Food

Published on January 15th, 2012 | by Zachary Shahan

60

Do You Know the Cause of 51% or More of Humanity's Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

January 15th, 2012 by

 
Update January 19, 2012: title of and link to newly published article added in third paragraph.

If you answered ‘animal agriculture’ or ‘livestock production’ (essentially, meat and dairy production) to the question above, you were right. I wrote about a study on this matter many moons ago, on Planetsave and on a couple of other Important Media sites. An article on the study, Livestock and Climate Change, was published in the journal World Watch and was quickly attacked by the livestock industry. Some tried to publish a critique of the study (including co-authors of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization study Livestock’s Long Shadow, which found that 18% of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions came from livestock production), but none were able to do a good enough job to get such a critique published in a peer-reviewed journal.

–> Highly recommended: What is Causing Global Warming?

–> You may also like: Global Warming Videos (Best, Funniest, & Most Inspiring)

The bottom line seems to be that there’s good evidence showing that 51% or more of humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, and one of the easiest and quickest things we can do to combat global warming is cut (or cut down on) the meat and dairy products we eat.

An anonymous person closely connected with Livestock and Climate Change recently let me know that the authors of that report have a new article about to be published in the cattlemen-friendly journal Animal Feed Science and Technology (AFST). The new article, Livestock and greenhouse has emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right, “essentially explains how our work is more reliable than Livestock’s Long Shadow.” Surprising that a cattlemen-friendly journal would publish such a piece!

Simplifying and Communicating to the Masses

I think everyone knows that academic papers can easily sit unread and, thus, unhelpful to the masses who could learn something from them. Some good news in this story, however, is that Anhang, Goodland, and others are working to put their findings into more a useful package… or two. And they’re looking to raise awareness about this issue.

They’ve launched a website called Chomping Climate Change and the video below. Check the site and video out and share them (or this piece) with your green and non-green friends! It’s mighty hard to create necessary change if we don’t help educate each other.


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About the Author

is the director of CleanTechnica, the most popular cleantech-focused website in the world, and Planetsave, a world-leading green and science news site. He has been covering green news of various sorts since 2008, and he has been especially focused on solar energy, electric vehicles, and wind energy since 2009. Aside from his work on CleanTechnica and Planetsave, he's the founder and director of Solar Love, EV Obsession, and Bikocity. To connect with Zach on some of your favorite social networks, go to ZacharyShahan.com and click on the relevant buttons.



  • http://www.citizensclimatelobby.org/ Fred G

    I agree we are the cause but government sites do not agree or disagree with you because they claim warming from food production cannot be quanified with any reliable numbers.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      hmm, good point. very hard to confirm with official statistics.

  • vetxcl

    The above rationale is a dodge/evasion as HUMANS raise the animals. It’s still anthropogenic. It could also enable deniers. ‘See ! It’s caused by animals, and not humans.’ That’s NONsense.

    It is , however a reason for improved ag and eating less meat.

  • vetxcl

    The above rationale is a dodge/evasion as HUMANS raise the animals. It’s still anthropogenic. It could also enable deniers. ‘See ! It’s caused by animals, and not humans.’ That’s NONsense.

    It is , however a reason for improved ag and eating less meat.

  • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

    We definitely need to address several key components. The big ones are clearly food, power, and transport… and all 3 are going to be hard to address. Food might be the hardest, given people’s attachment to eating certain types of food (i.e. meat & dairy).

  • ????

    Non-animal products requires you to cut down large amounts of trees if not placed in a field where trees do not grow.

    Look at this picture and tell me a vegan lifestyle requires less trees. If everyone stopped eating animal products, these would be covering a whole lot of the earth’s surface.

    http://tinyurl.com/coz72b5

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I’m sorry, but it seems you don’t understand how agriculture and livestock production works. Of course, vegans also need food, but their land needs are *much, much* smaller than those of meat eaters.

      10s or often even 100s of times more land is needed for a kilogram of protein of meat than a kilogram of protein of vegetables.

      This is why it’s well known that livestock production and meat consumption are some of the largest drivers (perhaps the largest) of global warming… largely through deforestation.

      http://planetsave.com/2013/03/29/bill-gates-advocating-for-big-cut-in-meat-consumption/

      #2 here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment

      btw, the same goes for water & energy resources: http://www.eatveg.com/argument.htm#III5

      http://www.eatveg.com/argument.htm#III2

      To simplify, if everyone switched to veganism, we’d use a lot less land, water, and energy for our food needs.

