’ milk, or that plant-based protein is somehow inferior.

The fact that some of the largest, strongest animals are herbivores or near-herbivores should alert people to the fact that there is plenty of protein available without eating animals. The range of such animals includes elephants, rhinoceroses, giraffes, cattle, horses and great apes such as chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans.

The position is further highlighted by comments from Dr David Pimentel of Cornell University, who reported in 2003 that the grain fed each year to livestock in the United States could feed 840 million people on a plant-based diet.[i]

Referring to US Department of Agriculture statistics, Pimentel has also stated that the US livestock population consumes more than 7 times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population.

He and Marcia Pimentel have also reported:

 “. . . each American consumes about twice the recommended daily allowance for protein”

Those comments partially reflect the gross and inherent inefficiency of animals as a food source.

Is it difficult to replace animal protein with plant protein?

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) has stated:[ii]

“To consume a diet that contains enough, but not too much, protein, simply replace animal products with grains, vegetables, legumes (peas, beans, and lentils), and fruits. As long as one is eating a variety of plant foods in sufficient quantity to maintain one’s weight, the body gets plenty of protein.”

Also:

 “It was once thought that various plant foods had to be eaten together to get their full protein value, but current research suggests this is not the case. Many nutrition authorities, including the American Dietetic Association, believe protein needs can easily be met by consuming a variety of plant protein sources over an entire day. To get the best benefit from the protein you consume, it is important to eat enough calories to meet your energy needs.”

The US Department of Agriculture has reported the following protein content for a variety of food products:[iii]

Figure 1: Protein content of various foods (grams per kilogram)

Figure-1

The legume figures (soy beans, lupins, peanuts, mung beans, navy beans, chickpeas and lentils) are based on raw product. Due to increased water content, soaking or boiling reduces protein content per kilogram. (The emissions attributed to the product, per kilogram, are also reduced.)

Figure 11 shows that 81 per cent of protein produced in Australia in 2011/12 came from plants, and only 19 per cent from animals.

It includes products that are exported and/or used as livestock feed. The inclusion of the latter means there is some double counting of protein and other nutrients. However, given animal agriculture’s relatively low output level, the double counting is not significant in most cases.

 Figure 2: Nutrient Value of Australian Food Production 2011/12

Figure-2

The chart is based on: (a) production figures from the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry’s “Australian food statistics 2011-12″;[iv] and (b) nutritional information for each product from the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.[v]

 Adequacy of Alternative Diets

The American Dietetic Association (referred to earlier) has said:[vi]

“It is the position of the American Dietetic Association that appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes. A vegetarian diet is defined as one that does not include meat (including fowl) or seafood, or products containing those foods.”

The extent of fortification of foods with nutrients such as vitamin B12 and vitamin D varies by country. As a result, it is important to review the adequacy of your diet based on local conditions, as partially reflected in this statement from Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council (also supporting vegetarian and vegan diets):[vii]

“Appropriately planned vegetarian diets, including total vegetarian or vegan diets, are healthy and nutritionally adequate. Well-planned vegetarian diets are appropriate for individuals during all stages of the lifecycle. Those following a strict vegetarian or vegan diet can meet nutrient requirements as long as energy needs are met and an appropriate variety of plant foods are eaten throughout the day. Those following a vegan diet should choose foods to ensure adequate intake of iron and zinc and to optimise the absorption and bioavailability of iron, zinc and calcium. Supplementation of vitamin B12 may be required for people with strict vegan dietary patterns.”

Vitamin B12

The vitamin B12 found in certain animal-based food products is produced by soil microbes that live in symbiotic relationships with plant roots, and which find their way into the animals’ digestive tracts. Such bacteria are also found in humans’ digestive tracts, but too far along to be readily absorbed for nutritional purposes.[viii]

Vitamin B12 is not synthesised by plants, nor is it generally found with vegetables in our modern sanitised lifestyle. However, B12 supplements are readily produced from microbes, to be ingested directly or incorporated in various other food products. That is a far more natural approach than: (a) destroying rainforests and other natural environs; and (b) operating livestock production systems; purely for animal-based food products.

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Calcium

There are ample plant-based sources of calcium, including unhulled tahini (sesame seed paste), chia seeds, almonds, turnips, kale, and spinach.

Animal proteins and excess amounts of calcium have been found to adversely affect bone density.[ix] PCRM (referred to earlier) has reported that animal protein tends to leach calcium from the bones, encouraging its passage into the urine and from the body.

Amongst many studies on the subject, a 2000 study from the Department of Medicine at the University of California at San Francisco showed that American women aged fifty and older have one of the highest rates of hip fractures in the world. The only countries with higher rates were Australia, New Zealand and certain European countries, where milk consumption is even higher than in the United States.[x]

 Vitamin D

It may be best not to rely on animal-based foods to satisfy your vitamin D requirements. The Medical Journal of Australia has reported: [xi]

“Most adults are unlikely to obtain more than 5%-10% of their vitamin D requirement from dietary sources. The main source of vitamin D for people residing in Australia and New Zealand is exposure to sunlight.”

 Whether or not you eat animal products, you need sunshine if possible, or perhaps supplements.

 Iron

There are two types of iron in food: haem and non-haem. Haem iron is absorbed by the body more readily than non-haem, and is only available in animal products. Is that a problem? Not according to authors writing in the Medical Journal of Australia, who said:[xii]

“Well planned vegetarian diets provide adequate amounts of non-haem iron if a wide variety of plant foods are regularly consumed. Research studies indicate that vegetarians are no more likely to have iron deficiency anaemia than non-vegetarians. Vegetarian diets are typically rich in vitamin C and other factors that facilitate non-haem iron absorption.”

PCRM has highlighted the role of excessive iron levels in the formation of cancer-causing free radicals. It has argued that iron from vegetarian food sources may be the better choice, as it is sufficient to promote adequate levels without encouraging iron stores above the recommended range.[xiii]

Zinc

While noting that vegetarians have an overall lower risk of common chronic diseases than non-vegetarians, another article in the Medical Journal of Australia concluded that well planned vegetarian diets “can provide adequate zinc for all age groups, and vegetarians appear to be at no greater risk of zinc deficiency than non-vegetarians”.[xiv]

Although phytic acid in legumes, unrefined cereals, seeds and nuts can inhibit zinc absorption, the effect can be offset by the presence of sulphur-containing amino acids in a range of seeds, nuts, grains and vegetables and hydroxy acids in citrus fruits, apples and grapes, which bind to zinc and enhance its absorption.

Everyday practices such as soaking, heating, sprouting, fermenting and leavening food also assists. Soaking is the typical approach in relation to legumes, as is fermenting and leavening bread by including yeast as an ingredient.

In any event, our bodies generally adapt to a lower zinc intake by absorbing more of the zinc consumed and excreting less.

The authors also noted that “different types of protein influence zinc absorption in different ways”. For example, casein in milk inhibits zinc absorption but soy protein does not.

Conclusion

Hopefully the sample of nutrients referred to in this article has highlighted the need to investigate your nutritional options independently of the food industry’s slick and expensive PR and advertising campaigns.

Author

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

Footnotes

  1. No information in this article is intended to represent nutritional, dietary, medical, health or similar advice, and should not be relied upon as such.
  2. Comments on zinc added 21st February, 2016.

References

[i]      Pimentel, D., Cornell University “Livestock production and energy use”, Cleveland CJ, ed. Encyclopedia of energy (in press), cited in Pimentel, D. & Pimentel M. “Sustainability of meat-based and plantbased diets and the environment”, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 78, No. 3, 660S-663S, September 2003, http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/78/3/660S.full

[ii]      Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine “The Protein Myth”, http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/vsk/vegetarian-starter-kit-protein

[iii]     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

[iv]     Dept of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, “Australian Food Statistics 2011-12”, http://www.agriculture.gov.au/SiteCollectionDocuments/ag-food/publications/food-stats/daff-foodstats-2011-12.pdf

[v]      USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, op. cit.

