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Cowspiracy: stampeding in the wrong direction?

10-02-16-cowspiracy-kip-andersen-590.png [Related Image]
Kip Andersen, Director of Cowspiracy, in Paris during the COP21 climate talks.

There’s much to admire in Kip Andersen’s viral documentary, but its political framing – and a head-slapping statistical error – threaten to undermine its core message. Long term vegan Danny Chivers ruminates on the matter.

‘Why do you keep talking about fossil fuels? Don’t you know that animal agriculture is the biggest cause of global warming? Why don’t you campaign on that? Watch Cowspiracy!’

If you’ve posted anything online about fossil fuels and climate change lately, the chances are you’ve seen a response like this. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret may have started as a crowdfunded documentary by US filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn but following a year of online success a new version of the film – executive produced by Hollywood star Leonardo DiCaprio – has now been launched on Netflix. The film follows Andersen’s investigation into the climate impact of animal agriculture, and his attempts to get a series of large US environmental NGOs to speak to him about it. It’s a compellingly told story, as most of the green groups seem reluctant to answer his questions or to justify their focus on fossil fuels rather than livestock emissions.

The film has built a sizable and vocal following, as evidenced by the critical Cowspiracy-inspired comments that frequently pop up on articles about climate change, bemoaning the lack of coverage of the climate impact of animal agriculture. In Paris for the climate talks in December, there was no escape either. I spotted the headline statistic from the documentary – ‘animal agriculture is responsible for 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions’ – emblazoned on at least one placard or banner at most of the protests I attended in Paris. Kip Andersen himself even turned up at the anti-oil protest outside the Louvre, with a film camera and the 51 per cent figure printed on his shirt, presumably to denounce such fossil-fuel-bashing antics as a waste of time compared to stopping the livestock industry.

There’s only one problem with this eye-grabbing stat: it’s a load of manure. Emissions from livestock agriculture – including the methane from animals’ digestive systems, deforestation, land use change and energy use – make up around 15 per cent of global emissions, not 51 per cent. I’ve been vegan for 14 years and have been asked to justify my dietary weirdness at more friend and family meals than I can count, so believe me – I’ve looked into it. If meat and dairy really were the biggest cause of global climate change I’d be trumpeting that statistic myself every chance I got.


NoNonsense: Renewable Energy by Danny Chivers. Buy the book. New Internationalist

But I don’t. Because it’s not true. The 51 per cent number comes from a single non-peer-reviewed report by two researchers – a report littered with statistical errors. This study counts the climate impact of methane from animals as being more than three times more powerful as methane from other sources [1], adds in an inappropriate chunk of extra land use emissions [2], and incorrectly includes all the carbon dioxide that livestock breathe out [3].

Setting aside this deeply flawed paper and looking instead at more reliable studies, we find that livestock’s real climate impacts – methane, land use change, energy use – make up just under 15 per cent of the global total.

The thing is, 15 per cent is still a huge amount, more than all of the world’s cars, ships, trains and planes put together. Environmental campaigners – including large NGOs - certainly should be doing more to tackle it. Which is why the 51 per cent fake statistic is so painfully groan-inducing. It undermines an important argument and makes otherwise well-meaning people look foolish when they use it.

It’s perfectly possible to make a powerful environmental case against the meat and dairy industry without using made-up numbers. A lot of the rest of Cowspiracy does just that – the film is packed with plenty of real facts about the dreadful deforestation, water use, and local environmental damage caused by animal agriculture. But there’s another major problem with the documentary: it’s built on the assumption that persuading Western people to change their lifestyles is the best way to save the world.

The film presents its viewers with a conundrum: why have the big green NGOs been telling us all to cycle and change our lightbulbs, when they should have been telling us to go vegan? The suggestion that, in fact, neither of those options are going to lead to significant political change never gets a look-in. I hope that wealthier people in the Global North do voluntarily reduce their impact on the climate – through their travel habits, their diets, and everything else – but this is never going to be enough on its own. We need major changes in the energy, transport and food production infrastructures of the industrialized nations to create affordable, climate-friendly alternatives for all. We also need – as Southern campaigners at COP21 worked hard to point out – a transfer of money and technology from North to South, to allow people to develop out of poverty without trashing the climate. These changes won’t happen without serious political pressure from a global movement for sustainability and justice. Buying a greener brand of toilet paper or cutting meat and dairy out of your diet isn’t going to make that happen.

