As a performing magician, I naturally take a keen interest in deception. So it was also with a professional, not merely personal, interest that I watched the spectacular fraud perpetrated on the world’s public in Paris last month, as political leaders from nearly 200 nations signed the first universal treaty to limit the carbon gases causing global warming.
Politicians described the agreement in triumphal terms, as a “turning point” in history. Humanity had dodged a bullet, they said. Now, we could all breathe easier. “Climate justice has won & we are all working towards a greener future,” as President Modi of India put it in a Tweet.
In reality, the happy talk by elites in Paris resembled a skilled magician’s use of patter to misdirect his audience, only on a global scale. A top stage illusionist like David Copperfield can make a Lamborghini vanish right under the noses of his audience. But that is nothing compared to what played in Paris, where the world’s political elites made the global warming crisis itself disappear — by creating the illusion of decisive action, where in fact there was nothing.
Ostensibly, the Paris agreement commits its signatories to hold warming of the earth’s atmosphere to 1.5% degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. But as Bill McKibben recently pointed out, even if the signatories stay true to their promises — and the agreement has no enforcement mechanism to ensure that they do — the earth’s atmosphere is still expected to warm to at least 6.3 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels.
How bad would that be? Consider that today we are at just one degree Celsius, or about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, above preindustrial levels. That one degree has already melted many of the world’s glaciers, turned the North Pole into a temperate zone, and produced droughts, floods, and wildfires of Biblical proportions across the globe. One degree has radically increased the acidity of the world’s oceans — by 30% — and imperiled the planet’s fresh water resources.
Here in Boston, I spent a surreal Christmas Eve bicycling around my neighborhood clad in jeans and a T-shirt. It was the same story throughout much of the US, where nearly 6,000 temperature records were shattered over the holidays. Tornadoes ravaged parts of Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee, rivers flooded their banks throughout the Midwest. Meanwhile, portions of England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Argentina, Brazil, and Uruguay lay submerged under floodwaters.
The most frightening news, though, came out of the Arctic, where temperatures on New Year’s Day were projected to be more than 60 F. degrees above normal. That made the North Pole, as one reporter observed, “hotter than Chicago, Vienna or Istanbul.”
Such radical gyrations in the climate are already causing unseen suffering and hardship for countless of the earth’s inhabitants. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes or lost their livelihoods as a result of one degree of warming. Farmers in Bangladesh have watched helplessly as ocean water inundates their rice fields. Whole Inuit communities had to be relocated after melting permafrost caused their homes to sink into the ground. In Iraq this summer, the temperature soared to 120 degrees Fahrenheit — 159 degrees with humidity factored in — and remained there for days. Scientists believe that large portions of the Middle East, currently home to 200 million people, will be inhospitable to human life by the end of the century.
But it is the other beings we share the earth with who are losing the most. Everywhere, animals are struggling in vain to adapt to the rapidly changing climate. In Europe and Asia, bears have stopped hibernating. In Alaska, walruses are crowding on shore, and trampling each other, because the sea ice they depend upon to survive has vanished. Whales and dolphins are dying in droves. Sea lions in California are starving. Penguins, lost and disoriented, have washed up on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. Tens of millions of bats have perished from white nose fungus. Hundreds of monkeys in Costa Rica starved to death, or succumbed to illness, when ceaseless winter rains kept them from coming down from their trees to forage.
And on and on, across the phylogenetic spectrum. Homo sapiens is causing the greatest mass species extinction event in over 60 million years. And global warming is radically accelerating the process.
All of this, and much more, from atmospheric warming of less than 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Now, imagine ratcheting that up by an additional five, or six, degrees. Or, in all likelihood, more than that. Because there is no reason to believe that the countries that signed the Paris agreement will fulfill even their existing inadequate promises.
What will so hot a world look like? Which of the many thousands of species clinging today to the knife’s edge of survival will survive?
In the absence of decisive international action, clearly, we are going to turn the planet into a living Hell. Meanwhile, the closer one looks at the details of the Paris accord, the more the latter resembles a stage illusion — a hollow shell carefully constructed to resemble something solid.