[vi]     Craig, W.J., Mangels, A.R., American Dietetic Association, “Position of the American Dietetic Association: vegetarian diets.”, J Am Diet Assoc. 2009 Jul;109(7):1266-82, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19562864

[vii]     National Health and Medical Research Council, Australian Dietary Guidelines (2013), p. 35, http://www.nhmrc.gov.au/guidelines-publications/n55

[viii]    Trafton, A., “MIT biologists solve vitamin puzzle”, MIT News, 21 March, 2007, http://newsoffice.mit.edu/2007/b12 and McDougall, J., “Vitamin B12 Deficiency—the Meat-eaters’ Last Stand”, McDougall Newsletter, Vol. 6, No. 11, Nov, 2007, https://www.drmcdougall.com/misc/2007nl/nov/b12.htm

[ix]     Mahony, P., “Climate change and diet: Calcium”, Terrastendo, 29th December, 2012, https://terrastendo.net/2012/12/29/climate-change-and-diet-calcium/

[x]      Frassetto, L.A., Todd, K.M., Morris, C, Jr., et al. “Worldwide incidence of hip fracture in elderly women: relation to consumption of animal and vegetable foods”, J. Gerontology 55 (2000): M585-M592, cited in Campbell, T.C. and Campbell, T.M. II , Campbell, T.C. and Campbell, T.M. II, “The China Study: Startling Implications for Diet, Weight Loss and Long-Term Health”, Wakefield Press, 2007, pp. 204-211

[xi]     Nowson, C.A., McGrath, J.J., Ebeling, P.R., Haikerwal, A., Daly, R.M., Sanders, K.M., Seibel, M.J. and Mason, R.S., “Vitamin D and health in adults in Australia and New Zealand: a position statement”, Med J Aust 2012; 196 (11): 686-687, doi: 10.5694/mja11.10301, https://www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/196/11/vitamin-d-and-health-adults-australia-and-new-zealand-position-statement

[xii]     Saunders, A.V., Craig, W.J., Baines, S.K. and Posen, J.S., “Iron and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 11-16. doi:10.5694/mjao11.11494, 4th June, 2012, https://www.mja.com.au/open/2012/1/2/iron-and-vegetarian-diets; https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/196_10_040612_supplement/sau11494_fm.pdf

[xiii]    Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM), “Iron: The Double-Edged Sword” (Food for Life Cancer Project), Undated (accessed 4th February 2016), https://www.pcrm.org/health/cancer-resources/diet-cancer/nutrition/iron-the-double-edged-sword

[xiv]    Saunders, A.V., Craig, W.J., Baines, S.K. and Posen, J.S., “Zinc and vegetarian diets”, MJA Open 2012; 1 Suppl 2: 17-21. doi:10.5694/mjao11.11493, 4th June, 2012, https://www.mja.com.au/open/2012/1/2/zinc-and-vegetarian-diets and https://www.mja.com.au/system/files/issues/196_10_040612_supplement/sau11493_fm.pdf

Images

Chana | PDPics | Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain

Vegetable carrot potato beetroot | AnnaPersson | Pixabay | CC0 Public Domain

dreamstime_s_174757

With dietary choices increasingly highlighted as a major contributor to climate change, it may be tempting to argue in favour of certain forms of meat consumption over others.

That’s a key element of the so-called “climatarian” diet. Here’s how the New York Times defines it: [1]

“A diet whose primary goal is to reverse climate change. This includes eating locally produced food (to reduce energy spent in transportation), choosing pork and poultry instead of beef and lamb (to limit gas emissions), and using every part of ingredients (apple cores, cheese rinds, etc.) to limit food waste.”

But can such choices realistically achieve what may be hoped for?

This article focuses on greenhouse gas emissions, but firstly a word on the issue of eating locally.

“Post-farm” emissions, including those from transportation, only account for 0.5 per cent of beef’s emissions, so there’s not much benefit in purchasing the locally produced product. [2] For lower-emissions products, transportation’s share of emissions is higher; Nijdam, et al. have reported an average contribution across all food types of around 11 per cent. [3]

Emissions intensity

Many life cycle assessment (LCA) studies have shown that meat from ruminant animals, such as cows and sheep, is far more emissions intensive than that from pigs, chickens or fish, while emissions from plant-based foods are lower still. Ruminants emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and often graze widely, with implications for CO2 emissions through land clearing and soil carbon losses.

The LCA figures are generally based on a greenhouse gas “global warming potential” (GWP) calculated over a 100-year time horizon. [4]

The adverse impact is even more pronounced when a 20-year time horizon is used, primarily because most of the methane breaks down in the atmosphere before that point. As a result, the 100-year measure (showing the average impact of a gas over the longer period) understates methane’s shorter-term impacts, as it would be almost non-existent over the final eighty years.

Its significant impact in the early stages can be critical when considering feedback mechanisms that contribute to accelerating, potentially irreversible changes in our climate system.

Comparative emissions intensities of different food products, relative to their protein content, are outlined in Figure 1. [Footnotes 1 and 2] The chart shows figures with 20-year and 100-year GWPs. The 100-year livestock figures, other than fish, are based on global average estimates from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. [5] The figures for fish and other products are from a 2014 paper by Oxford University researchers, who drew on the work of the Food Climate Research Network and the World Wildlife Fund [6] [7]. Where relevant, they have been adjusted to a 20-year basis utilising GWP estimates from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC’s) 2013 Fifth Assessment Report.

The figures for beef represent meat from the specialised beef herd, rather than meat from the dairy herd. Dairy beef’s emissions are relatively low, as the herd’s emissions are also attributed to dairy products, such as milk and cheese.

The FAO reports were based on LCAs using its Global Livestock Environmental Assessment Model (GLEAM). The model, like the LCA assessment utilised by Oxford, took into account emissions along the supply chain to the retail point. For meat, they are based on carcass weight.

The figures for animal-based foods, in particular, vary significantly by region, and are influenced by factors such as feed digestibility, livestock management practices, reproduction performance and land use.

The figures take into account protein estimates from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference. [6]

Figure 1: kg CO2-e greenhouse gas / kg protein based on GWP100 and GWP20 (global average figures)

Emissions-intensity-protein

The twenty-year figures for beef, sheep meat, pig meat and cows’ milk are influenced by the high proportion of methane emissions, ranging from 25.8 per cent (pigs) to 56.9 per cent (sheep). Most of pigs’ methane emissions, representing 19.2 per cent of their total emissions, come from manure management.

Is it okay to eat other animal products?

Even using the conservative 100-year time horizon, chicken meat, pig meat, fish and eggs are more than 3 times as emissions intensive as soybeans. Based on the 20-year period, pig meat is 5 times, and eggs are nearly 6 times. (The time period does not affect the emissions intensity of chicken meat and fish, as methane is not a significant factor in their emissions.)

If climate change impacts were considered to be a cost in their own right, those figures could be expressed as chicken meat being 200 per cent more “expensive”, pig meat being 400 per cent more “expensive”, and eggs being 500 per cent more “expensive”, than soybeans.

Inefficiencies on that scale would not normally be tolerated in government or private sector businesses, where discrepancies of 5 – 10 per cent can mean life or death to any project or program. Why should such levels of inefficiency be tolerated when they relate to greenhouse gas emissions, particularly when our current position in relation to climate change is so precarious?

A climate emergency with no buffer

As poorly as pig meat, chicken meat, fish and eggs compare to plant-based options on the basis of emissions intensity, that measure is only part of the story.

We face an emergency in which we are effectively sitting on the edge of a precipice, with little room to move before we lose any ability to favourably influence our climate system. [9] [10] In such a dangerous position, we need to select those dietary choices with the best chance of allowing us to move to a position of relative safety.

Due to the rapid expansion of soybean plantations for animal feed, consumption of pig and chicken meat, farmed fish, eggs and dairy products plays a critical role in the destruction of the Amazon rainforest and other carbon-rich ecosystems, such as the Cerrado region further south. [11]

With rising global temperatures and excessive forest fragmentation, we may be pushing the rainforest toward a dangerous threshold.  Such fragmentation can lead to general drying and an increased propensity for fires and other causes of loss. Studies published in late 2014 and early 2015 documented the extremely adverse long-term effects of forest fragmentation, including carbon losses far in excess of what was previously believed. Much of the fragmentation arises from agriculture, including livestock feed crops. [12] [13]

Dieback of the Amazon rainforest represents a potential tipping point, where a small change in human activity can lead to abrupt and significant changes in earth systems, with catastrophic and irreversible impacts. [14] Even in the absence of clear tipping points, climate feedback mechanisms create accelerating, potentially irreversible changes.

