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Posts Tagged ‘Deforestation’

The meat industry and its front groups like the Center for Consumer Freedom are perpetuating the myth that Americans should not be worried about the meat & global warming connection. This is the argument:

The US has a more efficient livestock production system. According to the 2006 US EPA report, US agriculture causes less than 6% of US greenhouse gases, while livestock causes only 2.58% of US GHG. The UN says 18% of *global* GHG is due to livestock. We should resume consumption patterns and keep the industry competitive; otherwise we’d be importing more meat from less GHG efficient livestock production systems, and cause MORE global warming.

The argument exploits very misleading and incomplete statistics and rests on some flawed assumptions. In the final analysis, what matters is the total VOLUME of American consumption & GHG production, and factoring in livestock’s land and land-use.

Below are some facts which point to how the US livestock industry is definitely a major contributor to global warming.

1. The US consumes FAR more meat / animal products than most of the world.

  • According to the UN FAO, the average American eats about 275 pounds of meat per year (more than any other country). The average Chinese eats 108 pounds per year (Earth Policy Insitute, 2005).
  • According to a 2005 FAO study on meat consumption between 1998 – 2002, the average meat consumption per Chinese is 52 kg, compared to Americans at 125 kg, and Britain at 80 kg.   note:  there are smaller countries which (on average, per person) consume a little more meat than the US – 300 mil. people (for example: New Zealand – 4 mil. people, Denmark 5.5 mil. people, and some countries which consume around the same amount of meat.
  • If the whole world ate meat at the American rate, only 2/5 of the world’s population (2.5 billion people) would be fed (Lester Brown).
  • So much for American efficiency. The world’s leading consumers of meat and animal products share the biggest responsibility for continuing to make the global livestock industry grow! As long as the meat industry continues to be supported by a growing culture of high volume meat eaters, the industry will be able to expand its reach globally.

    Dr. Barry Popkin, author of “The World is Fat”, agrees

    What’s more, the developing world seems to be falling in step, Popkin says. In India, meat and dairy intake more than doubled between 2000 and 2005. In 2006, the average diet of 67% of the Chinese population comprised at least 10% meat and dairy products, up from about 39% of the population in 1989. “We truly did this to the globe — changed the way the world eats,” says Popkin.

    2. The US produces FAR more GHG than most of the world.

    The U.S., with a population of about 300 million (5% of the world), produces about 18% (2009 US EPA) of GLOBAL greenhouse gases.

    Consider the image below which portrays the CO2 responsibility PER CAPITA by country between 1950-2000.

    CO2 responsibility 1950-2000

    Not surprisingly, most of the US and “Western countries” are the highest emitters. See more “List of countries by greenhouse gases in 2000”

    Even though China as a whole produces more CO2 as a country (since recently), their per capita emissions figures are STILL 1/3 – 1/4 of the US population (China recently officially surpassed the US in producing GHG, but China has 4 times the population (China has 1.3 billion people, US has 300 million people)).

    It’s a huge difference. So what does this tell us about the EPA’s estimates on livestocks GHG impact?

    We can predict that X% of US GHG per capita is far greater than X% of China’s GHG per capita.

    Basically 2.58% of US GHG is much more than 2.58% of China GHG (or most other countries).

    We know this because on average, one American is emitting as much GHG as four Chinese. In addition, one American consumes as much meat as 2-3 Chinese citizens (again, the average meat consumption per Chinese is 52 kg, compared to Americans at 125 kg – 2005 FAO)

    3. The US EPA report does not include land-use (deforestation, desertification) and other criteria used in the UN FAO report.

    As I explain in a previous post, the EPA report excludes the whole GLOBAL livestock commodity chain including fuel combustion, agricultural CO2 fluxes and land-use changes (such as deforestation), while the UN report includes these factors (as its a global organization, and land-use is probably difficult to quanity on a country level).

