The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report today claiming that the world should expect a 70 percent increase in livestock production by 2050. The report says that if all the efficiencies it claims can be made would actually succeed, then greenhouse gas emissions from livestock might drop by as much as 30 percent –- but since livestock production would rise by 70 percent, livestock emissions would actually rise from 7.1 gigatons to at least 8.5 gigatons per year.
Yet by 2017, greenhouse gas in our atmosphere may increase to irreversibly catastrophic levels if nothing is done to change course, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency. To prevent this, governments have called on all industries worldwide to eliminate 80 to 95 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas
emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990).
In fact, with the objective of dramatically decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, a recent article by Bill Gates prescribed replacing livestock products with vegan alternatives, citing an assessment by environmental specialists employed by UN specialized agencies other than the FAO. Those specialists are Jeff Anhang and me. According to our widely-cited assessment, at least 51 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to the life cycle and supply chain of livestock products. This means that the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change by 2017 as needed is to replace at least 25 percent of today's livestock products with better alternatives.
In contrast, the FAO’s new report fails to use standard principles of environmental assessment. Notably, it examines risks involved in such areas as air and water pollution, and claims that those risks must be balanced with benefits available from raising livestock. Yet the FAO's assessment fails to separate livestock’s lesser risks and impacts from their greater ones, a basic task of environmental assessment. The greatest environmental risks are normally defined as those that are diverse, irreversible, and unprecedented –- which aren’t normally involved in air and water pollution, but are notably involved in climate change.
The FAO fails to recognize the urgent need to stop climate change by 2017, and for the world to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 to 95 percent by 2050. Also, the FAO assesses only livestock products and fails to perform any analysis of alternatives, another basic element of environmental assessment.
Conversely, analysis by Jeff Anhang and me identifies a unique potential dual benefit of replacing a substantial amount of today’s livestock products with alternatives. That is, such replacement can both significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up much land to permit reforestation to provide large-scale greenhouse gas sequestration. Most land used for livestock and feed production was once forested, and could be forested again. Livestock grazing alone, not counting feed production, has been estimated by the International Livestock Research Institute to occupy 45 percent of all land on earth.
The FAO’s analysis counts no carbon dioxide from livestock respiration. Yet reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration. That model was valid as long as there were roughly constant levels of respiration and photosynthesis on Earth. But in recent decades, respiration has increased exponentially with livestock production –- while intensified livestock and feed production has been accompanied by large-scale deforestation and forest-burning, huge increases in volatilization of carbon, and dramatic declines in both Earth's photosynthetic capacity, and therefore in its capacity to sequester greenhouse gas.
As a result, either carbon dioxide in livestock respiration -– or its reflection in carbon absorption forgone on land used for livestock and feed production -– should be counted as emissions.
The only way for most industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale is by using renewable energy. Yet the International Energy Agency estimates sufficient renewable energy infrastructure to stop climate change would take at least 20 years and US$18 trillion to develop. That’s because renewable energy infrastructure has long and complex product-development cycles and capital-intensive requirements.
The livestock sector is a notable exception, as most of its greenhouse gas emissions do not result from energy usage. Therefore, it is especially important to achieve a sharp and rapid greenhouse gas reduction from the livestock sector.
The objective of recent international climate treaty negotiations has been to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 13 percent by 2017. If it is true that at least 51 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock, then replacing 25 percent of today’s livestock products with alternatives by 2017 could almost fully achieve the objectives of international climate treaty negotiations. In contrast, if the FAO is right to say that 14.5 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock, then it would take replacing at least 85 percent of today’s livestock products with alternatives by 2017 to achieve the same objective.
Alternatives to livestock products are generally responsible for minimal greenhouse gas emissions. There is documented potential for agricultural change to draw down atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial revolution levels within five years, by stopping deforestation and emphasizing reforestation. Doing so while replacing a substantial amount of livestock products with better alternatives may be the only pragmatic way to stop climate change within the few years projected to remain before climate disruption becomes irreversibly catastrophic.
One of the advantages of replacing livestock products versus replacing fossil fuel infrastructure is that it is easy for any individual consumer to do the former on their own, unlike the latter. Still, to ensure that sufficient action is taken, governments should develop policies to provide incentives for replacing at least 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives by 2017.
Finally, agriculture is outdoors to a unique degree, exposing it to greater risk from emissions attributable to livestock than any other industry’s risk from the same emissions. So food industry leaders have a compelling commercial incentive to reduce these emissions. Indeed, replacing at least 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives by 2017 may be the only available business case for industry leaders to act pragmatically to stop climate change before it is too late.