Much has been made of the pledge of the wealthy nations to help poorer ones offset the cost of shifting to renewable energy sources. But the same promises have been made by the wealthy countries before, and they have not been kept. Though vague about how they are going to help the peoples of the global South, wealthy nations were nonetheless careful to include language in the treaty allowing them to offset future C02 emissions through so-called “carbon sinks” — planting trees to recapture CO2. However, since it takes decades for forests to mature, such “sinks” are viewed by most experts as the equivalent of the magician’s legerdemain, a clever manipulation to create the appearance of something out of nothing.
The agreement also says nothing about animal agriculture — the second leading cause of global warming, responsible for more emissions than all cars and trucks combined. The absence of any recommendation to reduce or eliminate animal agriculture is a clear concession to the factory farming and cattle ranching lobbies, which doubtlessly worked hard to keep animal agriculture off the table in climate negotiations.
And so on. Such omissions led James Hansen, the former NASA scientist and a leading authority on climate change, rightly to denounce the Paris agreement as a “fraud” and a “fake.” As Hansen and others suggest, the illusion of action in Paris may in fact prove worse than no action at all. For it has left the public with the mistaken impression that the climate crisis is now going to be dealt with, perhaps even solved, on the cheap, in half-measures, and without disturbing the powerful economic and social forces that profit from ecological destruction. And that is the greatest deception of all.
CORRECTION: This post has been updated to clarify the language used to describe the role of animal agriculture in reference to climate change.
This past summer we saw egg rationing, now milk might be coming up short on demands. If this sounds like the apocalypse — well, it’s actually just Texas. (Video via U.S. Farmers & Ranchers Alliance)
The recent Southern storms that caused major damage in states in and around Texas are now resulting in another problem: lack of milk.
Last summer, several states, including Texas, started coming up short on eggs after the bird flu struck. Stores started rationing the number of cartons consumers bought, and the event was predicted to affect supply over the next year.
It’s unclear if the price of milk will spike, jugs will be rationed or if this will affect other states. One U.S. Department of Agriculture report says Texas isn’t one of the top five dairy contributors for the U.S., but the 27 million residents of Texas will certainly be affected. (Video via Texas Farm Bureau)
by Sea Shepherd’s Captain Paul Watson
COP 21 – The Positives and the Negatives
The positive: (1) The attention of the world has been focused on the issue of climate change. (2) The issue has been given great credibility through the recognition and participation of 195 nations. (3) there will most likely be a surge in support for alternative energy technologies. (4) It could have been worst.
The negatives: (1) Having attended these international conferences since 1972 I’ve yet to see any past agreements translated… into action. So we shall see. Promises are cheap. (2) the Ocean was virtually ignored. (3) Oxygen depletion was completely ignored as was phytoplankton diminishment. (4) the issue of animal agriculture was not only ignored it, the food concessions at the events contradicted that concern 100%. Serving fish and chips during an ocean forum and hamburgers at forums dealing with greenhouse gas emissions was a disconnect that was painfully obvious. You would think the delegates and the NGO’s could have weathered a meat free two weeks considering that the animal agriculture industry slaughtering 65 billion animals a year produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation industry. (5) and no one wanted to hear about cutting off the 75 + billion dollar government subsidies to the industrialized fishing industry.
In the agreement signed in the COP21 climate deal: the words “fossil fuels” do not appear. Neither do the words “oil” or “coal.” I find that quite revealing.
My two solutions to address climate change were two solutions that no one wanted to hear. (1) shut down industrialized fishing and allow the ocean ecosystems to repair themselves. And (2) convert the majority of the 7.5. billion humans on the planet to a plant based diet.
My summation is that this watered down agreement is too little, too late, and what is on paper will most likely not see any realistic application in practice.
Hopefully I will be proven wrong.
The former Nasa scientist criticizes the talks, intended to reach a new global deal on cutting carbon emissions beyond 2020,
“It’s a fraud really, a fake,” he says, rubbing his head. “It’s just bullshit for them to say: ‘We’ll have a 2C warming target and then try to do a little better every five years.’ It’s just worthless words. There is no action, just promises. As long as fossil fuels appear to be the cheapest fuels out there, they will be continued to be burned.”