It could be argued that any agricultural plantation in the Amazon basin and elsewhere represents an environmental problem. That is true, but the problem is magnified in regard to animal feed, due to the gross and inherent inefficiency of animals as a food source. In converting soybeans to pig and chicken meat for example, we lose around 80 per cent of the plant-based protein used in the production process. [15] That means the land area required is around five times the area required if we obtained the protein directly from plants.

Feed conversion ratios of various livestock production systems are shown in Figure 2, which can also be seen in the article Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point. The researchers determined the figures by analysing between twenty-nine and eighty-three studies per item.

Figure 2: Feed conversion ratios (kg feed protein required per kg of animal protein produced)

Feed-conversion-incl-salmon

Although soybean meal for livestock feed was once considered a by-product of soybean oil production, it is the requirement for livestock feed that now drives the international soybean trade. [16]

China’s livestock sector is the major global consumer of traded soy products. However, the trade is global, and demand pressure from any country contributes to an increase in overall supply, thereby increasing pressure on critical ecosystems in soy-producing regions.

In the absence of an overall global shift away from ruminant meat such as beef and lamb (the opposite trend is occurring in many developing nations), any increase in the consumption of pig meat, chicken meat, fish, eggs and dairy products will almost certainly cause soybean plantations to expand, rather than contract, with the potential loss of the massive carbon sink that the Amazon basin and Cerrado region represent. On the other hand, a general move away from those products may allow vast areas of cleared land to regenerate to something approaching their natural state.

Corn is also a major component of animal feed production. The crop is far more water and nutrient intensive than soy, so its use has major implications for producing nations, including those in South America. [17]

Other overlooked climate change impacts of consuming fish and other sea creatures

I recently commented on a paper that had appeared in Nature Climate Change, which had helped to highlight some of the impact of industrial and non-industrial fishing on our climate system. [18] [19] The problem arises largely from the fact that fishing disturbs food webs, changing the way ecosystems function, and altering the ecological balance of the oceans in dangerous ways. The paper focused on the phenomenon of “trophic downgrading”, the disproportionate loss of species high in the food chain, and its impact on vegetated coastal habitats consisting of seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes.

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

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

Estimates of the areas affected are unavailable, but if only 1 per cent of vegetated coastal habitats were affected to a depth of 1 metre in a year, around 460 million tonnes of CO2 could be released. That is around the level of emissions from all motor vehicles in Britain, France and Spain combined, or a little under Australia’s current annual emissions. If 10 per cent of such habitats were affected to the same depth, it would be equivalent to emissions from all motor vehicles in the top nine vehicle-owning nations (USA, China, India, Japan, Indonesia, Brazil, Italy, Germany, and Russia), whose share of global vehicle numbers is 61 per cent. It would also equate to around eight times Australia’s emissions.

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

These impacts only relate to vegetated coastal habitats, and do not allow for loss of predators on kelp forests, coral reefs or open oceans, or the direct impact on habitat of destructive fishing techniques such as trawling. They are not accounted for in the emissions intensity figures referred to earlier, or in national greenhouse gas inventories.

Conclusion

The argument of those who encourage increased consumption of pig meat, chicken meat, fish and eggs at the expense of beef and lamb is essentially one of “getting the biggest bang for the buck”, as reflected in the relative emissions intensity of different products. However, consumption of the supposedly more favourable animal-based foods has adverse impacts that are unaccounted for in most forms of climate change reporting, which should cause them to sit alongside ruminant meat in terms of campaigning efforts.

Author

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

Footnotes

  1. The “GWP 20” figures are based on the global average percentage split of the various factors contributing to the relevant products’ emissions intensity, and are intended to be approximations only.
  2. Pulses comprise chickpeas, lentils, dried beans and dried peas. Along with soybeans, peanuts, fresh beans and fresh peas, they are members of the “legume” food group.
  3. This article focuses on climate change, but other critical environmental impacts arise from animal-based food production, such as contamination of land and waterways from animal waste, largely related to the inherent inefficiency of animals as a food source.

References

[1] Moskin, J., “‘Hangry’? Want a Slice of ‘Piecaken’? The Top New Food Words for 2015”, The New York Times, 15th December, 2015, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/16/dining/new-food-words.html?_r=0

[2] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf , extract of Fig. 7, p. 24

[3] Nijdam, D., Rood, T., & Westhoek, H. (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), “The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes”, Food Policy, 37 (2012) 760–770, published online 26th September, 2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919212000942

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

[5] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of  emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Table 5, p. 24, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[6] 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

[7] Audsley E., Brander M., Chatterton J., Murphy-Bokern D.,Webster C., Williams A. (2009) “How low can we go? an
assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system and the scope to reduce them by 2050″. Food Climate Research Network & WWF, London, UK, cited in Scarorough, et al., ibid, http://www.fcrn.org.uk/fcrn/publications/how-low-can-we-go and http://www.fcrn.org.uk/sites/default/files/WWF_How_Low_Report.pdf

[8] USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ via Nutrition Data http://www.nutritiondata.com

[9] Mahony, P., “The climate crisis requires emergency action”, Terrastendo, 24th August, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/08/24/the-climate-crisis-requires-emergency-action/

[10] 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/

[11] Brown, L.R., “Full Planet, Empty Plates: The New Geopolitics of Food Scarcity, Chapter 9, China and the Soybean Challenge”, Earth Policy Institute, 6 November, 2013, http://www.earthpolicy.org/books/fpep/fpepch9

[12] Pütz, S., Groeneveld, J., Henle, K., Knogge, C., Martensen, A.C., Metz, M., Metzger, J.P., Ribeiro, M.C., de Paula, M. D., M. & Andreas Huth, A., “Long-term carbon loss in fragmented Neotropical forests”, Nature Communications 5:5037 doi: 10.1038/ncomms6037 (2014). http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/ncomms6037, cited in Hance, J., “Forest fragmentation’s carbon bomb: 736 million tonnes C02 annually”, Mongabay, 9th October, 2014, http://news.mongabay.com/2014/10/forest-fragmentations-carbon-bomb-736-million-tonnes-c02-annually/, 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/

[13] Haddad, N.M., Brudvig, L.A., Clobert, J., Davies, K.F., Gonzalez, A., Holt, R.D., Lovejoy, T.E., Sexton, J.O., Austin, M.P., Collins, C.D., Cook, W.M., Damschen, E.I., Ewers, R.M., Foster, B.L., Jenkins, C.N., King, A.J., Laurance, W.F., Levey, D.J., Margules, C.R., Melbourne, B.A., Nicholls, A.O., Orrock, J.L., Song, D-X., and Townshend, J.R., “Habitat fragmentation and its lasting impact on Earth’s ecosystems”, Science Advances, 20 Mar 2015: Vol. 1, no. 2, e1500052 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1500052, http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/2/e1500052.full, cited in Bell., L., “World’s fragmented forests are deteriorating”, Mongabay, 24th March, 2015, http://news.mongabay.com/2015/03/worlds-fragmented-forests-are-deteriorating/, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, ibid.

[14] Lenton, T.M., Held, H., Kriegler, E., Hall, J.W., Lucht, W., Rahmstorf, S., Schellnhuber, H.J., “Tipping elements in the Earth’s climate system, PNAS 2008 105 (6) 1786-1793; published ahead of print February 7, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0705414105, http://www.pnas.org/content/105/6/1786.full

[15] 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”, op. cit.

[16] McFarlane, I. and O’Connor, E.A., “World soybean trade: growth and sustainability”, Modern Economy, 2014, 5, 580-588, Published Online May 2014 in SciRes, Table 1, p. 582, http://www.scirp.org/journal/me, http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/me.2014.55054, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, op. cit.