RELATED: Paris climate summit: Heroes, villains and why there’s still hope, New Internationalist magazine November 2015, Issue 487

Cowspiracy also seems to assume that the only people worth targeting with its message are white, Northern and middle-class. One of the most problematic lines in the film is when a commentator says ‘it’s not possible to be a meat-eating environmentalist.’ This statement is presumably meant to prick the consciences of well-off US eco-activists but it sweeps the struggles of millions of poorer Southern and Indigenous peoples under the carpet. Most of the people fighting for a safer global environment aren’t middle-class Northern folks with carbon-heavy lifestyles. They are the people engaged in frontline battles against fossil fuels, local pollution, and – yes – livestock megafarm projects around the world, and they are leading the way in the defence of our shared climate. By focusing on veganism to the exclusion of all else, Cowspiracy implies that if any of these frontline defenders – including the murdered Brazilian land rights campaigners mentioned in the film – eat meat then they’re not ‘proper’ environmentalists. This is deeply offensive and exclusive, and also ignores the cultural importance of hunted meat in many Indigenous societies. To build the genuinely international climate movement we desperately need, Northern campaigners need to think carefully about the language they use to challenge the industrial livestock industry, and avoid sweeping statements that ignore the struggles of millions of people across the world.

So to anyone who’s been moved by Cowspiracy and wants to take action on animal agriculture, I have a few friendly suggestions:

  1. Don’t use the 51 per cent figure. Please. You’re making us all look bad.
  2. Please do go vegan, but remember that it won’t lead to political change by itself. Look for groups and campaigns that are pushing for meaningful action on this issue, or who have good, thoughtful strategies for challenging the culture of mass meat and dairy consumption in industrialized nations.
  3. Resist the temptation to just preach at everyone about veganism. Instead, be prepared to work with non-vegan groups and networks as part of a broader movement for fair and sustainable agriculture, especially those representing agricultural workers, small farmers and Southern communities (such as La Via Campesina).
  4. If you want more people to understand that animal agriculture is a significant part of the climate change picture, bear in mind that there are lots of good reasons why many people are focusing on the fossil fuel industry and it’s not an either/or issue. Fossil fuels are the biggest cause of climate change, and the companies that profit from them wield huge political power. We need to find ways to support each other’s causes and tackle all these problems together, rather than fight over which one is more important.
  5. Find meaningful ways to act in solidarity with people on the frontlines of this issue. For example, if you want to stop the mass felling of trees for cattle ranching and other destructive industries, one of the most effective things you can do is to support forest peoples in their struggle to defend their land rights.
  6. Turn up, join in, and help out. The UK Climate Camps – and their successors, the Reclaim the Power anti-fracking camps – have been challenging the fossil fuel industry since 2006, and have had entirely vegan kitchens for the whole of that time. This is largely due to the fact that enough vegan campaigners were practically involved from the beginning, making the case for animal-free cookery while also playing an active part in the camps themselves. This seems a far more effective way to win people over to the importance of livestock’s climate impact than posting snarky messages on strangers’ Facebook walls.

Well, that’s enough from me – I’ve got a butternut squash that needs roasting. I look forward to sharing houmous sandwiches with you all on an anti-fracking blockade somewhere soon.

Danny Chivers is a professional carbon analyst, performance poet, climate activist, and author of the No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change and No-Nonsense Renewable Energy.

[1] The standard way to measure the climate impact of greenhouse gases is over a 100-year time period. However, this method tends to downplay the importance of methane, which is a greenhouse gas that has a more powerful impact than CO2, but remains in the atmosphere for a much shorter time. The authors of the report argue that if we instead consider global warming over a 20-year time period, the impact of the methane from cattle is three times higher. They therefore triple the impact of the methane from livestock in their calculations. However, they do not carry out the same tripling effect on all the rest of the methane produced by human activities – for example, from reservoirs, coal mines and natural gas production. This therefore overinflates the importance of livestock compared with other sources of greenhouse gas.

[2] The study makes an estimate of how much CO2 would be saved each year if all the land used for livestock was turned back into forest and allowed to photosynthesize. This is an interesting calculation, but the authors then make the error of adding these imaginary ‘what if’ emissions onto the real-life annual emissions from the livestock industry. This is a major accounting error – it’s adding together apples and oranges (or possibly pigs and chickens). It makes about as much sense as saying that the annual emissions from fossil fuels should include all the emissions that would have been sucked out of the air if all the oil drillers and coal miners had instead been employed planting trees. It’s an imaginary number, and has no place in a study that claims to present livestock emissions as a meaningful percentage of the global total.

[3] The CO2 from cattle’s breathing is cancelled out by the carbon sucked out of the air by the plants eaten by the cattle in the first place. Animal respiration is part of a cycle, not a source of emissions, which is why it is not included in any serious climate change studies.