There is irrefutable evidence that animal agriculture is a key cause of climate change. It is a leading cause of greenhouse-gas emissions, water waste, water pollution, ocean dead zones, deforestation, habitat destruction and species extinction that each significantly impacts the climate. Any global policy that claims to address climate change without addressing the catastrophic impact of animal agriculture is neither honest nor effective. While awareness about the fossil fuel industry is gaining momentum, the impact of animal agriculture on the climate has not received the same global attention.
We call on Ban Ki Moon and the leaders of the 2015 UN Climate Change Conference to ensure that the impact of animal agribusiness on our global climate is comprehensively addressed, and that an urgent action policy be created and made effective immediately.
In part one of this series, I spoke with a representative of the group 269 about their action on World Farm Animals Day, where they were branded with a hot iron with the number of an anonymous calf in an Israeli factory farm.
I was curious about how the group regarded the animal rights movement in Israel and the rest of the world, what tactics and strategies they felt were successful and which are not. What followed was a commentary that was more in-depth than could be digested in a single interview.
I am presenting this provocative and thoughtful response in its entirety, however, many readers will find it unpalatable and even antagonistic towards animal activists. Although it should go without saying, please note that the opinions shared are 269’s and not necessarily this blog’s or my own.
I’m very pessimistic about the chances of the animal rights movement to succeed. If you take into consideration just some of the parameters of the animal rights struggle’s condition and its enemy (almost all of the human race), you have to be pessimistic:
People are inherently selfish. The number of animals who are abused and killed is infinite. The Animal Holocaust occurs worldwide, in every culture, in every country. There are seven billion people in the world right now. Over the next few decades, this number will rise to around nine billion. 80 percent of the population is from undeveloped countries; in a few more decades this will rise to 87 percent. These populations are not open at all to the animal rights idea. Even the other 20 percent aren’t open to the idea, save a minimal percentage of them. 97 out of every 100 new people on the planet are currently born in developing countries. The life expectancy in undeveloped countries will rise in the future and their mortality rates will fall. Many undeveloped countries will be industrialized in the next few decades, which means The Animal Holocaust is going to double or triple itself in numbers.
If we judge reality with our open, objective eyes, we come to the conclusion that the situation is worse than ever. We cannot win, especially not with the path we are taking. I’m not familiar with every detail of the animal rights movement in the rest of the world, besides a few similar parameters every animal rights activist I’ve talked to has told me, and that is that the vegan community in their country is very small, there are too few activists in general from the vegan community, and that most of the activists are speciesists, who prefer humans over animals.
In order to win the animal rights struggle, we need people who will fight, and we need to be stronger than the criminals. As of today, we cannot force animal rights on the human population. There are too little of us, with too little money, and too much of them, with too many advanced technologies. So we need to convince them one way or the other to stop animal exploitation. But, we all know that we cannot convince seven billion people to stop enslaving animals out of their kindness, so in that front – we cannot win.
What we do have is just a bunch of people around the world, not too many, who care for animals, and need to think what can they do. Increasing awareness is no more than a nice way to expand this small circle, but it is sure not a solution to The Animal Holocaust. So we have to think outside the box, in order to beat the vicious enemy.
There are some examples of creative thinking that can lead to a better change in the animals’ condition. Some of them solve it from the root. Some of them can solve it quickly. Some of these ideas are illegal so I won’t write about them here (I’m not talking about ALF of course, it’s not a root solution and surely not a quick one. You can’t liberate 150 billion animals each year worldwide). Some of them are legal and we all should consider them.
For example: acting against human reproduction. It can be even more essential than convincing another meat eater to become vegan. It can also be very effective in underdeveloped countries.
Another way is promoting artificial meat research. I truly agree with David Pearce who said, “In vitro meat [is] perhaps our best hope of getting rid of factory farming everywhere by the middle of the century…I’d much rather everyone listened the moral argument and became vegan today. But we both know how hard it is to argue against moral apathy.”