[17] Levitt, T., “Who will feed China’s pigs? And why it matters to us”, China Dialogue, 18th August, 2014, https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/7226-Who-will-feed-China-s-pigs-And-why-it-matters-to-us, cited in Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, op. cit.

[18] 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/

[19] 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.

Image

Bull Spain © Afagundes | Dreamstime.com

Update

Figure 2 added on 25th October 2016

cows-1029077_640

Note from author

Subsequent to posting this article, I messaged and emailed One Green Planet. As a result, they have amended their article and headline. Global time differences resulted in the changes occurring on 5th January. I had offered to remove this article, but that was not required.

My article

This is a brief post, which attempts to correct a report commenting on the recent article “Warning: Your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight” by Guardian columnist, George Monbiot. [1]

The headline to the article of concern, from One Green Planet, declared that “consuming 2 pounds of grass-fed meat is worse for the planet than flying from New York City to London”. That statement was reinforced by the article itself, which contained the words, “. . . if two pounds of meat is equivalent to the carbon footprint of a six-hour flight . . .”. [2]

I tried to post in the comments section of the article, but was required to log in via Facebook, Google or Twitter. I declined when told they would require access to various items of information. I then considered commenting on One Green Planet’s Facebook page, but saw that the relevant post had been shared 299 times, and liked 835. I felt that such coverage required a response that was more significant than a Facebook comment (although I am not suggesting this article will be significantly more prominent than the other).

What’s the problem with One Green Planet’s article?

Monbiot wrote, “a kilogramme of beef protein reared on a British hill farm can generate the equivalent of 643kg of carbon dioxide”. One Green Planet has incorrectly interpreted Monbiot’s reference to “beef protein” as “beef”, and similarly “lamb protein” as “lamb”.

The authors of the study cited by Monbiot (corresponding author Durk Nijdam) had assumed beef and lamb each contain 20 per cent protein. [3] That wasn’t clear from Monbiot’s Guardian article, but was mentioned in notes following the corresponding article on his own website, with the headline “Sacrifice“. [4] (Based on those notes, one passenger’s emissions on the trans-Atlantic flight would be 614 kg.)

The result is that for any given quantity of protein in beef or lamb, the meat itself weighs five times as much.

In any event, Monbiot referred to kilograms, rather than pounds. 1 kilogram is roughly equal to 2.2 pounds rather than 2, so the weight of the meat he was referring to was actually 5 kilograms, or around 11 pounds.

Based on those numbers, One Green Planet should have declared “consuming 11 pounds of grass-fed meat is worse for the planet than flying from New York City to London“.

It’s still remarkable that such an amount of beef (representing around 20 regular servings of beef steak) could result in more emissions than one passenger’s share of a trans-Atlantic flight.

Other issues

Attribution of emissions

I cited the Nijdam study in a March 2015 article, in which I commented on a paper by Chatham House. [5, 6] (Monbiot also referred to the Chatham House paper in his article.)

A key point from my article was that the emissions of dairy products and beef from the dairy herd are generally low relative to emissions of meat from the specialised beef herd. The reason is that the dairy herd’s emissions are attributed to a wider range of products (including milk, cheese and meat) than are the emissions of cows bred specifically for beef.

The relevance of that point to Monbiot’s emissions intensity figures (kilograms of greenhouse gas per kilogram of protein) is that his figures have been grossed up from live weight to retail weight. In other words, all emissions relating to the animal have been attributed to the meat on the plate.

Consistent with the approach applied to the dairy herd, it could be argued that emissions should also be attributed to other products generated from the animal, such as liver, kidneys, tripe, tongue, gelatin and leather, thereby reducing the emissions attributed to the retail cut of meat.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and others have reported emissions by carcass weight, which falls between live weight and retail weight. I have used carcass weight and retail weight in various articles, noting the issues involved.

What percentage protein?

As mentioned earlier, Nijdam and his co-authors assumed that beef and lamb are 20 per cent protein. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) assumes a figure of 27 per cent. [7] Using that figure, the emissions figures determined for the Nijdam paper would have reduced to 476 kg for beef and 555 kg for lamb.

As noted by Monbiot, the figures are at the top end of a wide range of emissions intensity figures for beef and lamb, from numerous studies. Livestock-related emissions vary significantly by region and production system, and are influenced by factors such as feed digestibility, livestock management practices, reproduction performance and land use. I have often quoted global average figures, such as those in Figure 1 from the FAO (for livestock products) [8] and Nijdam, et al. (for plant-based products).

Figure 1: Emissions intensity of various products (kg CO2-e/kg protein)

One-green-planet-emissions-intensity

The emissions intensity of food products is often calculated as kilograms of greenhouse gas per kilogram of end product, rather than per kilogram of protein. The latter produces higher figures, as protein is one component of many. Both measures were used in the Nijdam paper.

Global warming potential

Although the quoted emissions intensity figures are based on a 100-year time horizon, it is also important to consider a 20-year period. The reason is that methane, which is prominent in emissions of ruminant animals such as cows and sheep, breaks down in the atmosphere to a large extent within that time frame. The 100-year measure (showing the average impact of a gas over the longer period) understates methane’s shorter term impacts, as the gas would almost be non-existent over the final eighty years.

Those impacts will be critical as we try to avoid near-term acceleration of climate change, influenced by significant feedback mechanisms, potentially causing us to lose any ability to influence the climate system in favourable ways.

The multiplier used to convert the warming impact of any non-CO2 greenhouse gas to a “CO2-equivalent” (CO2-e) figure is known as the “global warming potential” or “GWP”. [9]

Figure 2 shows the FAO and Nijdam, et al. figures, adjusted to a 20-year time horizon.

Figure 2: Emissions intensity of various products (kg CO2-e/kg protein with GWP20)

One-green-planet-emissions-intensity-GWP20

Based on those figures, the emissions of specialised, non-dairy beef are only slightly below those from one passenger’s share of a trans-Atlantic flight. As methane is not a significant factor in aviation emissions, the 20-year time horizon would only marginally affect the results. Nitrous oxide is also not significant in aviation emissions. Unlike methane, its potency as a greenhouse gas is slightly lower over a 20-year time horizon than over the 100-year period.

Conclusion

The impact of livestock production on global warming and climate change is increasingly prominent in the media. The issues can be reasonably complex, and oversights such as the one that appears to have occurred in One Green Planet’s article should perhaps not come as a surprise, particularly when end notes that appeared in a corresponding article were absent from the article they reviewed. I hope this article enhances the general understanding of the issues, to assist us in addressing a factor that will be critical in our efforts to overcome climate change.

Author

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

References

[1] Monbiot, G., “Warning: Your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight”, The Guardian, 23 December 2015, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/dec/22/festive-christmas-meal-long-haul-flight-meats-damaging-planet

[2] One Green Planet, “Consuming 2 lbs of Grass-Fed Beef Protein is Worse for the Planet Than Flying From NYC to London!”, undated, http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/grass-fed-meat-is-worse-than-flying-from-nyc-to-london/

[3] Nijdam, D., Rood, T., & Westhoek, H. (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), “The price of protein: Review of land use and carbon footprints from life cycle assessments of animal food products and their substitutes”, Food Policy, 37 (2012) 760–770, published online 26th September, 2012, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306919212000942

[4] Monbiot, G., “Sacrifice”, 22 December 2015, https://www.monbiot.com/2015/12/22/sacrifice/

[5] Mahony, P. “Some concerns with Chatham House”, Terrastendo, 22 March 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/03/22/some-concerns-with-chatham-house/

[6] Bailey, R., Froggatt, A., Wellesley, L., “Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption”, Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, December, 2014, http://www.chathamhouse.org/publication/livestock-%E2%80%93-climate-change%E2%80%99s-forgotten-sector-global-public-opinion-meat-and-dairy

[7] 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

[8] 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, Figure 3, Global emission intensities by commodity, p. 16, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

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

Image

McLac2000 | Pixabay

 

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A recent study from researchers at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh considered changes in energy usage, water usage and greenhouse gas emissions that could result from changing US food consumption patterns. This post focuses on the emissions aspect of that study. It uses emissions figures from the same source used by the study’s authors, and nutrient figures from the US Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference.