(Excerpted/adapted from a speech by Robert Goodland on September 7, 2013 at The McDougall Conference in Santa Rosa, California; see full speech at http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/uploads/8/0/6/9/8069267/happiermeals.pdf)
There's an accidental environmental aspect to the location of this conference; that is, it's being held near Silicon Valley, which is largely responsible for revolutionizing the world by replacing brick and mortar with digital and virtual processes. That can reduce natural resource and energy usage, thereby lowering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and helping to slow climate change. But last year in Silicon Valley, Bill Gates spoke of going beyond replacing bricks and mortar -- and replacing livestock products with what we might call "virtual" meat, dairy, and egg products, made with no animals.
Replacing animal-based foods can even more impressively reduce natural resource and energy usage and GHGs than replacing bricks and mortar. Bill Gates has cited the 2009 article that I wrote with Jeff Anhang, in which we estimated that the lifecycle and supply chain of livestock products are responsible for at least 51% of human-induced GHGs. This means that the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change by 2017 as needed is to replace at least 25% of today's livestock products with better alternatives.
Our assessment began when we analyzed some significant gaps that we found in Livestock’s Long Shadow, a report from the FAO, a UN specialized agency. That report estimated that 18% of human-induced GHGs are attributable to livestock products. Activists often use that FAO report in advocacy for vegetarian foods; but Livestock’s Long Shadow actually prescribes more factory farming. Yet the authors of Livestock's Long Shadow are livestock specialists, not environmental specialists.
It's good practice is to have any activity with major environmental impacts be assessed by environmental specialists. Jeff Anhang and I are longtime environmental specialists employed by two UN specialized agencies, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation. Why it matters who performs environmental assessment becomes clear when reviewing the report Livestock's Long Shadow. That report failed to identify any climatic tipping points -- even though they're actually the #1 risk of continuing to expand livestock production.
Jeff Anhang and I propose that replacing a substantial amount of today's livestock products with better alternatives will both massively reduce GHG emissions and free up a vast amount of land to permit large-scale reforestation and GHG sequestration at the same time. The effect of this would be so enormous that it could actually be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change. That's because livestock and feed production is estimated to occupy 45% percent of all land on earth. Much of that land was once forested, and could be forested again.
We have several ideas for a new campaign. We figure it shouldn't be framed exactly around a vegetarian diet, as that will appear to most people as abrupt and radical as if McDonald's were to promote a "meatarian" diet. Instead, McDonald's prospers by marketing Happy Meals. So it may be better to frame as ideal something like "Happier Meals," which would promote climate-friendly and healthful foods as the better ones to choose every day of the week or year. We've also come up with other potential campaign names, such as Chomping Climate Change and Eating Greenfully.
A lack of interest by consumers in vegan foods sometimes provokes activists to add elements to their activism, so their activism will encompass as much reasoning as possible for people to choose vegan foods. Indeed, activists sometime promote 100 or more reasons for people to go vegan, framing what’s needed as a sort of culture change. Yet culture change is normally generational at best. It seems anachronistic to promote generational change in the age of climate change, when there’s a strong case for people to change their food habits in only a few short years.
In other words, the best messaging on food and climate change may actually be quite simple, as it can simply involve framing livestock products as being obsolete in the age of climate change. After all, if we think of alternatives to livestock products as analogous to digital communications, then we can consider how tube TVs, for example, were completely replaced within 5 years by rather simply framing them as being obsolete in the age of digital technology.
Both the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have warned that major action by 2017 may be the last real chance to reverse climate change before it's too late. In fact, there's surely no more compelling motivation for action than that replacing livestock products with better alternatives may be the only pragmatic way to stop catastrophic climate change from imperiling much of life on earth.
For your friends who don't read so much, you can point them to our catchy video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWPebWBTWY
by Robert Goodland
President Obama's re-election competed for attention with Superstorm Sandy, which cost at least 200 human lives and US$70 billion. If storms increase in number and strength with climate change, then much higher costs may result – yet the topic of climate change was glaringly absent in recent political campaigning. Perhaps that's because candidates couldn't think how climate change might be addressed alongside the more looming "fiscal cliff," expected to result in long-term spending cuts.
Reversing climate change by replacing fossil fuel with renewable energy infrastructure is estimated to require US$18 trillion in spending in the next 20 years – while one expert group after another says the world must start reversing climate change by 2017 or it will be too late. So politicians might be justified in thinking that it may be impossible to avert both the fiscal cliff and the "climate cliff."
But environmental specialists employed by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation have determined that there is one pragmatic way left to reverse climate change before it's too late. I'm one of those specialists. Large-scale reforestation and regeneration of forest could absorb all of today's excess atmospheric carbon – while sufficient land can be freed up by replacing at least 25% of today's livestock products with better alternatives. That's because a whopping 45% of all land on earth is now used for livestock and feed production.