These are just two examples in the legal pathway. My point is that anyone can find a much better way to achieve animal liberation earlier than by continuing in the failing way of approaching peoples’ kindness. If you appeal only to peoples’ kindness with ethical arguments, you won’t be able to convince many people to become vegan. Every animal rights group around the world includes arguments and campaigns about health, ecology, etc. in addition to the ethical arguments. So actually, by their actions, every animal rights group around the world agrees with me, whether they have the courage to admit it or not. I wouldn’t have a problem with making the world vegan by health reasons if it would succeed, but people don’t care about health, not in numbers that would make 95 percent of the world vegan, and not even 30 percent, but only a few percentage points at all, and only after a certain age (adults care more about health than teenagers).
So by reducing the power of our message from the ethical argument only, to ethical and health and ecology and any other selfish reason, there are two things that happen. One, more people become vegan for reasons other than ethics (selfish reasons). Two, the animal rights movement grows, but the concentration of non-speciesist, committed vegans falls. And that is a procedure that feeds itself, because more speciesist vegans, means more health/ecology campaigns from the animal rights movement, more speciesist people attracted to it, and so on.
The problem with that is what happens here in Israel (and I’m sure all around the world also): many of them stop being vegan after a few years. The ones who stay vegan, are very speciesist and selfish, so they don’t act much and/or won’t care to go far for animal rights even with effective ideas and/or won’t spend time thinking of revolutionary ideas etc. So what we have is an animal rights movement that has reduced its radical message to get the support of more people, but has become so soft and sterile that they are not a meaningful tool in the animal liberation fight. This is what happens when you think short term and not long term; when you are eager to get a few more vegans at any cost.
We are now just in the middle of this evolution of the movement, but as I see it, in the next few decades, the movement in Israel and in some other places (I don’t want to say everywhere as I’m not familiar with what’s going on all around the world will just be a lifestyle movement, very soft, just dealing with themselves and recipes, and here and there tries to convert meat eaters to become vegan, but surely not a revolutionary movement that will be able to make animal liberation happen. Also, if a revolutionary idea for animal liberation comes up, but it contradicts humans’ health for example, this idea won’t be executed by the animal rights movement because it contains too many selfish activists who feel that health of humans is more important for them than animal liberation (examples of this have already happened in Israel and all around the world). So one part of the speciesist activists in our movement are just ordinary people, who became vegan, but from selfish reasons not ethical ones – and they won’t be the key for ending The Animal Holocaust.
A speciesist movement in my opinion will not be able to stop the animal holocaust. If a great idea to liberate animals comes at the expense of humans, those activists won’t execute it. Speciesist people won’t try their best to liberate animals, not by time or money investment, and especially not by hardcore actions that can be effective. That is why it is an important mission for every one of us to try as much as possible to radicalize the animal rights movement, even if the cost is that some activists will be kicked out. Otherwise, we’ll get a kind of a movement that is itself the final verdict to animal liberation. For my opinion it is too late, but I hope I’m wrong.
We cannot liberate animals by appealing to people’s kindness. We cannot liberate animals by appealing to people’s interest in health/ecology. Although we’ll get some more vegans, but surely not significantly more, and the price for that will be ruining the animal rights movement ideology. That is very dangerous, because the only chance for eliminating the animal holocaust is by having a strong ideology-movement that will produce committed activists that will try to end the holocaust in some other ways than propaganda (that will not end the animal holocaust for sure).
The other part of the speciesist activists in our movement are the activists who also take part in human rights actions. This is a problematic and very crucial issue that I don’t want to get into too much because it is another whole interview, but I have to mention it. It’s unacceptable for anyone who consider themselves a non-speciesist vegan person to promote human rights. Can anyone imagine a partisan who fights at noon to liberate Jews from concentration camps held by Nazis, and at night to make conditions for the Nazis better? It’s a contradiction. We, as people who are committed to justice, cannot ignore that contradiction. We need to understand that theoretically, animals deserve rights just as humans deserve rights. Theoretically we are all equal in the moral status, but in reality, human rights come at the expense of animal rights. It’s a fact. As the socio-economic situation of people improves, more animals are abused and murdered. As more countries become free and developed, the more we’ll see industrialized animal agriculture. We mustn’t ignore this paradox. We need to comprehend that humans are the animals’ criminals. Theoretically, all humans deserve rights, but in reality, rapists’ rights come on the expense of women’s rights. We need to choose sides, the animals or the humans – we can’t choose both. Do we want to be on the victims’ side or on the criminals’ side?
