Animal Agriculture – Profit before Planet?
Raising livestock for food is the worlds leading driver of climate change. Animal agriculture and global warming are inextricably linked. I was shocked when I discovered this fact. Shocked because nobody ever talks about it. It is rarely discussed in the news or media, politicians rarely mention green house gas emissions and animal agirculture in the same sentence, it is not a popular discussion point. Unlike Fossil fuels it is rarely brought to the attention of the general public. I am well aware that a toxic zap of my underarm spray can cause ozone damage, but did I know my tasty sausage and egg mcmuffin was contributing to melting the ice caps and heating up our planet like a slow pressure cooker? No. I didn’t because I couldn’t hear it being shouted from the roof tops by the fossil fuel and aerosol brigade. You may say I haven’t been listening closely enough and I may say – nobody has been shouting loud enough. So the question is – why haven’t I and a large percentage of the population heard the brutal facts that animal agriculture is tearing our planet apart at a faster rate than anything else out there? Who is gagging the rooftop shouters? Should profit come before planet?
What is Global Warming?
Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere generally attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs, and other pollutants.
The Earth returns energy from the sun back into space by reflection of light and by emission of heat. This heat can be trapped in the atmosphere by green house gases which results in the temperature of the earth rising as the energy is unable to escape as it should. The main gases that are involved in this process are:-
- Carbon Dioxide (CO2) – In 2014, CO2 accounted for about 80.9% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.
- Methane (CH4) – second most prevalent greenhouse gas. Approximately 21 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over a 100 year period
- Nitrous Oxide (N20) – third most prevalent greenhouse gas. Approximately 296 times more effective in trapping heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide and has a long atmospheric lifetime – 114 years.
- Chloroflourocarbons – fourth most prevalent greenhouse gas. Typically gases used in refrigerants and aerosol propellants. They are harmful to the ozone layer in the earth’s atmosphere owing to the release of chlorine atoms on exposure to ultraviolet radiation.
These are also know as Anthropogenic gases as they are a man made pollutant that have an effect on nature. Since the Industrial age there has been an increase of these gases in the atmosphere which has lead to global warming. The average temperature of the earths surface has increased by 0.6 degrees since the late 1800’s. Recent projections indicate that the average temperature could increase by a further 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100. Just a 1 degree increase can have catastrophic effect on the natural order of the planet.
The Effects of Global Warming
Global warming will have a direct effect on climate change with the following effects on the environment:-
Rising sea levels – melting polar ice caps and glaciers will continue to dump more water into the oceans and as the earth heats up sea levels rise because warmer water takes up more room than colder water known as thermal expansion. Mean sea level is expected to rise from 9-88 cm by 2100. This will result in low lying regions being flooded, approximately 100 million people live within 3 feet of sea level.
Plant and animal extinction – the changing climate leads to changes in the rain and snow patterns. This in turn leads to plant life needing to move to cooler climates to survive, up mountain slopes and polar regions. Animals that depend on these plants are then also forced to migrate and relocate from their natural habitats. These changes in habitat may not always be possible due to developments and other barriers. Which can lead to species and plant extinction. Polar bears may be extinct within 100 years due to polar ice caps melting and change of habitat. One fourth of the earths species could be extinct by 2050.
Increased risk of drought, fire and flood – the higher global temperature leads to an increase in the amount of water being evaporated from the land and sea which causes droughts. Land that is affected by drought is then more vunerable to flooding once rain falls. The increased hot and dry conditions in turn leads to an increased likelihood of forest fires.
Increased intensity of storms, hurricanes and tropical storms – due to higher ocean temperatures as hurricanes and storms get their energy from warm water.
Increased risk of heat related illnesses and deaths – amongst the most vunerable populations. In 2003 heatwaves caused more than 20, 000 deaths in Europe. There will also be an increase in the spread of infectious diseases in warmer climes and creatures that only currently exist in warm environments like mosquitoes will migrate to other countries as they warm up. WHO estimates climate change may have caused more than 150, 000 deaths in 2000 alone.
Economic Loss – climate change is affecting businesses and economies around the world. The cost could be 5-20% of annual global gross domestic product.