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  1. #1 John 10 Feb 16

    It's probably also one of the hardest subjects to make headway on. Peoples' diets are not the easiest thing to change unless they really get it, in which case the full frontal that I suspect Cowspiracy is is not needed.

    Veg stew, cooked with lard though, it's a by product and its the fats I miss...

  2. #2 Nickolas A 10 Feb 16

    More to the point, livestock (like automobiles) are a
    human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human
    times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no
    more natural than one from an auto tailpipe. Moreover,
    while over time an equilibrium of CO2 may exist between the
    amount respired by animals and the amount photosynthesized
    by plants, that equilibrium has never been static. Today,
    tens of billions more livestock are exhaling CO2 than in preindustrial
    days, while Earth’s photosynthetic capacity (its
    capacity to keep carbon out of the atmosphere by absorbing
    it in plant mass) has declined sharply as forest has been
    cleared. (Meanwhile, of course, we add more carbon to the
    air by burning fossil fuels, further overwhelming the carbonabsorption
    system.)
    The FAO asserts that livestock respiration is not listed as a
    recognized source of GHGs underthe Kyoto Protocol, although
    in fact the Protocol doeslist CO2with no exception, and“other”
    is included as a catchall category. For clarity, it should be listed
    separately in whatever protocol replaces Kyoto.
    It is tempting to exclude one or another anthropogenic
    source of emissions from carbon accounting—according to
    one’s own interests—on the grounds that it is offset by photosynthesis.
    But if it is legitimate to count as GHG sources
    fossil-fuel-driven automobiles,which hundreds of millions of
    people do not drive, then it is equally legitimate to count livestock
    respiration. Little or no livestock product is consumed by
    hundreds of millions of humans, and no livestock respiration
    (unlike human respiration) is needed for human survival. By
    keeping GHGs attributable to livestock respiration off GHG
    balance sheets, it is predictable that they will not be managed
    and their amount will increase—as in fact is happening.
    Carbon dioxide from livestock respiration accounts for 21
    percent of anthropogenic GHGs worldwide, according to a
    2005 estimate by British physicist Alan Calverd. He did not
    provide the weight of this CO2, but it works out to about
    8,769 million tons.Calverd’s estimate is the only original estimate
    of its type, but because it involves only one variable (the
    total mass of all livestock, as all but cold-blooded farmed fish
    exhale roughly the same amount of CO2 per kilogram), all calculations
    of CO2 from the respiration of a given weight of
    livestock would be about the same.
    Calverd’s estimate did not account for the fact that CO2
    from livestock respiration is excluded from global GHG inventories.
    It also did not account for the GHGs newly attributed
    to livestock in our analysis.After adding all relevant GHGs to
    global GHG inventories, the percentage of GHGs attributable
    to livestock respiration drops from 21 percent to 13.7 percent.

  3. #3 Chomping climate change 10 Feb 16

    Danny Chivers claims that livestock agriculture “make up around 15 percent of global emissions” and cites analysis from FAO livestock specialists, claiming that their analysis makes “a powerful environmental case against the meat and dairy industry”. But those livestock specialists' analysis actually attributes most livestock emissions to pasture-raised cattle – so their analysis prescribes no less meat or dairy, but rather a lot more factory farming.

    Those livestock specialists’ analysis was originally published by the FAO, not in any independent journal – so it didn’t undergo independent peer review, which Danny Chivers otherwise claims is important.

    Mr. Chivers fails to disclose that the 51% analysis that he bashes was written by environmental specialists employed by the World Bank Group (including the legendary Robert Goodland) - and that their analysis has been referenced in the most positive ways possible by Bill Gates, the New York Times, the UN, and many others, and noted at http://bit.ly/1Lg5Hjj.

    In fact, contrary to Mr. Chivers’ claim, the 51% analysis underwent lots of independent peer review, as documented – along with responses to all of Mr. Chivers’ other complaints about the 51% figure – at http://bit.ly/1MuyMdR. In other words, Mr. Chivers’s claims don’t stand up to scrutiny.

  4. #4 Naked Environmentist 10 Feb 16

    Too bad they blow it with a few bad numbers. But ’sustainability and justice’ blew this rebuttal even though the words are vague, they strongly indicate man can get out of this predictument called the sixth extinction event.

  5. #5 Niall 11 Feb 16

    I have to agree and disagree with you.
    Yes it was one report that was sighted that gage 51% but since the EPA in the States are banned from collecting actual figures then the official numbers are higher than the official UN figures.
    The Cowspiracy figure also took into account deforestation which I believe is accounted for separately. Ireland's figures alone are 30% of emissions and we are way behind on targets so our emissions ate high.
    I wait with interest for the next study which shows that animal agriculture is way higher than 13%, which it has to be when all the consequences are factored in.
    I still think 30-40% range would be more appropriate given known figures but not 51%.