This is one reason why we should invest all our time in promoting animal rights, and not be active for people.
The second reason why we should dedicate all of our time to the animal rights struggle is just by taking into consideration some facts. The amount of animals being exploited and murdered each year by humans is about 100,000-1,000,000 times (!) more than the numbers of humans who endure it. The suffering animals go through has no similarity to the human suffering (vivisection, animal agriculture, premarin from horses, gallbladder/bile from bears, hunting, clothing, etc.). The animal rights movement has much less money than the human rights movement and fewer activists than the human rights movement. The media deals with different human issues all day, every day. Humans can fight for themselves, animals can’t.
So after looking at just some of these parameters, combined with the fact that most people are responsible for the animal holocaust, I think it is obvious why every animal rights activist who fights also for human rights is a speciesist, and is making The Animal Holocaust worse.
I think that a simple example will demonstrate it best. Let’s imagine we are walking on a street and we notice 100 people injured. One of them is on the sidewalk, and he is white, and his injury is a cut in his leg because he slipped while he ran. The cut isn’t so deep, no danger of death, but he is bleeding. Also, there are 20 pedestrians near him helping him to cure.
Right next to him, there are 99 black men, lying on the road, injured because of a bus explosion that was caused by the white man above. They are dying, bleeding, screaming from pain, and only one person is trying to help them. What would you do? My answer is simple, if you’d go to help the single white person on the sidewalk, who has so much help, he is only one person, his injury is not severe, and he is the criminal who is responsible for the 99 people’s suffering – you are either a racist or a very, very stupid man. Let’s say, that no one is that stupid, so there is only one conclusion. Let’s replace in this allegory the blacks with animals and the white with the human population – and this is why animal rights activists who are also active for human rights are speciesists.
I know that now, some readers will give many excuses to justify why it is ok to waste time and money to help humans, and as I said before I don’t want to get to every aspect of it, but I still want to answer one popular argument about that, and it’s “but if we help people and better their conditions, they will be more open to the animal rights idea.”
Again, people are inherently selfish. They always feel like victims. They always want more than they have. We are programmed that way. Helping humans won’t make them be more compassionate for animals, so let’s save the time and help directly to animals, that way we cannot lose.
If this logic was true, all the rich people would be vegans, as they have very good socio-economic status, and we would see many countries that are not occupied and not in a war becoming vegan. But the fact is that we cannot find any vegan country in the world. Not even 50 percent, not even 10 percent. Moreover, we don’t even find such a big difference between different countries; it’s always about zero to two percent vegans, even though we’ve had propaganda campaigns for many decades worldwide. The point is, that even if we make the conditions the best possible, maybe we’ll get some more vegans, but surely not in significant numbers that justify fighting for it vicariously by helping people, and spending so much time and money on it. In my opinion, there is a five percent limit that no country will ever cross (especially not for ethical reasons), and for sure hasn’t been crossed yet.
We shouldn’t forget the big implication fighting for human rights causes. When we fight for human rights, and make countries more developed, and giving people better socio-economic conditions, we might get a few more percentage points open to the animal rights idea, but we sure also get industrialization, and more economic options for people that increase the amount of suffering of animals, and the numbers that are being produced and being murdered increase. So in total, more animals will suffer, because it is more relevant how many people are meat-eaters, not how many people are vegans (like if we want to calculate women’s conditions, we need to know how many people are raping, and not how many people aren’t).
The problem as I see it is that we have a speciesist movement that will become even worse as time goes by, and will have less and less real influence on ending the animal holocaust. I hope that this branding action we’ve done, will make activists in the animal rights movement think, and to try and look at the whole picture, and take into consideration all the parameters, and become more committed to the animal rights struggle. After many years in the animal rights movement, I’m not optimistic, but it’s not me who said that the difference between pessimistic and optimistic is that a pessimist is an experienced optimist.