    According to the UN’s Livestock’s Long Shadow report, land-use is the primary reason why livestock’s share of global GHG is so high:

    “(livestock) accounts for nine percent of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, most of it due to expansion of pastures and arable land for feed crops.

    The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land. Grazing occupies 26 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, while feed crop production requires about a third of all arable land. Expansion of grazing land for livestock is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America: some 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is used as pasture, and feed crops cover a large part of the reminder.

    Consider the GHG volume of land use compared to livestock’s other GHG sources:

    Land use and land use change: 2.5 Giga tonnes CO2 (#1) equivalent; including forest and other natural vegetation replaced by pasture and feed crop in the Neotropics (CO2) and carbon release from soils such as pasture and arable land dedicated to feed production (CO2)
    — Feed Production (except carbon released from soil): 0.4 Giga tonnes CO2 equivalent, including fossil fuel used in manufacturing chemical fertilizer for feed crops (CO2) and chemical fertilizer application on feedcrops and leguminous feed crop (N2O, NH3)
    — Animal production: 1.9 Giga tonnes CO2 equivalent, including enteric fermentation from ruminants (CH4) and on-farm fossil fuel use (CO2)
    — Manure Management: 2.2 Giga tonnes CO2 equivalent, mainly through manure storage, application and deposition (CH4, N2O, NH3)
    — Processing and international transport: 0.03 Giga tonnes CO2 equivalent

    From these figures we know that the U.S EPA omitted a huge cause of GHG from the livestock industry.

    In conclusion

    We know that…

    1. US meat consumption per capita is higher than most of the world’s.
    2. The US produces way too much GHG per capita (5% of world population produces about 18% of GHG)
    3. The US EPA report does not factor in the #1 cause of CO2 emissions from livestock: land and land-use (2.5 Giga tonnes).

    The US livestock industry’s share of the GLOBAL livestock industry’s greenhouse gases is much higher than the industry (whose prime consumers are Westerners) is willing to admit. It’s hard to calculate an exact figure, but we know the leading consumers and producers of meat also support the growth of a global livestock industry, which contributes most of its GHG through land and land-use.

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    cows

    This is a useful post for illustrating meat’s carbon footprint to different people.  Do you like exotic food?  Know a Prius or SUV owner?  Don’t plan on going veg anytime soon?  There’s something for everyone. Hopefully, at least one of these ten studies will help you or someone you know to consider eating less meat.

    1.  Livestock’s Longshadow

    This is probably the most cited and comprehensive study on the impact of meat on global warming and the environment.  Estimated that livestock produces 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined.  Summary:  Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment

    Steinfeld et all., United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006.

    For those who just want to hear it from a “legitimate source”.

    2.  Diet, Energy and Global Warming (pdf)(view as html)

    One of the first major studies on this subject, which concluded choosing a vegan diet reduced more greenhouse gases than switching from a SUV to a prius.  Summary:  Vegan Diets Healthier for Planet, People than Meat Diets

    Gidon Eshel and Martin, University of Chicago,  December 2005.

    For the veg-curious and hybrid or SUV owners.

    3.   Kangaroos and Greenhouse Gases

    Concluded switching from beef to kangaroo meat would significantly help fight global warming.

    Articles about this subject are surprisingly popular.  Though I don’t think I would touch kangaroo meat, many people seem curious about this new alternative.  To me, this is fine.  It brings a lot of awareness to the impact of livestock on global warming, which is the most important thing.  Apparently, about 58% of Australians eat kangaroo meat.  Summary:  Kangaroo Farming would Cut Greenhouse Gases

    To start conversations with exotic food lovers, cute Australians, global warming skeptics, and maybe animal rights activists.

    George Wilson, University of New South Wales (May 2008)

    4.  Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States

    Concluded that reducing meat consumption will more effectively lower one’s carbon footprint than “buying local”.  Summary:  It’s the Meat Not the Miles

    Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon Universit(April 2008).

    For locavores and the “just buy local or organic” discussions.