      • ????

        “Of course, vegans also need food, but their land needs are *much, much* smaller than those of meat eaters.”

        What I meant was that the solution was not for everyone to go vegan, the solution is that more people instead choose meat that is produced on fields that cannot be used as agricultural fields. Such as rocky areas, forests that do not require de-forestation.
        —-
        “To simplify, if everyone switched to veganism, we’d use a lot less land, water, and energy for our food needs.”

        Plants need to be watered, and considering how wide vegetable fields go, it requires A LOT of water. Especially if it doesn’t rain at the place you are planting. If everyone went vegan, big corporations would have to either take boatloads of water to water such large vegetable fields, or cut down rainforests (kind of like how they are doing now) as it rains a lot there. But if you produce grass fed meat, you wouldn’t need that much water, as they need no crops that require lots of water and harvesters that run on energy.
        —-

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          The bottom line: livestock production as it happens (and will continue to happen) is MUCH more water-intensive and land-intensive than vegetable production. Sorry, that’s the story.

          • ????

            Wow, what a convincing reply. Repeating the same argument you made before.

    • Alex R

      There remains a fair amount of controversy over the exact figures for animal ag vs. vegetarian or vegan (in part because it’s difficult to figure net CO2 accumulation from animal respiration, when normally respiration would be carbon neutral). But I don’t think it can be denied that the former is much more resource intensive. I’m just not sure we can address the issue of accelerated climate change by simply pinning our hopes on a dietary change. It seems unlikely that globally we’ll see sufficient reductions in any one sector to slow the process enough. Things like automotive transit and power consumption are also growing fast, and once those systems are built, they’re entrenched for decades. So they too need to be addressed sooner rather than later.

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        We definitely need to address several key components. The big ones are clearly food, power, and transport… and all 3 are going to be hard to address. Food might be the hardest, given people’s attachment to eating certain types of food (i.e. meat & dairy).

  • ????

    Non-animal products requires you to cut down large amounts of trees if not placed in a field where trees do not grow.

    Look at this picture and tell me a vegan lifestyle requires less trees. If everyone stopped eating animal products, these would be covering a whole lot of the earth’s surface.

    http://tinyurl.com/coz72b5

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      I’m sorry, but it seems you don’t understand how agriculture and livestock production works. Of course, vegans also need food, but their land needs are *much, much* smaller than those of meat eaters.

      10s or often even 100s of times more land is needed for a kilogram of protein of meat than a kilogram of protein of vegetables.

      This is why it’s well known that livestock production and meat consumption are some of the largest drivers (perhaps the largest) of global warming… largely through deforestation.

      http://planetsave.com/2013/03/29/bill-gates-advocating-for-big-cut-in-meat-consumption/

      #2 here: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jul/18/vegetarianism-save-planet-environment

      btw, the same goes for water & energy resources: http://www.eatveg.com/argument.htm#III5

      http://www.eatveg.com/argument.htm#III2

      To simplify, if everyone switched to veganism, we’d use a lot less land, water, and energy for our food needs.

      • ????

        “Of course, vegans also need food, but their land needs are *much, much* smaller than those of meat eaters.”

        What I meant was that the solution was not for everyone to go vegan, the solution is that more people instead choose meat that is produced on fields that cannot be used as agricultural fields. Such as rocky areas, forests that do not require de-forestation.
        —-
        “To simplify, if everyone switched to veganism, we’d use a lot less land, water, and energy for our food needs.”

        Plants need to be watered, and considering how wide vegetable fields go, it requires A LOT of water. Especially if it doesn’t rain at the place you are planting. If everyone went vegan, big corporations would have to either take boatloads of water to water such large vegetable fields, or cut down rainforests (kind of like how they are doing now) as it rains a lot there. But if you produce grass fed meat, you wouldn’t need that much water, as they need no crops that require lots of water and harvesters that run on energy.
        —-

        • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

          The bottom line: livestock production as it happens (and will continue to happen) is MUCH more water-intensive and land-intensive than vegetable production. Sorry, that’s the story.

          • ????

            Wow, what a convincing reply. Repeating the same argument you made before.

        • jeffhre

          So, you have a plan to stop the deforestation from using prime land, forested land to raise meat. That is good.

          What about the land that is needed to produce the required billions of tons of animal feed? Will Rogers made the call on the prime agricultural land that will be needed for that. A hundred years ago. He said, they ain’t making any more – so it comes from forested lands, as ZS said above.

          PS- what is a forest that does not require deforestation, to raise animals for food?