So the key player in reversing climate change - at least in the next four years - is actually the food industry. It is more exposed to climate change than any other industry, as most of its production is outdoors, so it has a compelling commercial incentive to reverse climate change. Food corporations develop better foods as a matter of course. They control lots of land on which livestock and feed production can be reduced, and they can sell carbon credits from reforesting land. Consumers have an equal role in their capacity to vote with their forks to replace livestock products (meat, dairy and egg products) with better alternatives.
No matter how the fiscal cliff is addressed, fiscal stress is projected to continue in the U.S. for a number of years. If the warning of dire climate change provided by Superstorm Sandy is ignored, then fiscal stress is certain to worsen. Conversely, fiscal and climate cliffs can be addressed by replacing livestock products with alternatives that are better because they require no government spending while they can reverse climate change.
To communicate the scientific details of our environmental assessment, we've created a website with what we hope is a catchy name, "Chomping Climate Change" (www.chompingclimatechange.org). This site provides a wide range of citations of our assessment, including sources that both Democrats and Republicans normally trust. After all, everyone can enjoy eating better foods, and it is surely a bipartisan concern to prevent another Superstorm Sandy from happening.
Robert Goodland has served as lead environmental adviser at the World Bank Group, and recently had columns published in the New York Times and the Earth Island Journal.
Superstorm Sandy: What if storms like this can be prevented (by changing what we eat)?
By guest blogger Chiara Cabiglio, also posted at
Superstorm Sandy has caused at least 157 human deaths as of midday November 1st. Its impacts include flooding of lower Manhattan and large swaths of New York City's subway system. News reports had previously predicted that such events might occur only in 2080, based on a 2011 New York State government report.
Reporters and scientists are exploring whether climate change might have intensified Superstorm Sandy. Hurricanes would occur even in the absence of climate change. But scientists are connecting Sandy's intensity with the same climate disruption that generated record drought in the summer of 2012, which caused "severe pain" among both crop-growers and livestock farmers. Similarly, scientists are warning that Sandy could yield "life-threatening" results among poultry flocks on the East Coast.
In fact, while livestock are victims of climate change, they also are largely responsible for it, according to a wide range of sources. Whatever the role of fossil fuels, at least 20 years and $18 trillion are needed to construct enough renewable energy infrastructure to start reversing climate change –- while one expert group after another say we must start reversing climate change in the next 5 years or it'll be too late.
So the only pragmatic way left to reverse climate change before it's too late, say World Bank environmental advisor Robert Goodland and his colleague Jeff Anhang, is through large-scale reforestation and regeneration of forest to absorb today's excess atmospheric carbon –- combined with replacing at least 25% of today's livestock products with better alternatives (notably, meat substitutes). That way, lots of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to livestock would be significantly reduced at the same time as new trees would sequester excess atmospheric carbon.
Yet many people still think that sustainability in food is achieved by buying "organic" or "grass-fed" meat. However, grass-fed cows emit up to 400% more methane than do grain-fed cows, and they take up much more land, so they yield much less forest available to absorb atmospheric carbon. Anyway, most marketing of "grass-fed" beef is a scam — and that's according to a "grass-fed" producer who touts himself as a rare, honest marketer of grass-fed meat. Yet that producer can't show his buyers any better certification than can his competitors who he says are scammers.
Indeed, any producer can keep animals on grass all day long –- but then when night falls and it's hard to observe, quickly feed them grain. There's no practical way to certify that an animal has been 100% grass-fed unless an independent observer would watch each animal 24/7. But of course it'll never be close to economically possible to do so. Yet the premium for meat marketed as grass-fed is commonly 200-300%. So there's an overwhelming incentive for a producer to cheat.
Meanwhile, some people promote Meat Free Mondays. Yet since that campaign began in 2003, survey data show a sharp drop in the number of Americans consuming less meat –- even though meat consumption has historically fallen during economic downturns. Meatless Monday's own website provides a reason for such failure: its framing of the issue is anachronistic, based on World War I deprivation. In fact, when people are asked to sacrifice something one day, they often crave it more the next day.
Indeed, no consumer product is ever successfully marketed by asking consumers to use it just one day a week. For example, little to no Pepsi-Cola would be sold by prodding consumers to drink it one day a week, conceding that Coca-Cola remains the drink of choice the rest of the week. It's been suggested that a campaign would do better by being based on the value of products that are better than meat.
Some people debate whether Goodland and Anhang's estimate that at least 51% of human-caused greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock may be too high, and prefer to use the Food and Agriculture Organization's (FAO) 18% estimate –- even though the FAO promotes more factory farming, not less, and has partnered with the meat industry to prove it.
The validity of Goodland and Anhang's conclusion can be grasped simply by considering the estimate by the International Livestock Research Institute –- which normally promotes livestock -– that 45% of land on earth is now used for livestock and feed production. That so much land is used for livestock and feed production suggests it's correct for Goodland and Anhang to conclude that replacing 25% of today's livestock products with better alternatives would both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could then absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. This may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next 5 years as needed, and avert future superstorms like Hurricane Sandy.