  6. #6 Joe 11 Feb 16

    Another author who's looked at the 51% figure:

    http://www.terrapass.com/society/livestock-responsible-for-51-of-greenhouse-gas-emissions/

  7. #7 dannychivers 11 Feb 16

    Hi everyone, thanks for the comments.

    ’Nickolas A’, ’Chomping Climate Change’ and ’Niall’: Just to clarify, the 15% figure DOES include deforestation and all the other significant climate impacts from livestock. Let me stress again - that's a huge number from a single industry, and something we urgently need to tackle. Which is why we don't need to use the highly dodgy 51% figure.

    The reason why the 15% figure is more reliable than the 51% isn't about peer review (although a decent peer review process should have pulled out the errors in the 51% statistic) it's to do with the accounting and statistical errors that I explain in the article.

    To respond to a specific point: we absolutely should not include the CO2 from cattle's breathing. This is by its very nature a short-term carbon cycle - CO2 is constantly being pulled from the air by the plants grown to feed the cattle, at (more or less) the same rate as it is being breathed out by the cattle themselves. Methane is a different matter, because it has a greater climate impact than CO2, so represents CO2 being pulled from the atmosphere, transformed into a stronger greenhouse gas, and then being expelled by the cows. This is why we count the methane from cows' digestion, but not the CO2.

    Meanwhile, in addition to this, the other two points I mention in the article (the imaginary extra land use and the treatment of livestock methane as more powerful than methane from other sources) are big enough errors to discredit the 51% study by themselves.

    I'm not claiming that the 15% figure is perfect, but it's the best estimate we have at the moment and so it's the one we should use. And, as I say, it should be big and hairy enough by itself to spur us all into action.

    ’Naked Environmentalist’ - that's a very fatalistic viewpoint. Personally, even if there's a 98% chance that it's too late and we're all screwed, I'm going to keep fighting for that 2% possibility. Particularly because I'm lucky enough to not be personally facing the brunt of climate change myself right now, which gives me the privilege and the responsibility to stand up for climate justice in any way I can. Those on the frontlines of fossil fuel extraction and climate chaos don't have the luxury of that choice.

  8. #8 Anna 11 Feb 16

    Can I also recommend The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith? Like me, she was a vegan whose metabolism didn't work on a vegan diet. We both suffered serious health problems that healed with a return of animal products to the diet. She makes a strong case for organic and non-industrial animal farming methods as lower environmental impact than industrial farming for vegan staples like soy and wheat.

    It's worth reading for anyone who is researching their diet's environmental impact as a basis for big decisions on lifestyle change.

  9. #9 A 11 Feb 16

    Good article! I am a vegan animal rights activist but I cringe at the whole 51%/’you can't be an environmentalist and eat meat’ crowd.

    However, it's in people's nature to look for easy, one-sentence answers to problems, in this case: ’to stop climate change go vegan’.

    Alas, climate change is far more complex in both its causes and solutions, but to recognise and act on that requires thinking outside one's comfort zone and established beliefs and values. So ’go vegan and save the planet’ it is for these people.

    Also what people don't realise is that veganism is hard to legislate for, which I'd imagine is why NGOs don't campaign on it. That, and the fact that a lot of climate change activists can't handle the idea of giving up meat, it must be said.

    Ironically, I've noticed it's the ’51%’ people who are most likely to go flying around the world in aeroplanes, whilst feeling smug with themselves and their carbon footprint, which makes me apoplectic! You know who you are!

  10. #10 Chomping climate change 11 Feb 16

    Mr. Chivers, with all due respect, the 15% figure does not count all the impacts from deforestation caused by livestock. It counts only the relatively small amount of emissions from annual deforestation - and it fails to count the much larger amount of carbon absorption forgone by the use of 45% of all land on earth for livestock and feed production. The FAO itself has been counting such carbon absorption forgone, using the term ’carbon debt’ - except the FAO has only focused so far on crops used for biofuel, and inexplicably hasn't yet focused on crops used for animals, as you can see at https://vimeo.com/50714906.

    Also, your claim that CO2 in livestock's breath shouldn't be counted is refuted in many places - e.g., at http://bit.ly/1XlAzWb.

    In fact, the 15% figure that you claim is the best available one was developed through a clear conflict of interest - i.e., in a partnership between livestock industry associations and the FAO, as documented by the FAO itself, and cheered by livestock and feed industry interests; anyone can use the search term ’FAO-led partnership’ on the internet to see this for themselves.