          • ????

            I never mentioned cutting down said forests.

            You haven’t heard of pasture-raised meat, have you? As in meat that graze on open fields and find their own food.

            “PS- what is a forest that does not require deforestation, to raise animals for food?”

            Yeah I think I used the meaning very loosely. What I meant by that is raising them in penned forests. Though it would be a lot better if meat was raised on open fields or at one’s home instead.

  • Alan Wheeler

    Quoting the Daily Mail = Automatic Fail

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Ha, for sure. :D

  • Alan Wheeler

    Quoting the Daily Mail = Automatic Fail

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Ha, for sure. :D

    • David

      And quoting the Guardian = Dismal fail
      and you should have read the article (MET office data) prior to dismissing particularly in light of those quoted within it such as

      “”But according to increasing numbers of serious climate scientists, it does suggest that the computer models that have for years been predicting imminent doom, such as those used by the Met Office and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are flawed, and that the climate is far more complex than the models assert.

      ‘The new data confirms the existence of a pause in global warming,’ Professor Judith Curry, chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science at America’s Georgia Tech university, told me yesterday.

  • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

    1. Yes, climate has always changed. But at the moment, it is changing extremely rapidly, due to human emissions. http://www.skepticalscience.com/climate-change-little-ice-age-medieval-warm-period.htm
    2. Actually, you need to make a 180 degree turn. The GOP championed greater use of “climate change” because it sounded less scary. Furthermore, global warming and climate change are two diff things and have both been in the scientific literature for many decades. http://www.skepticalscience.com/print.php?r=326

    3. Global warming has not stopped. What you’ve written is complete nonsense. http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-warming-stopped-in-1998-intermediate.htm http://www.skepticalscience.com/global-cooling-january-2007-to-january-2008.htm
    Here’s a good graphic for your kind: http://www.skepticalscience.com/graphics.php?g=47

    4. Again, you’re misinformed (I wonder by whom): a very small number of scientists were concerned about global cooling back then, others were concerned about warming. Obviously, as the science became more clear, the consensus formed that we are causing extreme global warming.
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/What-1970s-science-said-about-global-cooling.html
    http://www.skepticalscience.com/ice-age-predictions-in-1970s.htm

    • David

      Zachary

      You really should read more than skeptical science – have a look at their “team” only one has any qualifications re “Climate Change” most of the rest are in computer science or in some cases no qualifications at all

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        I read much more than SkS, but they have excellent posts dealing with specific issues… and they do good *science* or communicate very well regarding science conducted by others, which is critical.

    • vetxcl

      Excellent. Thanks for the links.

    • Mary

      1. Yes, climate has always changed. But at the moment, it is changing extremely rapidly, due to human emissions.

      Intresting statement, +100500

      http://www.plagiarismdetect.com

      • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

        Are you responding to the fact that this line was quoted? (With the source linked right below it.)

  • David Graham

    Climate change occurs constantly and has for millions of years which is why Global Warmists moved away from that terminology to “Climate Change” because the new heading will always be right.Here is latest data from the peak imminent body who originally flagged the world was coming to an end through man made Global warming.http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2217286/Global-warming-stopped-16-years-ago-reveals-Met-Office-report-quietly-released–chart-prove-it.htmlan interesting point raised here is this: “the ‘plateau’ or ‘pause’ (1996 – 2012) in global warming has now lasted for about the same time as the previous period when temperatures rose, 1980 to 1996. (The figures Al Gore used and most global warmists continue to use) Before that, temperatures had been stable or declining for about 40 years. (which is why in the 60-70’s the scientists were saying Global Climate is cooling) (My comments in brackets)But that didn’t sit well with all Global Politicians looking for a new “”Cash cow tax system” ie ETS or Carbon TaxHence the push to employ thousands of “Global Warming Scientists” to confirm and push the new agenda.

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  • doctordawg

    If plants convert CO2 to oxygen, and animals convert oxygen to CO2, doesn’t eating animals reduce their CO2 emissions because, well, I ate them? And don’t vegans reduce valuable carbon sequestering vegetation by eating it? How about the millions of bugs, worms, small rodents and bird eggs that are mercilessly torn apart as the plow rips through their habitat to plant wheat? I think the inarguable truth that pure vegetable diets lack what humans need, especially B vitamins, proves we are not designed (or did not evolve) to be vegetarians. It is an undeniable fact that life consumes life, and that the delicious lobster on your plate would just as enthusiastically eat YOU if you drowned and dropped to the bottom of the bay.