Therefore, the food industry may be the key player in determining whether climate change is reversed or not. Consumers have the power to create positive change in the food industry by voting with their forks: by replacing meat and dairy products with meat and dairy alternatives, in particular by choosing more grains, legumes, fruit and vegetables.
If we ignore Mother Earth's warning this time, then it could prove utterly catastrophic for us all. If we want to save ourselves from climate change, then we must consider changing the way we eat, the way our food is produced, and what food is produced. Period.
"Polar Bears 'R Us, Unless We Change" by guest blogger Chiara V. Cabiglio of Everyone’s Harvest
We need to make bigger and faster changes than most of us think. In the summer of 2007, scientists focusing on Greenland were surprised to find almost 40 percent of its ice sheet melting, while scientists focusing on polar bears predicted most of them would disappear by 2050. Five years later, in the summer of 2012, scientists were shocked to find 97 percent of Greenland’s ice melting. So polar bears are now more surely doomed.
Yet polar bears are a barometer of larger outcomes. In 2004, catastrophic flooding of Los Angeles, London and other major cities was projected to coincide with a full melt of Greenland’s ice sheet – toward the year 2100. Now that this appears much more imminent, we may no longer have time to try the old (and failed) strategy to avert climate catastrophe with 18 trillion dollars of renewable energy infrastructure installed over the next 20 years. A new strategy was hinted at in my last post, which cited an estimate that almost 20 percent of human-caused greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock.
But soon after my last post, the Earth Island Journal published an article on how the hidden cost of hamburgers is greater than commonly reported. According to this analysis, the lifecycle and supply chain of livestock products is actually responsible for at least 51 percent of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas. The authors of this analysis aren’t radicals. Rather, they’re environmental specialists employed by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation (two UN specialized agencies), Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang.
You’ve probably read quite a bit about climate change over time. But none of what you’ve gotten from your time spent so far on reading about climate change will compare to the benefit you’ll derive from reading Goodland and Anhang’s “Livestock and Climate Change.” If you have a bit more time, then also read their Critical Comments and Responses article. After absorbing their analysis, you’ll know why your food choices are more likely to reverse climate change than all your other “green” choices combined.
I used to think that happy grass-fed cows and other livestock raised on small family farms were the environmentally sustainable method of meat and dairy production. Indeed, that’s what a majority of activists in the organic and sustainable food movement believe. Yet it turns out that livestock on small family farms are in fact less eco-friendly and sustainable and have a larger carbon footprint than do livestock raised in industrial factory farms. Dr. Goodland’s Earth Island article cites conservative sources that report that grass-fed cows emit up to 400 percent as much methane as factory-farmed ones, and take up much more land – meaning much less forest, and therefore much more carbon absorption forgone.
Consider the amount of energy and fossil fuels it takes to raise the approximately 65 billion land animals propagated in 2011 – and the amount of land, which could instead grow trees. The International Livestock Research Institute, which normally promotes livestock, estimates that 45 percent of all land on earth is now used for livestock and feed production. It is no wonder, then, that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 315 parts per million in 1958 to 392 parts per million in August 2012.
So here is the key recommendation from Goodland and Anhang’s analysis: “Replacing at least a quarter of today’s livestock products with better alternatives would both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could then absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. This may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next five years as needed.”
While Goodland and Anhang’s analysis was written primarily for food industry leaders, they also had the general public in mind. Indeed, the fix must be created in the crucible where food industry leaders meet the general public, and that’s the marketplace. And it’s not about becoming a vegetarian or a vegan, or partaking in “Meatless Mondays,” although there is no doubt that these efforts will help. Instead, it’s about performing the same search as we do when we look for any other winning consumer product. We look for a superior blend of quality and price, otherwise known as value. In the case of food, performing this search consciously will often lead one to try an alternative to a livestock product – especially when one considers the bonus value of being part of the solution to climate change, which is likely the world’s most serious problem.
Love ice cream? Wait until you try SO Delicious’ Dairy Free Almond Milk chocolate ice cream. You won’t believe how rich, creamy and utterly divine it tastes; no need for cow’s milk here!
Love chicken? Beyond Meat produces fake chicken that tastes and looks so much like real chicken that in between each bite, vegetarians and vegans must remind themselves that they are not eating real chicken. And if you aren’t too thrilled about the ingredients, then you can find pre-made veggie burgers made from whole foods, or simply make your own veggie burger, vegan dish or vegetarian meal at home with lots of vegetables, grains and legumes! This is a way to eat and live consciously – and to ensure a future for, well, future generations.