Some curious aspects of the university’s announcement

On 14th December, 2015, the university released an article regarding the study. Some points to note:

  • It said the study’s findings were contrary to what had been said by Arnold Schwarzenegger in a speech at the recent Paris Climate Summit, where he had called for a reduction in meat consumption. The article referred to him solely as an “actor”, and neglected to mention the seemingly relevant point that Schwarzenegger had served two terms as governor of California, with environmental issues high on his agenda. (I am not critiquing his record in that regard.)
  • The study finding that was said to be contrary to Schwarzenegger’s statements was that “eating a vegetarian diet could contribute to climate change”. However, contrary to that statement, the study did not consider vegetarian or vegan diets. It considered dietary scenarios based on the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines, which included seafood products. (Neither the study nor the university’s article referred to vegan diets, which exclude egg and dairy products.)
  • The finding that a vegetarian diet “could contribute to climate change” is hardly a revelation. The key point is that its impact is generally less than that of a diet that includes meat, while a vegan diet’s impact would be less again.
  • The article quoted a co-author of the study, Paul Fischbeck, saying, “Eating lettuce is over three times worse in greenhouse gas emissions than eating bacon”. Apart from the poor grammar, that widely circulated statement lacked a key point that was mentioned later in the article, which was that the study assessed emissions on a “per calorie” basis, rather than the conventional basis of “per kilogram of end product”. For reasons referred to below, the validity of the “per calorie” approach is extremely questionable.
  • Lettuce was not specifically referred to in the study, but was included in the “vegetables” category.

Not a valid comparison

We do not generally eat lettuce for calories, which are a measure of food’s energy content. Energy from food is essential for our survival, but is generally obtained from foods other than lettuce. (It is widely known that excessive calories can contribute to weight problems.)

The authors were investigating the environmental impacts of achieving a healthy diet in terms of calorie count. However, it seems to make little sense to compare a food high in calories, such as bacon, to one which we rely on for other benefits.

Cos (romaine) lettuce was the variety considered for the purpose of the study. It is a good source of riboflavin, vitamin B6, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, copper, dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, vitamin K, thiamine, folate, iron, potassium and manganese, while being low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. They are all good reasons to eat it, but we would not be doing so as an energy source.

Bacon, on the other hand, is a good source of protein, niacin, phosphorus and selenium, but has the disadvantages of being high in saturated fat (and related calories) and sodium. It has also been found by the World Health Organization and The World Cancer Research Fund to increase the risk of bowel cancer.

If Paul Fischbeck intended to comment on greenhouse gas emissions in relation to a particular nutrient or other feature, then it may have been beneficial to discuss a feature that was prominent in the foods being compared, so that we could choose a realistic option.

According to the USDA, cos lettuce has only 170 calories per kilogram, compared to bacon with 5,330. It would take around 48 average size heads of cos lettuce (weighing around 650 grams or 1 pound, 7 ounces each) to generate the same level of calories as 1 kilogram of bacon (comprising 25 to 30 thin or 15 to 20 thick slices).

Fischbeck also chose to comment on a type of meat with low emissions relative to meat from ruminant animals such as cows and sheep. Ruminants emit large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and often graze widely, with implications for CO2 emissions through land clearing and soil carbon losses. Their impact should not be ignored in any discussion comparing greenhouse gas emissions of different foods.

Emissions per kilogram of product including alternative time horizons

A more valid measure than the one used in the study would seem to be the widely used greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of end product.

Although most published emissions figures are based on a 100-year time horizon, it is also important to consider a 20-year period. The reason is that methane breaks down in the atmosphere to a large extent within that time frame. As a result, the 100-year measure (showing the average impact of a gas over the longer period) understates methane’s shorter term impacts, as the gas would be almost non-existent over the final eighty years. Those impacts will be critical as we try to avoid near-term acceleration of climate change, influenced by significant feedback mechanisms, potentially causing us to lose any ability to influence the climate system in favourable ways. The multiplier used to convert a gas’s warming impact to a “CO2-equivalent” (CO2-e) figure is known as the “global warming potential” or “GWP”.

Figures 2 and 3 show emissions of bacon, lettuce and beef with 100-year and 20-year GWPs.

As indicated earlier, the 100-year emissions figures used throughout this article (and used as the basis for calculating the 20-year figures) are from the data source utilised by the Carnegie Mellon researchers. It was a 2014 review by Martin Heller and Gregory Keoleian from the University of Michigan of life cycle assessment studies (LCAs) relating to US food consumption. The average figures from that review have been used. The LCAs it used were from the US and “other developed countries”. As a result, the figures for animal-based products, in particular, may be conservative relative to the global average. Emissions vary by region, and are influenced by factors such as feed digestibility, livestock management practices, reproduction performance and land use.

For the purpose of the 20-year comparison, the figures for beef and pork have been adjusted based on global average apportionment of emissions categories, as estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. As such, in the context of US emissions, the 20-year figures are approximations only.

The comparison is based on 1 kilogram servings of each product, with depictions of the estimated quantities shown in Figure 1. The depiction of eighteen bacon slices is based on an approximate average weight of thick rindless back bacon slices. The lettuces shown here are relatively small heads of cos lettuce, with some of the outer leaves removed. A large cos can weigh around 800 grams, while smaller heads with some leaves removed would typically weigh around 500 grams. A regular steak can weigh around 250 grams.

Figure 1: Estimated 1 kilogram (2.2 pound) servings (not to scale)

Slide1 (1)

Figure 2: Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product (100-year GWP)

Chart-GWP100

Figure 3: Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product (20-year GWP)

Chart-GWP20

Other products and emissions per kilogram of protein

It is possible to compare emissions per kilogram based on any common nutrient. As protein is abundant in animal and plant products, and is often the focus of attention in terms of nutrition, a comparison based on emissions per kilogram of protein may be useful. The protein content of various products is shown in figure 4.

Figure 4: Protein content (grams per kilogram of product)

Protein-content-3-Jan-2015

Notes: 1. The average of soybeans (365), lentils (258) and chickpeas (193) is allowed for in the “legumes” figures below; 2. The legume figures are based on raw product. Due to increased water content, soaking or boiling reduces protein content per kilogram.

100-year Global Warming Potential

The charts below show emissions per kilogram of: (a) product; and (b) protein; based on a 100-year time horizon.

Figure 5(a): Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product (GWP100)

Emissions-intensity-GWP100-Heller-Keoleian

Figure 5(b): Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of protein (GWP100)

Emissions-per-kg-protein-GWP100

20-year Global Warming Potential

The charts below show emissions per kilogram of: (a) product; and (b) protein; based on a 20-year time horizon.

Figure 6(a): Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of product (GWP20)

Emissions-intensity-GWP20-Heller-Keoleian

Figure 6(b): Kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram of protein (GWP20)

Emissions-per-kg-protein-GWP20

Alternative multiples

Based on the preceding analysis, I argue that the following multiples of emissions from beef and bacon relative to legumes are more valid comparisons than Paul Fischbeck’s comparison of lettuce to bacon.

100-year Time Horizon

Kilograms of CO2-e greenhouse gas per kilogram of product relative to legumes (100-year GWP):

  • Beef: 34 times
  • Bacon: 9 times

Kilograms of CO2-e greenhouse gas per kilogram of protein relative to legumes (100-year GWP):

  • Beef: 34 times
  • Bacon: 6 times

20-year Time Horizon

Kilograms of CO2-e greenhouse gas per kilogram of product relative to legumes (20-year GWP)

  • Beef: 69 times
  • Bacon: 14 times

Kilograms of CO2-e greenhouse gas per kilogram of protein relative to legumes (20-year GWP)

  • Beef: 69 times
  • Bacon: 10 times

Other considerations and conclusion

The emissions intensity of different food products, as utilised in the Carnegie Mellon study and this article, are important factors in helping to identify opportunities for a low emissions diet. Although they almost invariably favour plant-based over animal-based foods, we must also consider other critical problems in animal-based food production.