    Life consumes life, or it dies. Oh sure, sustainability is a worthy pursuit, but vegans are lying to themselves.

    • doctordawg

      BTW, I’m kidding about the plant-eating-reduces-carbon-sequestration part:)

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

      1. the issue is, the industry of livestock production is the problem.

      2. a ton more vegetation is consumed by animals in livestock production than would be by humans.

      3. do you really think these researchers haven’t thought of such things?

      4. again, more crops are grown for livestock production than would be for human if we were all vegans.

      5. there is a TON more proof, actually, that humans are designed to be vegetarians. see: http://eatdrinkbetter.com/2012/06/05/the-nope-files-failed-anti-veg-argument-2-eating-meat-is-natural/

      6. life consumes life, but if you can’t tell the different between a pod of peas and a lobster, there’s not much i can do for you.

      7. humans have a unique ability to discriminate and moralize. it’s a shame we don’t use it more for the good of others.

      sorry, it seems you are earnest in your thoughts, but they are a bit off.

      • doctordawg

        I’m just doing a thought experiment. Vegetarianism is obviously a choice, not a “more healthy” diet, and that’s fine. The article about “refrigeration is unnatural” can be an equally good argument both for and against eating meat.

        I don’t eat cow at all for one reason: when a Colorado rancher requested to test virtually every one of his cattle for so-called “mad cow” at his own expense so he could sell his beef as “100% Tested”, the USDA forbade him from doing it. Even though I, and millions of carnivores, would gladly spend extra for the peace of mind, the Feds said no. Something is very, very wrong with this. You can do the math for yourself, but as for me, no beef.
        I get about half of my daily protein from this vegan source:
        http://www.truenutrition.com/p-1169-vegan-protein-optimizer-formula-1lb.aspx?
        partly because it’s so dang cheap, and partly because it keeps me (pardon the frankness) flatulence-free, unlike cheap whey protein supps. But turkey, chicken, fish, pork, fresh from reliable sources in reasonable quantities are fine by me, and keep my BMI in the “healthy” range as Dr. Atkins said it would.

        • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

          Thanks. From what I’ve read, vegetarians live longer and healthier lives. From the most comprehensive studies on the matter I’ve seen.

          • Wisdo

            From what I’ve read vegans suffer from malnutrition, so lets go easy on the anecdotal evidence.

            People will continue to eat meat with their omnivorous teeth design, and digest it with their omnivores’ gut. The problem is not what people eat or how people live or how much they recycle or don’t recycle or how much power they use or whatever – the problem is there are too darned many people and the solution to all of humanities most pressing problems is population control. Like it or not, we could recycle with 100% efficiency, eat only plankton and live in huts made of seaweed – we would STILL run out of natural resources and degrade the earths biosphere if we keep adding billions to the population. One planet can only sustain so many people. Sooner or later this nettle will need to be grasped.

          • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

            Sorry, but I’m not talking about anecdotal evidence, I’m talking about academic studies and science.

            But yes, we have too many people, and especially too many people consuming far more than they need, to sustain the natural resources we rely on.

  • JuicySteak

    I hope you all save the world and everything, but I just wanted to point out a couple of things.

    You are a mammal with eyes on the front of your head and sharp teeth. You are a predator. You evolved or were designed to (whichever theory you subscribe to) eat meat.

    I suppose that you could argue that our brains, society, and civiliazion are advanced enough to move past that. They aren’t though. We kill each other, breed like rabbits, and brest feed like monkeys among other things. We are simply animals with a superiority complex.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan
      • Wisdo

        Sorry, but humans have the urge to kill animals and eat their flesh. Trying to convince them that this is an “unnatural” state of affairs is foolish.

        • http://zacharyshahan.com Zachary Shahan

          Sorry, Wisdo, but that’s simply not true for the species as a whole. Many humans have no such urge. In fact, when was the last time you had the urge to kill a dog or cat or cow when you passed it?

  • Dave

    This is just another “study” with a vegan agenda behind it. Grow a garden, check your facts, leave other peoples lifestyles alone.

    EVERY other source I’ve seen attributes between 8% and 17% to the agricultural sector, which includes meat production. As well as all other food.
    Transportation and electricity production usually account for 61% (combined) according to the US government.
    http://climate.dot.gov/about/transportations-role/overview.html

    So maybe think about how far something you are eating was shipped. Eating LOCAL prevents so much more GH gases than a change in diet.
    I call bullsh*t.

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