In this case, as with any new product, you can be an early adopter or a late one. But unlike other products, in this case you’re not likely to have the option of never adopting. Consider that climate change here today is already decimating cattle populations – even in their most legendary homes – or that blue-chip financial analysts and a pork producers’ spokesman have themselves forecast the destruction of the livestock industry, due to growing demand for ethanol. In other words, if you approach veggie foods as desirable replacements for obsolete products, then similar to the way it took just a few years until it became normal to choose a digital TV over a tube TV, your normal new choice in foods should become clear within a few years.
Biz Stone, the creative director for Twitter, explains it this way: We must Go Beyond business as usual and use our human ingenuity to create and instill new ways of thinking and eating for the masses. Change will come much less from the car you drive or the light bulb you use than from what you put in your mouth.
Polar bears, my favorite animal ever since I’ve been a little girl, are getting much closer to the end of their existence. Thousands of other species also are on the brink of extinction. Thousands of climate change refugees are becoming more commonplace and are flooding into other countries. Storms are getting stronger and more frequent. Summers are getting hotter. Desertification is occurring much more rapidly in more places. The lives of many creatures on this planet are in jeopardy because of our warming climate, and time is running out. The ability for future generations to live and their quality of life also is at stake. What kind of world are they going to inherit from us? The clock is ticking.
“It’s not a lot of fun for somebody who’s spent over 30 years studying polar bears,” says biologist Andrew E. Derocher of the University of Alberta. “The first paper I coauthored about this came out in 1993 and at that time I was still under the impression that even though climate change was a concern it was really going to be for the next generation of biologists — or perhaps even the one after that — to deal with the issue. And I’ve been really shocked at the rate of change, and I’ve probably been even more shocked at the lack of concern of political bodies to deal with this… It’s been quite disheartening to watch this lack of interest, and I think it’s really unfortunate that people don’t understand that we have a limited time to deal with this issue if we want to save the polar bears.”
If we want to save the polar bears and other species from extinction due to global climate change, habitat loss and environmental degradation, and if we want to save ourselves, then humanity must wake up and change the way it eats, the way our food is produced and what food is produced. Period.
How CIR's report on the environmental impact of meat consumption went wrong
by Robert Goodland
When the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) recently published a report on the hidden costs of meat, with a video and a transcript of its voice-over, readers and viewers had reason to believe that they could find in it some reliable information.
After all, CIR's report was supported by the Climate Desk, a collaborative effort among a number of media outlets that have worked to improve public awareness of climate change.
Indeed, if the world is to reverse climate change as needed, then it’s crucial that we get the facts right. Unfortunately, CIR’s report made numerous mistakes.
CIR's report says: "Livestock are a major contributor to greenhouse gas pollution. Right up there with cars, trains, and planes." Such a comparison between livestock and transport was first published by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), but later retracted.
Yet CIR's version of this comparison commits the same mistake that was retracted by the FAO. That is, CIR's comparison counts only direct emissions from cars, trains, and planes – while counting both direct emissions from livestock and indirect emissions from cleared forests. The CIR report is actually correct to count those emissions. But it doesn’t count them properly.
For example, CIR's video says: "Methane has 21 times more climate-changing power than CO2." But CIR's figure of 21 for the global warming potential (GWP) of methane is obsolete. The figure that’s most widely-used today for the GWP of methane over a 100-year timeframe is 25 or higher, as reported by the New York Times. Indeed, the figure of 21 was obsolete by 2006, when a figure of 23 was used in the report Livestock’s Long Shadow, repeatedly cited by the CIR report. Livestock’s Long Shadow has been widely cited elsewhere, with deference to its authorship by the FAO, whose analysis is often considered authoritative by virtue of its being a UN specialized agency.
In 2009, environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialized agencies, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, developed new analysis of greenhouse gas attributable to livestock, in which they proposed that it was more appropriate to measure methane attributable to livestock over a 20-year period, which would yield a GWP of 72. I’m one of those specialists.
Our use of a GWP of 72 for methane is supported by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s also supported in analysis by four Canadian governmental climate scientists, who’ve written: “The 20-year accounting period may be a better reflection of the time scale for the GWP of CH4 because of the growing urgency of global warming (Goodland and Anhang, 2009).”
Moreover, CIR's report says: "Livestock use 30 percent of the earth's entire land area." But CIR's 30% figure – taken from a 2006 FAO report – is obsolete. The current figure is 45%, according to the International Livestock Research Institute.
CIR's report also says: "Grass-fed beef does less damage to the environment." But Henning Steinfeld, the lead author of the aforementioned 2006 FAO report, and Pierre Gerber, a co-author, have specified that grass-fed beef is more climate-damaging than grain-fed beef. In fact, grass-fed cows emit up to 400 percent more methane than do grain-fed cows, according to Gidon Eshel, another source for CIR’s report.