As I sit and type these pages there is a news alert detailing the catastrophic floods in France 3.6.16. The river Seine is rising by the minute and the worlds most visited museum – the Louvre is to close tomorrow because of the fear of flood damage. So far 10 people have died due to the heavy downpours of rain and resultant flooding. When are we going to pay attention to what is happening around us and decide enough is enough and take action. Each of us can take action every single day in the choices we make.
Animal Agriculture and Global Warming
What part does animal agriculture play in global warming and climate change? An interesting report by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang highlights the facts that raising animals for food have on this planet.
“We believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs, and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs. If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations—and thus on the rate the climate is warming—than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”
Animal agriculture both directly and indirectly produces GHG emissions that are contributing to the destruction of our planet. The ways in which it does this are:-
Carbon Dioxide from livestock accounts for 21% of anthropogenic GHG emissions wordwide (Estimate by physicist Alan Calverd, 2005)
Livestock cover 45% of the earths total land. There is currently a global shortage of grasslands so in order to be able to house and feed the livestock natural forests are being destroyed. Forests are the natural “sinks” of the planet i.e. they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and keep the natural chemical balance that enables the planet to exist. Rain forests store 200 tons of carbon per hectare whilst grasslands store 8 tones per hectare. The destruction of forests for livestock is crippling our ecosystem and rapidly depleting the carbon absorption system.
The FAO state that 37% of human induced methane comes from livestock. Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. The half life of methane in the atmosphere is about 8 years versus 100 years for carbon dioxide, so a significant reduction in livestock globally would have a much faster impact on reducing GHG levels in the atmosphere than any action taken on renewable energy and energy efficiency which would be more about reduction in Carbon Dioxide emissions.
Disposal of liquid waste and livestock by products
The disposal of by products like bone, fat and spoiled products all emit high amounts of GHG’s when disposed of in landfills, incinerators and waterways.
Production, distribution and disposal of products such as leather, feathers, skin, fur and their packaging
Carbon intensive medical treatment of millions of cases of zootonic illnesses such as swine flu
What is the Solution?
As animal agriculture is the highest methane gas producer and methane has a much shorter atmospheric life it makes sense that for quick and effective change to happen in global warming – focus needs to shift from cars and coal to cows and methane. To be sure, there is no other feasible, singular action that can do more to mitigate global warming and climate change.
So, to put it bluntly – we need to get rid of the cows! There are far too many of them – producing far too much methane. We need alternatives and substitutes in order to achieve this. There are already a large range of alternatives to meat and dairy on the market – these are called “analogs”. Products like Soy, Seitan, Quorn, Tofu to name but a few. These are less expensive, healthier, easier to cook and have far less impact on the environment than meat and dairy.
Livestock and dairy analogs help solve a number of problems:–
- More analogs will mean a reduction in the numbers of livestock on the planet which will significantly reduce the global methane levels and slow global warming and therefore climate change, this will occur quicker than any other action that could be taken.
- Analogs require much less land and water to produce them – calorie for calorie than a livestock product. This will help relieve the global food crisis as more food can be produced using less resources which will then go directly to feeding people instead of animals.
- There will no longer be a land shortage and so forests and other green areas will no longer need to be destroyed to create grasslands for livestock. This will allow us to replenish our forests which will build up the planets “carbon sinks” to more effective levels thus reducing carbon levels in the atmosphere.
- Water will no longer be polluted and ocean dead zones will become a thing of the past. Our waterways will not only become cleaner and more abundant but they will fill back up with sea life and the natural balance will be redressed.
Or of course – you could just become a veggie / vegan and be even kinder to the planet! Don’t bother with meat substitutes and just eat food as it was meant to be eaten. There is even less processing and packaging involved in eating earths natural produce. All the essential nutrients for a balanced diet can be obtained from vegetables, seeds, nuts, grains, legumes, beans, and pulses. Your body doesn’t need anything else. Its all there in natures produce, waiting for you to pick it up and eat it! Go on, I dare you… if not for your health or the animals, do it for the future of the planet..
Make a difference, make the change, go veggie.