An example is the precarious position of the Amazon rainforest, which results primarily from inherently inefficient animal-based food production, including livestock grazing and soybean plantations feeding billions of chickens, pigs and cows. We have virtually no buffer available in our efforts to avoid catastrophic climate change, and it is essential that we remove the pressure that currently exists on the Amazon and other critical ecosystems.

Another example is the dramatic release of carbon from ocean vegetation and sediment, along with loss of carbon sequestration capacity, due to industrial and recreational fishing.

In a nation considered to be the home of free enterprise, indirect subsidies to US animal-based food producers should be considered an anathema. Those subsidies are created by the fact that the true cost of animal-based food production is not accounted for in the consumer price. Rather, such costs currently represent externalities, borne by the community as a whole. If they were incorporated in the end price, the market for the more environmentally harmful products would contract, with major overall benefits.

The authors of the Carnegie Mellon study may be concerned about Americans’ ability to achieve a healthier diet, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, with the huge array of plant-based options available, which on any reasonable comparison offer enormous climate change benefits, it is clear that a general transition away from animal-based food products is essential and achievable.

Author

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

References

Tom, M.S., Fischbeck, P.S., Hendrickson, C.T., “Energy use, blue water footprint, and greenhouse gas emissions for current food consumption patterns and dietary recommendations in the US”, Environment Systems and Decisions, published online 24th November, 2015, http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10669-015-9577-y

Rea, S., “Vegetarian and ‘healthy’ diets could be more harmful to the environment”, Carnegie Mellon University News, 14th December, 2015, http://www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2015/december/diet-and-environment.html

Harrabin, R., BBC Science and Environment, “COP21: Arnold Schwarzenegger: ‘Go part-time vegetarian to protect the planet'”, 8th December, 2015, http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-35039465

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

Heller M., Keoleian G. (2014) “Greenhouse gas emission estimates of US dietary choices and food loss”, J Ind Ecol 19(3):391–401. doi:10.1111/jiec.12174, http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/jiec.12174/abstract

Brake Bros Ltd, Bacon Buying Guide, http://www.brake.co.uk/_assets/Buying%20Guides_BACON.pdf

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm

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/

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/

Images

Cos Lettuce, Romaine Lettuce © Penchan Pumila | Dreamstime.com

Four Striploin Steaks On White Photo © Paulcowan | Dreamstime.com

Raw Bacon Rashers Photo © Philkinsey | Dreamstime.com

Green cos salad © Sasinun Poolpermboonkusol | Dreamstime.com

Please Note

None of the information contained in this article is intended to represent nutritional, dietary, medical, health or similar advice.

Additional comments regarding the Heller and Keoleian paper and the protein content of blade loin roast pork were added on 29th December, 2015, and the main image updated. Various figures were updated on 3rd January, 2016, and notes to figure 4 amended.

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Note from author:

This article first appeared on the Medium website in response to the article #NotAllVegans by Cam Fenton.

Article “Another letdown from 350.org”

I am a vegan climate activist who does not make statements along the lines of those mentioned in the article #NotAllVegans. In any event, I believe the main point of those who do is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

I argue that we must deal with fossil fuels and animal agriculture, and that there’s not much value in arguing over percentages.

A critical factor is the need to massively reforest. There is no way to achieve the required extent of reforestation without a general transition away from animal agriculture.

I expand on the issue in my article “Livestock and climate: Do percentages matter?”.

Mind you, if we measure the global warming potential of the various greenhouse gases on the basis of a 20-year time horizon, animal agriculture’s share would be well above 20 per cent.

The IPCC says that such an approach is valid. It is particularly so in the context of the small window of time available to turn the climate change juggernaut around. A reduction in livestock-related methane emissions would provide relatively rapid benefits.

If we also allow for short-lived greenhouse gases, such as tropospheric ozone, livestock’s share will increase further.

Seafood consumption is also causing huge amounts of carbon to be released from vegetated coastal habitats and other oceanic ecosystems, while also reducing the oceans’ carbon sequestration capacity. (“Seafood and climate change: The surprising link”)

Animal agribusiness is a key contributor to the “dig, burn and dump economy”, largely because of its grossly and inherently inefficient nature.

The writer assumes that vegans who call for action on animal agriculture are only “telling people not to eat meat”, rather than calling for an end to “cattle barons” clearing “massive tracts of land”. I assume most of them want both, and believe that a reduction in demand by consumers will contribute to a reduction in supply and related land clearing.

He mentions the need for “system change”. A carbon tax that included agriculture would be a great start. When its environmental cost is factored into the end price, a product such as beef would be considered a luxury, with a substantial reduction in demand and supply. A similar approach must apply to other products.

All proceeds from a carbon tax could be returned to the community through personal income tax reductions and adjustments to welfare payments (as advocated by Dr James Hansen). Its sole purpose would then be to create pricing signals that influenced purchasing decisions.

If environmental groups and governments were willing to inform the community of animal agriculture’s impacts, it would also help enormously. Efficient markets require informed participants. Guardian columnist George Monbiot recently reported findings from the Royal Institute of International Affairs, indicating that people are willing to change their diets once they become aware of the problem. However, many have no idea of the livestock sector’s adverse environmental impacts.

An end to soy production in the Amazon, most of which is feeding the 60 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs slaughtered each year, is also essential. (“Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”)

The writer’s comments on “Big Oil” are nothing new. Please see my article “Relax, have a cigarette and forget about climate change” from August, 2012, referring to “Merchants of Doubt” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway.

He says “it’s a strategic choice to fight the biggest and most powerful opponent to real climate action on the planet.”

I argue that we face a climate emergency, requiring urgent action on all fronts.

Those who can go vegan should do so. Their contribution would provide enormous benefits. Meaningful action is possible in many developing nations, including some in Africa.

The northern and southern Guinea Savanna regions have been adversely affected by livestock grazing. Large areas could be returned to forest and other wooded vegetation if given the opportunity. With 360 million head of cattle in Africa, that’s currently extremely difficult.

As an example of an alternative approach to livestock production, Gerard Wedderburn-Bisshop of the World Preservation Foundation has referred to the Kenya Hunger Halt program, administered by the World Food Program. Under the program, people have been taught to grow alternatives such as root crops. The Maasai, traditional herders, have been converting to the program, growing nutritious crops and thriving.

The writer concludes by saying that vegans who carry “go vegan to save the planet” signs are making all vegans look bad.

As stated earlier, I believe their main point is that a general transition away from animal agriculture is essential.

The PBL Netherlands Environment Assessment Authority has estimated such an approach would reduce climate change mitigation costs by 80 per cent.

The author of #NotAllVegans is a Canadian Tar Sands Organizer with 350.org (although he notes that his opinions are his own). Here are some thoughts on the organisation’s founder, Bill McKibben, relating to the animal agriculture issue: “Do the math: There are too many cows!

McKibben might be proud of his employee’s writing efforts. However, they have fallen well short of the mark, just like his own.

Author

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

Image

Animal Liberation Victoria from The People’s Climate March – Melbourne, 27th November, 2015

dreamstime_m_51002015

With the Paris climate summit now only days away, it appears that the massive impact of animal agriculture will be largely ignored.

In Australia, the organisers of planned “people’s climate marches” have declared:

“We will march to show that we want an end to fossil fuels and a planned transition to 100% renewable energy.”

None of their promotional material seems to mention animal agriculture.

Is any of that surprising? Tragically not, when official figures consistently understate livestock’s impact through various means, including the fact that the vast extent of relevant land clearing is recorded under a non-livestock heading. The result is that we ignore one of the great contributors to climate change and fail to implement potentially extremely effective mitigation measures.

The failure of environmental agencies to highlight the livestock sector’s impacts reached a new low in September, 2014, when the United States Environmental Protection Agency released a video with the title Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction“.

Not only did the EPA’s video ignore the climate change impacts of livestock production, it flipped the issue on its head, by saying that climate changeaffects our ability to raise cattle“.

The speaker, in earnest fashion, went on to say that such an impact, along with a number of other consequences of climate change, would pose a significant challenge to our nation“.