CIR's report states that "a 2011 study by Utah State University noted that grass-fed beef can... reduce the impact on land resources by about 8 percent." But that Utah State study actually says the opposite: "Grain-fed beef is grown faster, requiring less land and time."
While CIR's report repeatedly cites FAO analysis, it omits to report that the FAO announced last month that it will lead a new partnership with the meat industry — a basic conflict of interest that an entity such as CIR should report on. (My assessment of the FAO’s new partnership was published recently in The New York Times.)
More important, CIR’s report misses counting a large amount of greenhouse gas attributable to livestock. That is, while it counts emissions from annual deforestation attributable to livestock and feed production, it omits to count the much larger amount of carbon absorption forgone on land set aside for livestock and feed production.
In an article that I co-authored with Jeff Anhang, published by Animal Feed Science and Technology, we asserted that either carbon dioxide in livestock respiration or carbon absorption foregone in land set aside for livestock and feed production must be counted as emissions. That’s because reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration. That model made sense when there were roughly constant levels of respiration and photosynthesis on Earth. But respiration has increased exponentially with livestock production (now more than 60 billion land animals per year) . At the same time, increased livestock and feed production accompanied by large scale deforestation and forest-burning have caused a dramatic decline in the earth’s photosynthetic capacity, along with large and accelerating increases in volatilization of carbon in soil.
Our analysis explains that replacing 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives could almost fully meet international climate treaty objectives. That’s because such a replacement could both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could then absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. This may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next five years as needed. Sufficient renewable energy infrastructure is projected to take at least 20 years and $18 trillion to develop.
Our recommendation is restrained compared to that of Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the seminal Stern Review on the economics of climate change, who have recommended vegetarianism to reverse climate change. Yet their recommendation shares in common with the CIR report an implication that there’s a sacrifice to be made in avoiding any amount of meat consumption.
The real issue is not about taking meat away. Rather, it’s about seeing whether it can be replaced with better foods, thereby improving people’s lives.
CIR transposed its flawed analysis into an animated video. Analysis that I’ve co-authored with the World Bank Group’s Jeff Anhang has also been transposed into an animated video – in which viewers can find more accurate analysis.
Robert Goodland retired as lead environmental adviser at the World Bank Group after serving there for 23 years
by Robert Goodland
This posting was first published on the website of the Meat Free Monday campaign established by Paul, Stella, and Mary McCartney, at http://www.meatfreemondays.com/news/faos-new-partnership-needs-improvement-to-compete-with-meat-free-monday.cfm
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a specialised agency of the United Nations, announced earlier this month that it will lead a new partnership to include the International Meat Secretariat, International Dairy Federation, and International Egg Commission. The partnership will be chaired by Frank Mitloehner, and aims to "establish a shared understanding of how to assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector" and "to improve that performance."
Improved performance sounds good – but one might question the FAO’s wisdom in partnering with groups that have vested interests in maintaining or increasing today’s livestock populations.
Meat Free Monday (MFM) supporters may recognise the FAO as the publisher of the 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow, which helped inspire the establishment of the MFM campaign. That report concluded that livestock are responsible for about 18 per cent of human-caused global-warming greenhouse gas. Yet the report projected a doubling in livestock production by 2050, and made no recommendation to avoid that doubling.
Livestock’s Long Shadow was nevertheless referenced by a number of assessments and recommendations that followed. Notably, a 2009 assessment that itself became widely cited was developed by environmental specialists employed by two other United Nations specialised agencies, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation. I’m one of those specialists. We found gaps in the FAO’s assessment, and concluded that, in fact, at least 51 per cent of human-caused greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock.
The FAO even invited Jeff Anhang and me to its headquarters in Rome to present our analysis – which includes a calculation that replacing 25 per cent of livestock products with "better alternatives" by 2017 could almost fully achieve the objectives of UN climate treaty negotiations.
Other climate authorities have recommended even stronger measures – with vegetarian diets prescribed by Lord Nicholas Stern, former World Bank chief economist, and Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Another notable assessment came from the UN Environment Programme, which prescribed "a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."However, the chair of the FAO’s new partnership, Frank Mitloehner, is known for his claim that 18 per cent is much too high a figure to use in developed countries. He has asserted that it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change, and has repeatedly criticized Paul McCartney for saying so. Instead of recommending vegetarian foods, he has prescribed replacing fossil fuel infrastructure to stop climate change.
Yet Frank Mitloehner has not addressed what can be done about the fact that sufficient renewable energy infrastructure is projected to take at least 20 years and $18 trillion to develop. That’s long past the period of the next five years – when atmospheric carbon may increase to irreversibly catastrophic levels, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency.
In fact, it would be good for the FAO to explain why it decided that the best choice as chair of its new partnership is Frank Mitloehner, an associate professor who has disclosed that his research has been funded by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. He is not a specialist in environmental assessment, while good practice in environmental assessment is to employ independent environmental assessment practitioners.
