Are we headed for extinction by global warming in the next hundred years? The documentary, Cowspiracy, points to our addiction to meat, and the way we raise livestock to feed that craving, as one of our greatest threats. Producers Kip Anderson and Keagan Kuhn, interviewed environmentalists and scientists to get some answers because we must rely on a sustainable planet to grow food and breed livestock for consumption.
Aspects of global warming, from pollution to land degradation, ultimately affect our nutrition or lack thereof. This blog’s purpose is to share some highlights of the documentary to get us thinking. I did no fact-checking, but will tell you several sources I’ve read and viewed on the topic tend to agree with Cowspiracy’s conclusions. See what you think. It is available on Netflix if you want to watch it yourself.
Kip Anderson called himself an obsessive, compulsive environmentalist. He did everything he could to shrink his carbon footprint, including bicycling instead of driving. Then he discovered all he was doing was not impacting the environment in a meaningful way. It was beyond one person. What does the planet need? How much and when? He set about to interview experts in climatology, agriculture, and “green” organizations like the Sierra Club.
What they found
Livestock gobble up resources and water at an alarming rate. Comparing carbon emissions, coal use, and fracking, with raising cattle, cows lead in resource consumption and environmental degradation.
According to Anderson and Kuhn, it takes 660 gallons of water to produce ¼ pound of ground beef. That doesn’t include acre upon acre of land to grow corn and soybeans to feed thousands and thousands of cows. Ironically, cows are ruminating animals and should eat grasses, not corn. Anderson claims 80% of children starve in some countries where more feed is produced for animals than for people. (Even here in the US, we grow more food for cattle as well. Plus, 80% of antibiotics pharmaceutical companies produce goes to cattle, rather than people).
What’s the scoop on the poop?
Not only that, according to the United Nations, methane gas excreted from cattle is 86 times more destructive to the planet than carbon emissions. One source Anderson interviewed said our current donation of nitrous oxide into the environment is running at 65%. By 2050, global increase in meat and dairy consumption will drive that percentage up to 80%. Without addressing animal methane, even if we stopped using oil and gas today, we would still exceed carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. If we decreased animal methane, we would see results in a decade. Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions only would show results in 100 years.
It gets worse. (Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m just sharing highlights of the documentary, without commenting.) Besides floods, droughts and fires from global warming, animal waste contributes to dead zones, where nothing can grow – 95 thousand square miles devoid of life. Also, we are losing large swaths of the Amazon Rain-forest from mega-projects such as logging, agribusiness, palm oil production and mining. Yet 1 acre is cleared every second to raise livestock and produce their feed.
Why Don’t We Do Something?
Some environmental agencies attribute our planetary crisis to carbon dioxide emissions and other pollutants, like plastics, before they look at the cattle and dairy industries. When Kip asked about methane emissions form cattle, many representatives looked blankly at him. “What about it?” they asked.
Other scientists said the facts are out there. But how do you get Americans to give up steak and hamburgers? If environmental agencies yammered at people about it, would they become our cultural enemy? No more pulled pork, barbecues, hots on the 4th? That’s just plain un-American. Might s as well throw apple pies into our mothers’ faces!
I leave you with this example. It takes only 1/6 of an acre to feed one vegan for a day; three times that to feed one vegetarian who does eat dairy and eggs. However, it takes 18 times that much land to feed a “meat and potatoes” person.
Right now, I’m chewing on that comparison.