So to sum it up, I want to say that we have to realize that we cannot end the animal holocaust by ethical propaganda (about 95-99 percent of the human population doesn’t care about animals), we cannot end the animal holocaust by health/ecology propaganda (most of the human race doesn’t care about it either, and it will ruin the animal rights movement), we cannot end the animal rights holocaust by forcing animal rights on the human population (as we are weaker than the enemy), and we cannot end the animal holocaust by ALF (as we cannot liberate 150 billion animals each year worldwide).
Also, we have to be aware to the reason that the animal holocaust is happening, and it’s not education (we are being educated since day one to help others, not to abuse animals, to be kind etc.), not our message, not lack of awareness, and nothing else but the simple horrible truth – we are facing about 7 billion selfish, careless people. Most of the human race doesn’t care and will never care for animals, no matter how many videos we will show them, and no matter how many times we will repeat that meat is murder. If we don’t comprehend that, we’ll not be able to end the animal holocaust. Ever.
Paul McCartney’s sentence is preposterous. The slaughterhouses ALREADY HAVE GLASS WALLS! People know that meat is a dead animal’s part. People, in the majority, know how animals get killed (throat slit), and the internet is full of videos and pictures shot at factory farms for anyone to see. So the slaughterhouses already have glass walls, and not everyone is a vegetarian – not even close.
So what can people do?
1. Become activists. Being vegan in this sick world, with this infinite holocaust, is just not enough. It is much more crucial to be an animal rights activist.
2. Be active as much as you can. We must dedicate most of our lives to the animal rights fight (and only to it), as there are too little of us, and too many enemies.
3. Understand that people don’t care about animals and that increasing awareness is not a tool for ending the animal holocaust, it is only to enlarge the small circle of committed animal rights activists. Therefore, we should only do ethics-based campaigns, without dealing with any selfish issues like health/ecology. We mustn’t reduce the power of our message just to earn another moderate, selfish vegan, as the importance of propaganda is to increase our small, non-speciesist circle. We have to radicalize our movement, even if brings less activists to it in the near future, they will be more qualitative and effective.
4. If you continue in the increasing awareness path, try and do campaigns like 269, with hardcore, radical actions, and deal only with the ethics of animal rights.
5. To realize that the sentence “Think globally, act locally” is very problematic, and indicates very closed thinking. We should “Think globally, act globally.” Make actions that have the potential to spread worldwide, with the investment of little money, time and activists have the potential to go worldwide. We lack resources, so we have to be very calculated. Every action must have the potential to be viewed by people in every country in the world. We have to be as efficient as possible to maximize our time and money, as they are limited.
6. Try to organize meetings only with non-speciesist, committed animal rights activists, and think about the big picture. Take into consideration all the parameters that we mention here, and try to think of creative (legal or illegal) solutions that can lead to end the animal holocaust, or maybe parts of it – forever.
7. Join the non-conventional paths I’ve talked about, like promoting artificial meat research, acting against human reproduction etc. I’m not sure we’ll be able to end the animal holocaust, it might be a lost cause, but for sure if we do have a chance, it’s only in the non-conventional ways.
Although rates of consumption vary greatly from country to country, global meat consumption is on the rise. As their middle classes expand, populous countries like China and India have seen an increased demand for meat products. And although growing concerns about the undeniable health and environmental impacts of meat-heavy diets have led to the meatless Monday trend in the U.S., Americans still eat more meat than almost anyone else in the world—an average of 270.7 pounds per person every year.
Factory farming and the use of pesticides and fertilizers have allowed us to mass-produce more food, including meat, than previously possible. However, this increased productivity comes at a cost. Meat production is incredibly resource intensive and environmentally damaging. And if, as projected, global population reaches 9.6 billion people in 2050, the costs will only grow.
Meat and Resource Consumption
Producing meat is a very inefficient process. Livestock production requires significant inputs of food, water, land, and energy in order to raise, transport, and process the animals. We produce more meat today than ever before—about 300 million tons each year. This increased productivity has been made possible due to factory farming methods and increased feedstock production, which has been enhanced with fertilizers and technological and genetic advances. According to the Worldwatch Institute, global meat production has tripled since the 1970s and has risen by 20 percent just between 2000 and 2010.