Whereas the FAO’s new partnership assumes that meat production worldwide will "more than double" from 1999-2050, the International Food Policy Research Institute has set out a scenario by which meat production will decline at least through 2030.
Also troubling is that the FAO’s new partnership includes only France, Ireland, the Netherlands and New Zealand – four wealthy countries – and no poor country. Yet the former Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute, which normally promotes livestock, wrote of his concern about the impacts of industrially-produced meat on "poor countries," as "factory-farmed" livestock eat grains "that might instead have fed people."
The key difference between the FAO’s 18 per cent and our 51 per cent figure is that ours (but not theirs) accounts for how large-scale deforestation and forest-burning, driven by exponential growth in livestock production (now more than 60 billion land animals per year), have caused not only excess greenhouse gas – both from accelerating volatilization of soil carbon and from the livestock themselves – but also a dramatic decline in the earth’s photosynthetic capacity.
Conversely, our prescription to replace at least a quarter of today’s livestock products with better alternatives would both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could in turn absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. Indeed, this may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next five years as needed.
Supporting initiatives such as the Meat Free Monday campaign plays a significant role in this. One meat-free day per week can go a long way towards meeting our recommendation - and more meat-free days would be even better. After all, it’s not really about taking meat or other livestock products away. It’s rather about seeing whether they can be replaced with better foods, and thereby improve people’s lives. The FAO should try it!
by Robert Goodland
The past year has been the warmest ever in the United States, with record heat sweeping across the country last week, causing at least 52 human deaths and also harming livestock. In fact, livestock are not only harmed by human-caused global-warming greenhouse gas, but also cause about 18% of it, according to Livestock’s Long Shadow, a 2006 UN Food and Agriculture Organization report by FAO livestock specialists (who normally promote livestock).
In contrast, environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialized agencies, the World Bank and International Finance Corporation, have developed a widely-cited assessment that at least 51% of human-caused greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock. I’m one of those specialists.
One might expect the FAO to work objectively to determine whether the true figure is closer to 18% or 51%. Instead, Frank Mitloehner, known for his claim that 18% is much too high a figure to use in the U.S., was announced last week as the chair of a new partnership between the meat industry and FAO.
FAO’s new partners include the International Meat Secretariat and International Dairy Federation. Their stated objective is to "assess the environmental performance of the livestock sector" and “to improve that performance,” starting with a three-year project to establish “methods and guidelines.”
Yet within five years, greenhouse gas may increase to irreversibly catastrophic levels if nothing is done to change course, according to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the International Energy Agency.
The new partnership assumes that meat production worldwide will "more than double” from 1999-2050. But the International Food Policy Research Institute has set out a scenario by which meat production will decline at least through 2030. Climate authorities such as Lord Nicholas Stern, author of the seminal Stern Review on the economics of climate change, and Rajendra Pachauri, IPCC chair, have even recommended vegetarian diets to reverse climate change.
FAO’s new activity isn’t entirely a surprise, as its livestock specialists have elsewhere acted to reverse a common perception that a prescription for less livestock was built into their report Livestock’s Long Shadow. For example, its lead author and a co-author later wrote to prescribe more factory farming, not less, and no limit on meat.
Yet Livestock's Long Shadow may not be uniformly endorsed by the whole FAO, as it invited Jeff Anhang and me to present our analysis first at FAO headquarters in Rome, then in Berlin.
FAO’s basic purpose is to “promote the common welfare” in a “neutral forum.” However, FAO’s new partnership includes only four wealthy countries, and no poor country. Yet the former Director General of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), which normally promotes livestock, expressed concern about the impacts of industrially-produced meat on the poor – saying that "factory-farmed" livestock eat grains ”that might instead have fed people.”
Factory farming was critiqued even by a co-author of Livestock's Long Shadow, Cornelius De Haan, when he was lead author of the World Bank's 2001 livestock strategy. That strategy pegged livestock's adverse impacts at a lower level than in the 2006 Livestock's Long Shadow -- yet the World Bank strategy recommends that institutions should "avoid funding large-scale commercial, grain-fed feedlot systems and industrial milk, pork, and poultry production."
Conversely, the stated goal of Frank Mitloehner, chair of FAO’s new partnership, is to promote intensified livestock production.
A new ILRI strategy concludes that “livestock is back on the global agenda,” and that increased productivity must come from “intensified” systems. A videotape reveals a push for research to support ILRI’s predetermined conclusions, as the new Director-General states: “How do we elevate the livestock game? ... In the past we have not looked so much at the issue of food consumption in urban areas... A good bit of the negative criticism of livestock is its contribution to greenhouse gases and its very high environmental footprint – so we must develop stronger research responses to these challenges."