Here’s the full passage, along with additional comments:

“Climate change makes it more difficult to ensure adequate water supplies, drinking water, growing crops, and hydro power. It destroys our rivers and beaches, and changes the landscape of our country . . . It affects our ability to raise cattle, and catch fish, and increases the risk we face of infectious disease and heat-related deaths.”

“There’s no time to ‘wait’. The consequences of delaying action will only become more severe and more difficult to overcome.”

Here’s the video (duration 3:25, with the comment on cattle at 0:59):

xx

He tells us that it all comes down to individual actions (while failing to mention dietary habits):

“In the same way that all our individual actions caused the climate to change so rapidly, we can all be part of the solution. Working together, we can make a difference as we continue to reduce greenhouse gases and anticipate, prepare and adapt to a change in climate.”

Although individual action is critical, it needs to be supported and encouraged by government policies.

The EPA’s statement reminded me of social commentator, Clive Hamilton, bemoaning attempts by governments and others to direct all blame and responsibility toward individuals. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, Hamilton has quoted professor of social sciences at Yale-NUC College Singapore, Michael Maniates:

“A privatization and individualization of responsibility for environmental problems shifts blame from state elites and powerful producer groups to more amorphous culprits like ‘human nature’ or ‘all of us’”

Someone else who has fallen short in campaigning on the livestock issue is former US vice president and creator of An inconvenient truth, Al Gore, who seems to have said little since first addressing the matter, in subdued fashion, in 2009.

In an interview at the time, he said that he had “cut back sharply” on the amount of meat he was eating due to its impacts on climate change and water usage. In his book of the same year for young readers, Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis, he said:

“There is a serious issue about the connection between the growing meat intensity of diets around the world and damage to the environment . . .”

Some family background may help to explain Gore’s relative lack of interest since then.

His father, Al Gore, Sr was also a politician, having been elected to Congress in 1938 and then the Senate in 1952. He was also a cattle farmer. Al Gore, Jr has said his father:

“. . . always raised cattle, he always farmed, he always found relaxation, even in Washington, by going to the farm and working with cattle.”

Gore became vegan in 2013, but not for environmental reasons. He subsequently said:

“Over a year ago I changed my diet to a vegan diet, really just to experiment to see what it was like. And I felt better, so I continued with it. Now, for many people, that choice is connected to environmental ethics and health issues and all that stuff, but I just wanted to try it to see what it was like.”

Even Barrack Obama, while still a senator in 2008, acknowledged some of the adverse environmental, social justice and human health impacts of animal agriculture when questioned by Nikki Benoit of Vegan Outreach. However, Obama is a politician, and seemingly sought to hedge his bets and connect with the broader electorate by declaring that he likes a steak “once in a while”.

If climate change is as serious a threat as Obama has indicated (indeed it is), shouldn’t he address animal agriculture’s role, rather than focusing almost exclusively on fossil fuels? (Even those actions were delayed until far too late in his presidency, and did not go far enough.)

Here’s the video:

xxx

If individuals and agencies of authority, along with prominent environmental groups, continue to ignore or effectively deny the impact of animal agriculture, then they must be challenged. The EPA needs to realise that “the cost of inaction” on animal agriculture will be catastrophic, and that we will not overcome the climate crisis by focusing solely on fossil fuels.

Author

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

References

US Environmental Protection Agency, Climate Change: The Cost of Inaction”, 19th September, 2014, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1o8qlJ8jcx0

Hamilton, C, “Scorcher: The Dirty Politics of Climate Change”, (2007) Black Inc Agenda, p. 110

Zelnick, R., “Gore: A political life” (1999), cited in The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/z/zelnick-gore.html

Henneberger, M., “A boy’s life in and out of the family script”, 22nd May, 2000, The New York Times, https://partners.nytimes.com/library/politics/camp/052200wh-dem-gore.html

d’Estries, M., “Al Gore finally drops meat, goes vegan”, 27th November, 2013, http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/al-gore-finally-drops-meat-goes-vegan

Gore, A., “Our Choice: A plan to solve the climate crisis”, 2009, Puffin Books and Viking Children’s Books, divisions of Penguin Young Readers Group, http://ourchoicethebook.com/, cited in d’Estries, M., ibid.

Interview with Eric Topol, MD, Medscape, 7th March, 2014, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/820985#5, cited in d’Estries, M., “Al Gore says he’ll likely stay vegan ‘for life'”, 13th March, 2014, http://www.mnn.com/health/fitness-well-being/blogs/al-gore-says-hell-likely-stay-vegan-for-life

Barack Obama responds to vegan question (Subtitled), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rt56ER4TSqc and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILsCN8KWXJY

Image

Cattle © Casadphoto | Dreamstime.com

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

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

What is the problem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Livestock’s impacts are understated

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

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

Some key contributors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The impact of chicken, pig and dairy consumption

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

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

Seafood’s impacts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will we grasp a golden opportunity?

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

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

The failure of prominent environmental groups

Prominent organisations, such as Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC), Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), the Greens political party in Australia, and 350.org, have failed to campaign meaningfully, if at all, on the livestock issue.

ACF advocates consumption of “grass fed as opposed to grain fed meat”, seemingly unaware that the emissions intensity of grass-fed is far higher than that of the grain-fed alternative (with both being on a different paradigm to plant-based foods). Bill McKibben of 350.org has made similar claims, with neither citing evidence for their position to my knowledge. Despite what they may wish to believe, the natural way is not always best in every respect.

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

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

Social Justice

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

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

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

Personal choice?

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

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

Conclusion

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

Author

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

Footnote

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

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

References

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and World Health Organization, “Human Vitamin and Mineral Requirements: Report of a joint FAO/WHO expert consultation Bangkok, Thailand”, 2001, pp. 14, ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/004/y2809e/y2809e00.pdf and http://www.fao.org/docrep/004/Y2809E/y2809e08.htm

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

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

Agence France-Presse, “Lifestyle changes can curb climate change: IPCC chief”, 15 January, 2010, http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5iIVBkZpOUA9Hz3Xc2u-61mDlrw0Q

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

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

Mahony, P., “The Electric Cow”, Terrastendo, 27th May, 2014, https://terrastendo.net/2014/05/27/the-electric-cow/

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

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

Mahony, P., “Chickens, pigs and the Amazon tipping point”, Terrastendo, 5th October, 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/10/05/chickens-pigs-and-the-amazon-tipping-point/

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, “Ocean” (undated), http://www.noaa.gov/ocean.html

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

Macreadie, P., Ritchie, E., Hays, G., Connolly, R., Atwood, T.B., “Ocean predators can help reset our planet’s thermostat”, The Conversation, 29th September, 2015, https://theconversation.com/ocean-predators-can-help-reset-our-planets-thermostat-47937

Stehfest, E, Bouwman, L, van Vuuren, DP, den Elzen, MGJ, Eickhout, B and Kabat, P, “Climate benefits of changing diet” Climatic Change, Volume 95, Numbers 1-2 (2009), 83-102, DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6 (Also http://www.springerlink.com/content/053gx71816jq2648/)

Australian Conservation Foundation, “Meat Free Week: eat less, care more, feel good”, 17th March, 2014, http://www.acfonline.org.au/news-media/news-features/meat-free-week-eat-less-care-more-feel-good

Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, Terrastendo, 5th September, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/09/05/the-real-elephant-in-ayccs-climate-change-room/

Mahony, P. “Do the math: There are too many cows!”, Terrastendo, 26th July, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/07/26/do-the-math-there-are-too-many-cows/

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/

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2014”, http://www.fao.org/publications/sofi/2014/en/

Image

Paris Climate Change Conference 2015 Photo © Delstudio | Dreamstime.com

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I recently outlined some questions I had submitted to the organisers of a climate change forum held in Melbourne, Australia, relating to the “Striking Targets” paper prepared by climate change author, Philip Sutton. [1] [2] The purpose of Philip’s paper, which focuses on the fossil fuel sector, is to outline an approach for matching climate goals with climate reality. The forum was arranged by “Breakthrough: National Centre for Climate Restoration“. My questions and comments related to the impact of animal agriculture, and the fact that Philip had appeared to ignore the issue in his paper and elsewhere.