Such a high rate of meat production takes a heavy toll on natural resources. Growing sufficient crops to feed livestock requires a tremendous amount of land—land which could be more efficiently used for crops. Taking into account the amount of cropland devoted to feedstock, an estimated 75 percent of the world’s agricultural land goes into meat production. Meat production is also extremely water-intensive; producing one pound of meat requires between 5,000 and 20,000 liters of water, while producing one pound of wheat requires much less—between 500 and 4,000 liters.
And the resource costs of meat production don’t end with food and water; fossil fuels are also an essential part of the equation. In terms of the fossil fuel energy required to produce animal protein, broilers—that is, chickens raised for consumption—are the most efficient with an energy input to kcal ratio of 4:1. Pork is much less efficient at a ratio of 14:1, and beef is even less efficient; the ratio for energy input to protein is 40:1. For all animal protein production, the average ratio of energy input to protein is 25:1, over 10 times greater than the energy needed to produce one kcal of plant protein. The inefficiencies of meat production are also apparent in the feedstock inputs. For each kilogram of broiler meat produced, 2.3 kilograms of grain is required. One kilogram of beef requires a total of 43 kilograms of grain and forage input.
“There will not be enough water available on current croplands to produce food for the expected population of 9 billion in 2050 if we follow current trends and changes towards diets common in western nations.”
—Malin Falkenmark, Senior Scientific Advisor, Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI)
Meat and Pollution
Meat production is not only resource intensive. It is also a source of significant air and water pollution. In order to feed the growing livestock population, the agricultural process has continued to intensify, relying heavily on the application of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Aside from the depletion of resources necessary to produce these fertilizers, runoff from their use causes extensive environmental damage. This is compounded by the effect of manure runoff from the livestock production system. In China, agriculture is the leading driver of water pollution due to manure and fertilizer runoff, both associated with the industrialized livestock production system. Phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients from this runoff flow into waterways and cause toxic algal blooms. These blooms then deprive areas of oxygen, hurting fish populations and affecting those who rely on fishing for income or for sustenance.
Global meat production is also responsible for a significant fraction of all greenhouse gas emissions—between 7 and 18 percent, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide are the primary greenhouse gasses associated with livestock production. This includes direct emissions from enteric fermentation (a digestion process for ruminants such as cattle and sheep) and indirect emissions from the conversion of forests and other vegetated lands into arable land for feed production. Additional greenhouse gas emissions linked to the production process come from the application of chemical fertilizers on crops that feed the livestock, manure management, and international transport. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ruminant livestock produce 80 million metric tons of methane each year, making up 28 percent of all methane gas emissions worldwide.
Toward a Sustainable Future
Meeting global animal protein demands places a heavy burden on our natural resources, thus threatening our ability to feed our rapidly growing global population. As demand for meat increases, so too will associated greenhouse gas emissions. Soil will erode as land is continually used for crop production—most of which is converted into livestock feed—water resources will be strained, and forests will be degraded as agricultural land expands to meet animal protein demands.
According to Vaclav Smil, professor of environment and geography at the University of Manitoba, if everyone in the world ate as much meat as the average person in the Western world, we would need two-thirds more land than we are currently using. As global population grows and demand for animal proteins increases, this shortfall will only grow. Reducing meat consumption and choosing sustainably produced meats could help lighten the burden meat production currently places on our resources. However, in order to feed the more than 9 billion people projected to live on our planet by 2050, we will need to make dramatic changes to our meat production systems, as current practices are simply unsustainable. Stabilizing our population will be vital as we strive to meet global nutritional needs.
Humans will be extinct in 100 years because the planet will be uninhabitable, said the late Australian microbiologist Frank Fenner, one of the leaders in the effort to eradicate smallpox during the 1970s. He blamed overcrowding, denuded resources and climate change.
Fenner’s prediction, made in 2010, is not a sure bet, but he is correct that there is no way emissions reductions will be enough to save us from our trend toward doom. And there doesn’t seem to be any big global rush to reduce emissions, anyway. When the G7 called on Monday for all countries to reduce carbon emissions to zero in the next 85 years, the scientific reaction was unanimous: That’s far too late.
