The UN’s 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow (FAO 2006, see below) estimated that 18% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are attributable to livestock farming. But this analysis by the Worldwatch Institute finds that livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide, or 51% of GHG emissions.
The researchers are both from World Bank backgrounds, and their research finds that emissions from livestock have been underestimated in three crucial areas, detailed in the report:
- Methane: Livestock is a major emitter of methane, a potent GHG. The FAO measures methane’s global warming potential based on its effects over a 100 year period, but because it has only an 8-year half-life in the atmosphere, the IPCC now supports measuring it over a 20 year timeframe. When recalculated on this basis, this raises the GHGs attributable to livestock by 7.9 percentage points.
- Land use: the FAO’s calculations only consider changes in land use each year resulting from increasing annual land used for livestock grazing and feed production. However, it does not step back and consider the vast potential for mitigating climate change which would be achieved by either allowing land currently used for these purposes to regenerate as forest or to grow crops to be converted more directly to food for humans and to biofuels.
- Respiration: the CO2 exhaled by the billions of livestock bred for human consumption has hitherto been excluded from global GHG inventories on spurious grounds
If correct, the findings mean that it will no longer be possible to sideline our food choices in the fight to prevent climate chaos:
“replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change. In fact, this approach would have far more rapid effects on GHG emissions and their atmospheric concentrations than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy.”
Although my reasons for being vegan begin with the intolerable suffering inherent in humans’ use of animals for food and other products, the environmental reasons in themselves make an unanswerable case for making this simple lifestyle choice. A vegan saves on average 2 tonnes of GHG emissions per year. If we were to operate under a true ‘contraction and convergence’ model, this would amount to one individual’s entire annual quota. And this recent Worldwatch Institute research suggests the reduction in impact may be even more significant.
MEET YOUR MEAT - video embedded under the Comment Board on the right
This answers the question 'why vegan' from the perspective of non-violence with a clarity that words alone cannot achieve.
For those who would counter that there are 'humane' ways of being a meat-eater, I would ask them to examine this claim closely and whether it is possible to control, exploit and kill another sentient being for profit in a way that qualifies as humane by any true definition.
I would also query whether those who think they eat humanely always know the origins of the animal products that they consume. Even setting a low standard such as 'free range' or 'organic' products only would effectively mean being vegan outside the home. As well as this, the reality in a world of 7 billion people where meat consumption is increasing exponentially is that factory farming accounts for the vast majority of animal products, and it would not be possible to universalise less intensive methods without a vast shift towards more heavily plant-based diets.
And it must be recognised that even organically reared animals are subjected to procedures such as castration without anaesthetic and end their lives at the slaughter house, whose horrors I believe no meat eater should turn their eyes away from: the video on the right will provide enlightenment to those who have so far closed their eyes to this reality.
For anyone who, steadfast in their 'speciesism', holds fast to the notion that the suffering of one species (say, a pig) is less important than that of another (say, a pet dog), I would ask them to examine the reasons for this and see if they can truly explain it to themselves without resorting to cold jokes or flippancy.
They may also wish to consider the human inequities of the industries that use non-human animals for food. Research has proven that those who practise animal cruelty are also more likely to be violent to their fellow humans:
'The Link': Cruelty to Animals and Interpersonal Violence
"For as long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seed of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love".
The psychological damage that slaughterhouse workers suffer has also been well-documented in a recent book: Every Twelve Seconds: Industrialized Slaughter and the Politics of Sight. As stated in the linked review, "there is no uncruel way to kill a large and terrified animal every 12 seconds, the pace now set by industry greed."
The Animal Rights FAQ section on food provides careful considered answers to commonly arising questions about meat, eggs and dairy, which are often based on 'what if' scenarios. I would recommend anyone who is interested in exploring these philosophical questions to have a look:
- HUNTING AND FISHING
DR RACHENDRA PACHAURI - LESS MEAT, LESS HEAT VIDEO
Pachauri Less meat less heat (the page is in Flemish but the talk is in English, so just scroll down the page to the video and press play)
On 30th August 08, I went to a talk by Dr Rachendra Pachauri of IPCC and Nobel Prize fame at Ghent University entitled "Less Meat, Less Heat", on the impacts of the meat industry on climate change (and other environmental problems). Really interesting and important material, and a great talk by a very warm and gentle spirit (he managed not to make it grim, somehow!) - it's available to watch online via the above link, and here also is a link to his powerpoint slides…
LIVESTOCK'S LONG SHADOW
In this UN report (FAO, 2006), the livestock sector emerges as a major contributor to the most serious environmental problems, at every level from local to global: land degradation, climate change, air pollution, water shortage, water pollution and loss of biodiversity.
SOPHIE PRIZE TENTH ANNIVERSARY DEBATE: 54 MINUTE VIDEO
Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder, author of Sophie's World, donated a large sum of his fortune from book sales to setting up the Sophie Prize, an international award for environment and sustainable development, awarded annually inspire the cause of sustainability. To celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2007, the Norwegian Sophie Foundation hosted this debate entitled From Know How to Do Now with eight of its laureates :
Professor Wangari Maathai, Nobel laureate and founder of the Green Belt Movement;
Sheri Liao, founder of Global Village of Bejing;
Göran Persson, Former PM of Sweden;
Bernard Cassen, ATTAC: activist organisation proposing alternatives to neo-liberal economic policies;
Romina Picolotti, Environment Minister of Argentina and pioneer of connection between law, the environment and human rights;
Thomas Kocherry, priest, lawyer and trade union leader;
Sheila Watt-Cloutier, former chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council;
Nnimmo Bassey; Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria
THE ANIMAL RIGHTS FAQ
Detailed arguments setting out the reasons for choosing to live a compassionate lifestyle that minimises the suffering of non-human animals.
KILLNG FROM A DESK...
On a related theme, read about Platform's forthcoming book, "Desk Killer" at: www.platformlondon.org/kus.asp, which explores the ideas encapsulated in this quotation from C.S. Lewis:
“I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of ‘Admin’. The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid ‘dens of crime’ that Dickens loved to paint. It is not even done in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices."
DRAFT INTERNATIONAL COVENANT ON ENVIRONMENT AND DEVELOPMENT
This is a draft covenant prepared by the Commission on Environmental Law of the IUCN (World Conservation Union) in cooperation with the ICEL (International Council of Environmental Law). Its aim is to consolidate major existing and emerging legal principles related to environmental conservation and sustainable development into a draft of an internationally binding legal instrument. Inspirational. Latest edition 2004.
If you haven't seen this film yet (or even if you have), please take a look... It is online in full here and the associated website is www.thecorporation.com, along with blog, resources, social media links, etc.