Evidence shows that ILRI may fear public acceptance of our widely-cited assessment that livestock are responsible for at least 51% of human-caused greenhouse gas. ILRI was sufficiently concerned about acceptance of the 51% figure that it raised the issue with its annual meeting's participants before, during, and after its 2010 meeting – and found that acceptance of the 51% figure by the meeting's participants actually rose from about 1.5% before the meeting to about 7.5% after the meeting.
Yet Livestock’s Long Shadow apparently undercounted by a large margin the amount of land used for livestock and feed production – estimating it at 30% of all land on earth, while ILRI has estimated it at 45 percent. Other gaps in Livestock’s Long Shadow may have occurred because it was authored by livestock specialists – while international good practice in environmental assessment is to have projects with major environmental impacts (such as global livestock and feed production) be assessed by environmental assessment specialists.
The key difference between the 18% and 51% figures is that the latter accounts for how exponential growth in livestock production (now more than sixty billion land animals per year), accompanied by large scale deforestation and forest-burning, have caused a dramatic decline in the earth’s photosynthetic capacity, along with large and accelerating increases in volatilization of soil carbon.
Agriculture is outdoors to a unique degree, exposing it to greater risk from emissions attributable to livestock than any other industry's risk from the same emissions. So food industry leaders have a compelling commercial incentive to reduce these emissions.
While the FAO and ILRI argue that millions of poor people have no alternative to raising livestock for their livelihoods, tens of millions of poor people’s livestock have died in the past few years due to climate disasters. Replacing them would risk a similar fate for the new animals.
Conversely, replacing at least a quarter of today’s livestock products with better alternatives would both reduce emissions and allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land, which could then absorb excess atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level. This may be the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change in the next five years as needed. Sufficient renewable energy infrastructure is projected to take at least 20 years and 18 trillion dollars to develop.
Substitutes for livestock products require no subsidies or offsets. Consumers can buy more of them tomorrow.
The common view of climate change is 20 years old, requiring fossil fuels to be replaced quickly with renewable energy infrastructure. That hasn’t happened –- and it's now estimated to cost $18 trillion and take at least 20 more years to build. Yet we can see our climate worsening quickly.
What may be the best business case for reversing climate change is set out on a new website at http://www.chompingclimatechange.org. It's underpinned by a World Watch article that I co-authored, explaining that almost the entire goal of today’s international climate objectives can be achieved by replacing just 1/4 of today’s least eco-friendly food products with better alternatives.
From a consumer perspective, the required change can be made by people who would scarcely notice the difference in replacing carbon-intensive meat and dairy products with substitutes such as seitan-based "chicken," soy-based "beef," nut-based milks, and coconut-based ice cream. People may not recognize it, but their food habits are greatly induced by marketing, which today promote meat and dairy products strenuously. Yet marketing can promote alternatives instead, and trying tasty new foods is normally considered desirable.
From a food industry perspective, meat and dairy substitutes can be promoted like digital technology. Within a decade, manufacturers have switched almost entirely from analog televisions and telephones to digital versions -– propelled by savings in materials and energy use, along with other improvements. Like digital technology, meat and dairy substitutes can deliver better quality at lower cost, while fulfilling the world's priority of preventing climate disruption.
A shocking forty-five percent of all land on earth is today used for raising livestock and growing crops to feed them. But most land used for livestock and crops can grow trees instead. Reforestation and regeneration of forest are the only ways to create new, large-scale capacity to sequester today’s excess atmospheric carbon. If it is not sequestered, then it will take at least a century to dissipate.
Replacing 1/4 quarter of today’s livestock products with alternatives would allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land. As a result, this may be the only pragmatic way to stop global warming in the next 5 years –- which many experts believe may be the last chance to avoid irreversible climate disruption. For example, it's the view of the International Energy Agency, not a radical group.
Some argue that millions of poor people have no alternative to raising livestock for their livelihoods. But tens of millions of poor people’s livestock have died recently due to climate disasters. Replacing them would risk a similar fate for the new animals. Supporting new livelihoods for those whose livestock die in climate disasters would be less risky. Microfinance, mobile banking, computers, and off-grid electricity have generated dramatic growth in many poor rural communities.
Agriculture is outdoors to a unique degree, exposing it to greater risk from livestock-related emissions than any other industry's risk from the same emissions. So food industry leaders have a compelling commercial incentive to reduce these emissions. Meat and dairy substitutes require no subsidies or offsets. Consumers can buy more of them tomorrow.
Renewable energy must still be increased on a large scale to keep emissions and atmospheric carbon down over the long term. But replacing at least 25% of today’s livestock products with substitutes is the only way for food industry leaders and consumers collectively to take a single, powerful action to reverse climate change quickly.
See our Earth Day video at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=znWPebWBTWY