The forum itself provided little opportunity to discuss the issues I had raised. However, there was a brief discussion on my question, asking if Philip and the panel members were aware of the extent of livestock-related land clearing in Australia. The moderator asked the question on my behalf, and I did not have the opportunity to outline the extent of such clearing, which I had referred to in the online question.

In my view, the panelists’ responses did not directly address the question. However, one correctly pointed out that, when a 20-year “global warming potential” (GWP) is utilised (as opposed to the more common 100-year approach), the Australian livestock sector is responsible for more emissions than our stationary energy sector. That’s in a country with one of the highest per capita emissions globally, largely due to our heavy reliance on coal-fired power.

The 20-year approach is perfectly valid. The IPCC has said, “There is no scientific argument for selecting 100 years compared with other choices. The choice of time horizon is a value judgement because it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times.” [3]

Quite apart from land clearing in Australia and elsewhere for cattle and sheep grazing, soy bean production for feed crops in the Amazon basin has the potential to trigger a key climate change tipping point. [Footnote 1] [4] The 60 billion chickens and 1.4 billion pigs raised and slaughtered per year are major recipients. [5] Around 90 per cent of the soy consumed in Australia is imported, mainly for intensive livestock feed. [6] As part of the global soy bean trade, it is a factor in the amount of soy produced in the Amazon. Soy bean production and other destructive agricultural activities could cease in that region if the world transitioned away from animals as a food source.

In my brief opportunity to comment at the forum, I mentioned some “emissions intensity” figures. Here they are, along with some others that I did not mention on the night [Footnote 2] [7] [8] [9] [10] [11]:

  • Cement: 1 kg
  • Aluminium: 15.6 kg
  • Beef (grass-fed, global average): 209 kg (with 20-year GWP) or 102 kg (with 100-year GWP)
  • Beef (grass-fed and grain-fed combined global average): 138 (with 20-year GWP) or 68 (with 100-year GWP)
  • Beef (grass-fed and grain-fed combined average for Oceania): 74 kg (with 20-year GWP) or 36 kg (with 100-year GWP)
  • Soy beans: 2 kg
  • Legumes: 3.5 kg

Figure 1: Emissions intensity (kg CO2-e per kg of product – GWP20)

Emissions-intensity-Strikingtargets-2

Some points to note:

  • Cement’s figure has been rounded up from a weighted global average of 0.83 kg.
  • Beef’s emissions intensity is generally on a different paradigm to that of plant-based options.
  • At peak production, aluminium was consuming 16 per cent of Australia’s electricity, while representing less than 1 per cent of our gross domestic product. [12]
  • Its emissions intensity is dwarfed by that of beef, and we produce more beef by weight than aluminium.
  • Oceania’s beef production is dominated by Australia.
  • Soy beans contain 47 per cent more protein than beef per kilogram. [13]

The livestock sector’s impact in the context of “Striking Targets”

Meaningful action on animal agriculture would seem to be consistent with many aspects of Philip’s “Striking Targets” paper. Here are some that seem particularly relevant in that context:

  1. It is our interests and ethics that motivate us. Climate policy should be driven by self-interest and our moral concern for others, especially the most vulnerable majority of the world’s people and species.
  2. Our goals need to ensure a climate regulated by natural processes rather than regular human intervention.
  3. We need to transform lifestyles in order to achieve zero emissions.
  4. We must be willing to pragmatically adopt measures that can deliver results no matter how unconventional. (Please note that the number of people avoiding animal products is growing rapidly, so such an approach may soon seem more conventional than at present.)
  5. Draw down excess CO2.
  6. Protect and maintain ecological systems. (If it’s valid to seek to protect those systems from climate change, then it’s valid to protect them from direct impacts such as livestock-related land clearing and industrial and non-industrial fishing techniques.)
  7. Implement policy at emergency speed. (An emergency is an emergency, and half-measures arising from social, cultural and commercial conditioning over food consumption will not take us where we need to be.)
  8. Ensure a safe transition to protect people, food production, other species and ecosystem services.
  9. One of Philip’s “crucial action demands” is to “ban all new climate destructive investments” and to “switch to positive/neutral investments”.
  10. Another is to legislate to create a legally binding schedule of closure/conversion for all current additive sources of greenhouse gas emissions and other climate destructive actions“. (I am not necessarily suggesting this approach in relation to food production systems, as there may be other ways to achieve the necessary dietary transformation. I feel this demand and the one prior reflect Philip’s focus on fossil fuels.)
  11. We need to “fully correct” humanity’s climate change mistake, “rather than just curtailing its magnitude”.

Conclusion

Philip and some panel members may regard me and others who promote the livestock issue in the same way that many governments and major corporations may regard them; as a nuisance. Over a period of several years, I have approached the Greens, Australian Youth Climate Coalition and others about this issue, so I am accustomed to that type of response. [14] [15] However, I am sure most of them would agree that, in relation to climate change generally, it is difficult to argue with the science. They simply need to extend that view to the livestock aspect.

Because Philip stresses the need for emergency action and seems averse to half-measures, his arguments should apply as much to the hugely emissions-intensive and destructive livestock sector, as they do to fossil fuels.

Author

Paul Mahony

Footnotes

  1. Even in the absence of clear tipping points, climate feedback mechanisms create accelerating, non-linear changes, which are potentially irreversible.
  2. Emissions intensity is a measure of units (by weight) of greenhouse gas emissions per corresponding unit of end product. The emissions intensity figures for livestock shown here have been sourced directly from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations or (in respect of the 20-year GWP) adjusted from the FAO’s 100-year figure. Apart from the combined global average figure, the 20-year figures are approximations, with the figure for grass-fed beef likely to be under-stated.

References

[1] Mahony, P., “Questions for Breakthrough climate forum”, Terrastendo, 1st November, 2015, https://terrastendo.net/2015/11/01/questions-for-breakthrough-climate-summit/

[2] Sutton, P., “Striking Targets: Matching climate goals with climate reality”, Breakthrough – National Centre for Climate Restoration, August, 2015, http://media.wix.com/ugd/148cb0_2cec8c5928864748809e26a2b028d08c.pdf

[3] 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” , 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/

[4] 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/

[5] FAOSTAT, Livestock Primary, Slaughter numbers, http://faostat3.fao.org

[6] Spragg, J., “Feed Grain Supply & Demand Report 2013-14: A report for the Feed Grain Partnership”, July 2014, https://www.aecl.org/assets/www.aecl.org/outputs/140730-FGP-Supply-and-Demand-Report-July-2014.pdf

[7] International Energy Agency, “Tracking Industrial Energy Efficiency and CO2 Emissions“, 2007, p. 25, https://www.iea.org/publications/freepublications/publication/tracking-industrial-energy-efficiency-and-co2-emissions.html, http://www.iea.org/Textbase/npsum/tracking2007SUM.pdf

[8] Australian Aluminium Council Ltd, “Climate Change: Aluminium Smelting Greenhouse Performance”, http://aluminium.org.au/climate-change/smelting-greenhouse-performance (Accessed 14th April, 2014)

[9] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of  emissions and mitigation opportunities”, Table 5, p. 24, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3437e/i3437e.pdf

[10] Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Greenhouse gas emissions from ruminant supply chains: A global life cycle assessment”, Figure 12, p. 30, Nov 2013, http://www.fao.org/ag/againfo/resources/en/publications/tackling_climate_change/index.htm; http://www.fao.org/docrep/018/i3461e/i3461e.pdf

[11] 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

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

[13] USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference at http://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ via Nutrition Data at http://www.nutritiondata.com

[14] Mahony, P., “Some Critical Omissions from Climate Change Discussions”, Terrastendo, 28th December, 2012, https://terrastendo.net/2012/12/28/some-critical-omissions-from-climate-change-discussions/

[15] Mahony, P., “The real elephant in AYCC’s climate change room”, Terrastendo, 5th September, 2013, https://terrastendo.net/2013/09/05/the-real-elephant-in-ayccs-climate-change-room/

Image

Storm front and lightning approach the Sunshine Coast near Caloundra, Queensland | Lucas_James (Flickr)| CC-Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

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