If I was to say ‘cattle farming’ what would come to mind? Lush grass and happy cows?
Unfortunately, the green grass ideology is not really a valid one any longer. Instead, we are witnessing industrial scale processes in meat production.
Fattening up the cows for steak quickly and on a cheap diet to maximise profit cultivates cattle production lines like the one shown above.
So why is this relevant to climate change?
Last year the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its fifth Annual Report which, for the first time in its history, acknowledged the interrelationship between the topics of agriculture, forestry and other land uses (AFOLU) by discussing them in the same chapter. Now the demand and supply of meat and its role in greenhouse gas emissions and climate change is finally being given the discourse it rightly deserves.
Worldwide, on an annual basis cows produce methane equal to a car being driven 700,000 miles (in c02 equivalent) in a year.
Even though agriculture trails 5% behind energy supply, it still beats transport and the lack of awareness towards this is something to be concerned about as you can bet if you ask anyone what they think is contributing the most towards global warming they will respond with, ‘driving cars’ or something similar.
This is actually backed up by a study carried out online on participants including China, Brazil, Italy, India, Russia and US. People in the study grossly underestimated the role of the meat industry within GHG emissions and climate change. Conversely, exhaust emissions and industry production’s role was overestimated by participants.
As the second most influential warming factor, methane’s influence on climate change is 25 times greater than CO2 (over a 100-year period). As a GHG, it’s more potent than CO2 as it traps more radiation, making the earth warmer. Ergo, changing our eating behaviour has quicker results because although methane doesn’t linger as long as carbon does in the atmosphere, halting its release means effects occur almost immediately in comparison.
Cows are singlehandedly the second largest global contributor to methane release and the lack of public awareness of this is scary. It’s now time for those responsible to expose the consequences of their practices to the public so they can make informed decisions.
Globally a massive three-quarters of land for agriculture is used for grazing and just a quarter for cropland (and even that largely includes crops intended for animal consumption).
In South America 30% of land is used for feed crops and soy from Brazil, the world’s largest exporter of the stuff, mostly goes on cattle feed. And there you were thinking they ate grass…
If all this wasn’t enough to convince you, intense industrial scale cattle farming is recorded as the main contributor another environmental issue; desertification. In China and South America, desertification from overgrazing and land clearance (the uprooting of ancient woodlands) are also consequences of cattle farming.
Below is a video called ‘Meat the Truth’ by the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation (Party for the Animals, US) which hits home the facts about animal agriculture.
Cattle ranching in parts of the Amazon was predominantly on grasslands but much of this is converted to arable land for soy, pushing cattle ranchers into the forest itself, taking away features that would otherwise naturally store carbon, not release it. The cows tend to overgraze and degrade forest due to poor management and political reasons like corrupt authorities.
What is slightly ironic is that Brazil in particular exports the majority of the meat and animal feed crops it produces because a meat eating culture is not as big in Brazil as other parts of the world, namely the US and Europe. What is sad however, is that the exporting Brazil’s meat and crops may mean more money for them in the short term but it is causing widespread degradation to their sensitive ecosystems which means their economy cannot rely on the industry for long.
Meat doesn’t just use up natural resources when its alive. Processing of the meat once the animal is dead requires water. Lots of water, furthering desertification.
The process of making a single beef burger (hydrating the cow, feeding the cow and then making the burger that ends up on your plate) uses an average of 500 gallons of water. That’s One. Single. Burger. To put this into context, one loaf of bread used 150 gallons and a pint of milk roughly 85 gallons.
Here is a list of water intensive foodstuffs that people consume on a regular basis, beef features #2 in the list.
Beef is the most environmentally intensive member of the meat eater’s diet you can get.
A person’s diet is the easiest element of their daily lifestyle that they can change to make a difference, yet even the most radical of environmental organisations avoid talking about it.
I understand that the advertisement above is by a Vegan campaign group which is quite obviously bias… and I totally get that promoting a vegan/ vegetarian diet for all is definitely not the way forward here. But they have a point; why aren’t they chatting?
Lack of campaigns on this topic is like a smoker going to a doctor complaining of a persistent cough but avoiding talking about his smoking habits.
Its an elephant growing so big that it can no longer even fit in the room.
We are destroying the planet with our knives and forks without realising just how simplistic the solution is; To reassess whats on the end of that fork, eat less meat and change for the greater good.
I spoke in one of my previous blogs about the microscale policies that can exist on an individual level so discussing people’s eating habits, albeit rather personal, are an interesting place to begin.
The exact carbon savings of eliminating or reducing meat is uncertain but some sources state that if every person in America refrained from eating meat 7 days a week for a whole year, it would be the equivalent in GHG emissions of taking every single car off of the road a year. But to stem the inconvenient blow a little, and prove that even small actions still make a significant contribution, other sources claim that f everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road.
The New Scientist has found that if someone eating more than 100 grams of meat a day simply cut down to less than 50 grams a day, their food-related emissions would fall by a third!
This is not to say that changing your eating habits is purely beneficial from an environmental standpoint. If you won’t do it for the planet, do it for your health. It has been proven, even discussed in a film (Forks over Knives) that by leading a lifestyle where your diet is based upon un-processed, largely plant based foods, your chances of contracting heart diseases, diabetes and many other chronic illnesses that so many of the people living in developed countries experience are shrunk considerably. Not to mention the plethora of anti-biotics and other nasty carcinogenic chemicals that cheap meat will have been pumped with at various stages in its production.
We have heard in British news recently about the newly appointed shadow secretary of state for the environment, food and rural affairs for the Labour party. Kerry Mccarthy is a vegan and this has stirred rather a large media uproar. It is clear therefore that to get people to change their diets is going to be tricky but I truly believe that if people are educated on the extent to which their diets are destroying the planet and having negative impacts on others just for the sake of convenience and temporary taste, they might just change.
It is our planet after all. Every single one of us shares something that it provides for us to keep us alive. I do not think its fair that there is a huge disparagement between those who suffer and those who don’t. I don’t think its right that masses of forests are being destroyed, taking with it people and wildlife. Nor do I think it’s right that rising sea levels, increased storms and desertification occur because of gases chugged into the atmosphere from some people’s desire to eat cheap burgers in Maccy D’s.
Technology can’t save us in this instance, there is no magic cow that doesn’t need food, doesn’t produce methane and doesn’t require water to turn it into a burger.
The change will have to come from us.
Even if those up top won’t tell everyone the truth, we have the power to make the changes ourselves.
Reduce the demand and the supply will follow.