And no possible treaty that emerges from the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany, in preparation for November’s United Nations climate conference in Paris, will be sufficient. At this point, lowering emissions is just half the story — the easy half. The harder half will be an aggressive effort to find the technologies needed to reverse the climate apocalypse that has already begun.
For years now, we have heard that we are at a tipping point. Al Gore warned us in An Inconvenient Truth that immediate action was required if we were to prevent global warming. In 2007, Sir David King, former chief scientific advisor to the British government, declared, “Avoiding dangerous climate change is impossible – dangerous climate change is already here. The question is, can we avoid catastrophic climate change?” In the years since, emissions have risen, as have global temperatures. Only two conclusions can be drawn: Either these old warnings were alarmist, or we are already in far bigger trouble than the U.N. claims. Unfortunately, the latter seems to be the case.
Lowering emissions and moving to cleaner energy sources is a necessary step to prevent catastrophic temperature rises. The general target is to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius. Higher increases — like the 5C increase currently projected by 2100 — run the risk of widespread flooding, famine, drought, sea-level rise, mass extinction and, worse, the potential of passing a tipping point (frequently set at 6C) that could render much of the planet uninhabitable and wipe out most species. Even the 2C figure predicts more than a meter’s rise in sea levels by 2100, enough to displace millions. It is no wonder that the Pentagon calls climate change a serious “threat multiplier” and is considering its potential disruptive impact across all its planning.
This is where the U.N. talks fall short — by a mile. The targets proffered by the United States (a 26 percent to 28 percent decrease from 2005 levels by 2025), the European Union (a 40 percent decrease from 1990 levels by 2030) and China (an unspecified emissions peak by 2030) are nowhere near enough to keep us under the 2C target. In 2012, journalist Bill McKibben, in a feature for Rolling Stone, explained much of the math behind the current thinking on global warming. He concluded that the United Nations’ figures were definitely on the rosy side. In particular, McKibben noted that the temperature has already increased 0.8C, and even if we were to stop all carbon-dioxide emissions today, it would increase another 0.8C simply due to the existing carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. That leaves only a 0.4C buffer before hitting 2C. Even assuming the Paris conference implements everything that’s promised, we will be on track to use up the remaining “carbon budget” — the amount of carbon we can emit without blowing past the 2C threshold — within two to three decades, not even at mid-century.
These emissions-reduction frameworks, it is safe to say, are simply insufficient. By themselves, they only offer a small chance of preventing the earth from becoming mostly uninhabitable – for humans at least — over the next few centuries. For the talks to be more than just a placebo, they need to encompass aggressive plans for climate mitigation, with the assumption that current wishful targets won’t be met.
Apart from coordination to cope with climate-driven crises and associated instability, climate-change leadership needs to encourage and fund the development of technologies to reverse what we are unable to stop doing to our planet. Many of these technologies fall under the rubric of “carbon sequestration” — safely storing carbon rather than emitting it. Riskier strategies, like injecting sulfates into the air to reflect more of the sun’s heat into space and ocean iron fertilization to grow algae to suck in carbon, run a high risk of unintended consequences. Better and safer solutions to reduce CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere don’t yet exist; we need to discover them and regulate them, to avoid the chaos of what economists Gernot Wagner and Martin L. Weitzman term “rogue geoengineering” in their book Climate Shock.
None of these approaches are substitutes for emissions reductions. Achieving a carbon-neutral society is a necessary long-term goal regardless of other technological fixes. Technology could buy us the time to get there without our planet burning up. Ultimately, we need a Cold War-level of investment in research into new technologies to mitigate the coming effects of global warming. Without it, the United Nations’ work is a nice gesture, but hardly a meaningful one.
A Costco egg supplier was recently found cramming chickens into tiny cages, forcing birds to live in cages with the decayed, mummified corpses of their dead cage-mates, and engaging in other inhumane practices that are bad for animals and food safety. This is in stark contrast to the happy hens and green fields depicted on egg cartons sold at Costco.
It’s been eight years since Costco indicated publicly that it wanted to eliminate cage confinement of chickens from its supply chain. Let the company know that now is the perfect time to go cage-free!