    5.  Climate Friendly Dining Meats

    A look at the individual carbon footprints of beef, pork, chicken and fish.  Beef accounts for only 30% of all meat consumption, but contributes 78% of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions.  AFP summary:  Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming.

    American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, Chicago (Feb. 15).

    For the everyday meat eater.

    6.  The Cheeseburger Footprint

    Concludes: “The greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs.  There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US. ”  Total Cheeseburgers = Total SUVs?

    Jamais Cascio, ref: Energy Use in the Food Sector (PDF), a 2000 report from Stockholm University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (Dec. 2006).

    To help cheeseburger-eating, frequent SUV drivers feel even more guilty.

    7.  Climate Benefits of Changing Diet

    Concluded that if the world shifted to a low-meat diet, the world could cut $20 trillion off the cost of fighting global warming (that’s $20,000,000,000,000).  Summary:  Eating less meat could cut climate costs

    Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University Research Centre, February 2009.

    For any discussion about the dismal state of the world economy or stimulus packages.

    8.  Global Environmental Costs of Beef Production

    A well-cited article by scholars, ahead of its time.  Showed “cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce.  Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.”  (Nathan Fiala – interesting researcher on this subject, Scientific American)

    For those who give you links to carbon footprint calculators.

    Susan Subak, University College London (July 1999).

    9.  Amazon Cattle Footprint (pdf)

    This is an impressive study with maps and graphs on how cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of the continuous deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.  According to Dr. Norman Myers, 5% of the world’s deforestation is currently due to cattle ranching.  Overall deforestation is estimated to be responsible for 20% of all greenhouse gases, more than transportation.  Summary:  How Cattle Ranches are Chewing Up the Amazon Rainforest.

    For the everyday treehugger (a good thing) who isn’t cutting back on meat.

    Greenpeace (January 2009)

    10. Evaluating environmental impacts of the Japanese beef cow–calf system by the life cycle assessment method

    Concluded that producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.  Summary:  Meat is Murder on the Environment

    For the next time your wife/husband/roommate/etc. complains about you leaving the lights on or wasting gas.

    Akifumi Ogino, National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science, Tsukuba, and Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan (July 2007)

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    The #1 human cause of deforestation in Latin America?  Surprise…it’s the cattle industry.

    Daniel Beltra)

    A burnt area of the Amazon rainforest in Itaituba 2, a protected area (Photo: Daniel Beltra)

    Why are rainforests important?  First of all, rainforests help to slow global warming by significantly absorbing  CO2 in our atmosphere.  So as a result of deforestation, there is an increase in CO2 emissions.

    The rate of deforestation has increased significantly in the past few decades.   Deforestation is now the #2 human cause of CO2, behind fossil fuels.

    As for a cause of deforestation?  For the Amazon rainforest, it’s meat:

    “Cattle ranching is now the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, and nearly 80 per cent of deforested areas in Brazil are now used for pasture.  The cattle industry has ballooned since the 1970s, giving Brazil the largest commercial cattle herd in the world. Since 2003, the country has also topped the world’s beef export charts and the government plans to double its share of the market by 2018.” – “How Cattle Ranches are Chewing up the Amazon Rainorest” Greenpeace (1/31/09)

    Greenpeace is currently developing their campaign to pressure the Brazilian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon.

    Rainforests help us in many other priceless ways.

    Here are some very interesting facts about rainforests:

    • We lose about 50,000 plant, animal and insect species a year due to deforestation.
    • While 25% of Western pharmeceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of tropical plant species have been tested.
    • The Amazon is described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it provides more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, by continuously recycling carbon dioxide.
    • Of the 3,000 plants that the U.S National cancer Institute has ID-ed as active against cancer cells, 70% are found in the rainforest.
    • Experts agree that there is more economic value in leaving the rainforests intact than cutting it down for timber or the cattle industry.

    The rainforests, as you have read, provide immense value to humanity.  But in a matter of decades, much of that value has been forever lost due to the cattle industry and the rising global appetite for meat.

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