“Concerned Scientists” minimize the impact of livestock on climate change


mistakes (2)

The “Union of Concerned Scientists”, also known as “UCS,” published a blog posting by UCS’s Doug Boucher entitledMovie Review: There’s a Vast Cowspiracy about Climate Change— which pretends to be a “movie review,” but is actually a way for UCS to minimize the impact of livestock on climate change.

Most of Doug Boucher’s supposed movie review is actually a critique of the authors of an article entitledLivestock and Climate Change,published by the Worldwatch Institute, which estimates that livestock are responsible for at least 51% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, much more than Mr. Boucher claims. 

UCS is apparently untroubled by the fact that responsible scientific critics write up their criticism in articles published by reputable scientific journals, rather than blog postings.  Indeed, one UCS blog writer has admitted that the UCS blog postings are generally unreliable“I think the purpose of a blog is push the some buttons…  Our PR people are always urging us put some more controversy in our reports.”

UCS’s Doug Boucher states in his “movie review” that “the scientific consensus [is] that livestock are currently responsible for about 15% of global greenhouse gases… {T]he CO2 that plants take out of the atmosphere, goes back into the atmosphere, whether or not they are eaten by animals…  CH4… causes about 25 times as much global warming per molecule as CO2…  [C]hoosing to take the average over only 20 years, as Worldwatch did, is tantamount to saying that we only care about ourselves, not our children”.

In fact, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest large-scale assessment indicated that CH4 causes 34 times as much global warming per molecule as CO2 (on p 714) rather than 25 times, as Mr. Boucher claims – while another UCS blog posting indicates that it is perfectly valid to take the average of CH4’s warming potential over only 20 years, which means that CH4 may cause 72 times as much global warming per molecule as CO2.

It is obviously untrue for Mr. Boucher to claim that “CO2 that plants take out of the atmosphere, goes back into the atmosphere” – considering that, as noted by the Ecological Society:  “Plants and animals perform cellular respiration and convert a small percentage of that organic carbon back to CO2.  A larger portion… is transferred to the soil when plants shed their leaves or when they die.”

Mr. Boucher’s claim that livestock account for 15% of global greenhouse gases originated in a 2013 FAO report, which prescribed ways to facilitate 70% more livestock production by 2050Yet the authors of that 2013 FAO report were livestock specialists, not environmental specialists, and the FAO is just one of nineteen UN specialized agencies.

In contrast, the authors critiqued by UCS’s Doug Boucher have been longtime environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialized agencies, the World Bank (IBRD) and IFCOne of those authors’ critique of the FAO’s partnership with global livestock industry associations has been published by The New York Times.  In an analogous case, it’s been written in The New York Times that “an industry trade group role in writing a paper is a mountain of conflict of interest.”

One might seek to find evidence that Doug Boucher and UCS are unbiased when it comes to assessing livestock.  In fact, Mr. Boucher has promoted the consumption ofmore chicken or pork Elsewhere, UCS has promoted the consumption of more beef Other evidence suggesting that Doug Boucher and UCS are biased: The points in this blog posting have been provided to Mr. Boucher and UCS so they could correct their “movie review,” but they’ve ignored these points.

While Mr. Boucher’s “movie review” claims that there is a scientific consensus that excludes the assessment that livestock are responsible for at least 51% of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions, that assessment is actually cited favorably in many scientific articles, including the following:

The United Nations Platform for Disaster Risk Reduction, at https://www.unisdr.org/conference/2019/globalplatform/greening.html

Stephen Chu, Nobel Prize winner & ex-U.S. Secretary of Energy, quoted at https://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2019/04/04/meat-and-agriculture-are-worse-for-the-climate-than-dirty-energy-steven-chu-says

The Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, at https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/16/8/1359/htm

Current Anthropology, published by the University of Chicago, at https://www.journals.uchicago.edu/doi/pdfplus/10.1086/702788

The American Behavioral Scientist Journal, at https://repositori.upf.edu/bitstream/handle/10230/42774/almiron_ambehavsci_greening.pdf;jsessionid=80FD53AEBFC3531B9E175FFFF0D0A9C8?sequence=1 

China Global Television Network, at https://news.cgtn.com/news/3d3d414f31517a4d34457a6333566d54/index.html


1 Comment

  1. Dylan Gully December 24, 2019

    Hi, i was reading an article about the 51%; did some reasearch and found your website as well as contradictory sources: https://www.sciencealert.com/sorry-but-giving-up-on-meat-is-not-going-to-save-the-planet

    I have a french page to inspire people to make change, and trying to have a clear picture on the causes of climate change / biodiversity loss. Can you tell me what is your position today (numbers?) about meat impact on gaz emission ? Is this 51% still relevant to you? What do you think of the article above then, that states that FAO way of counting was wrong?

    Thank you very much

    Dylan Gully
    Actions pour l’écologie

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