  11. #11 Chomping climate change 11 Feb 16

    Mr. Chivers, regarding your points about land use and methane, which you claim discredit the 51% estimate: Those points have been addressed by the authors of the 51% estimate, Goodland and Anhang - e.g., at http://bit.ly/1XlHNJE.

    In fact, those points were included in an article co-authored by some of the same livestock specialists behind the 15% estimate - and even the cattleman-friendly journal Animal Feed Science and Technology went ahead and published a full rebuttal by Goodland and Anhang. That journal offered those livestock specialists a chance to respond in turn, but they declined, as documented at http://bit.ly/1ouX2nG.

    In other words, it looks as if you are essentially repeating claims that have already been made by livestock specialists and refuted. It seems a bit strange that you would align your views with those of livestock specialists, while urging people to go vegan.

  12. #12 dannychivers 11 Feb 16

    ’Chomping Climate Change’ - thanks for these links, I will read them and respond in detail when I get a chance.

    However, I will say that the ’foregone carbon absorption’ to which you refer is the same thing as the imaginary savings that I refer to in note [2] at the end of the article. They are, as I say, an interesting thought experiment but they should not be included in an annual total of real-life emissions. That's just basic carbon accounting (which is one of the main things I do for a living).

    Also, I am certainly not repeating anyone else's claims - all the analysis in the article is my own! I've focused on debunking the 51% figure (because there are several things clearly wrong with it), but I haven't said much about the 15% figure (other than the fact that it doesn't contain the same glaring accounting errors). I'll happily dig into it a bit more deeply, follow up your claims about it and post back here again when I can.

  13. #13 Kip Andersen 11 Feb 16

    The Goodland/Anhang analysis was peer-reviewed. In order for employees of the World Bank to do any press or have articles published they must have it cleared by the World Bank first. Goodland and Anhang used the global standard for measuring GHGs http://www.ghgprotocol.org/city-accounting, something that the FAO report did not even do.

    Goodland/Anhang responded to criticism of their analysis here: http://www.animalfeedscience.com/article/S0377-8401(11)00517-7/abstract which explains their methodology.

    A global shift to a vegan lifestyle will do more to repair the damage done to the earth than a global abandonment of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels absolutely must be addressed and movement towards renewable energy is essential.

    According to a forthcoming publication from Dr. Sailesh Rao and Atul K. Jain (University of Illinois professor of Atmospheric Sciences), if we removed livestock from grasslands that were previously forested and allowed the land to re-forest we would be able to sequester 265 GtC, which is greater than the 240 GtC that we have added to the atmosphere in the entire industrial era.

    A global shift away from animal based foods is absolutely an essential key in saving the planet and not just from climate change.

  14. #14 Christina D 11 Feb 16

    Forget climate change, I'm focused on the enormous water consumption of cows. The COWspiracy documentary did a fantastic job of pointing that out. We are absolutely running out of water. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce ONE POUND of meat. All I can say is that you must secretly work for the cattle industry not to have zeroed in on that.

  15. #15 Martin Porter 11 Feb 16

    The film also makes the false claim that big NGOs like Greenpeace are somehow in the pay of the meat industry, although it doesn't even bother with any evidence for that allegation.

    A very poor, very damaging film on a subject that really deserved a lot better.

    United we stand, divided we fall.

  16. #16 Jayden Anker 11 Feb 16

    Livestock and climate change: what if the key actors in climate change are... cows, pigs, and chickens?

    Not sure where you get the only review by two people. A quick google scholar search and you can see 224 citations.

    Livestock and climate change: What if the key actors in climate change are... cows, pigs, and chickens?
    R Goodland, J Anhang - Livestock and climate change: what if the …, 2009 - cabdirect.org
    Abstract This paper reviews the direct and indirect sources of greenhouse gas (GHG)
    emissions from livestock. Some of these are obvious but underestimated, some are simply
    overlooked, and some are emissions sources that are already counted but have been ...
    Cited by 224 Related articles Cite Save

  17. #17 dannychivers 11 Feb 16

    Hi folks – thanks again for all the comments, good to get some discussion going here!

    I’m going to respond to the points raised above, but I’m going to try to avoid getting too technical and jargony.

    So firstly, here’s a short version of the response for those who don’t need all the details:

    *****DANNY’S SHORT(ISH) RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSES****

    First up, as should be clear from the article, I TOTALLY AGREE that livestock is a major contributor to climate change, and causes other huge problems too. We need to tackle it urgently. I am vegan. You don’t need to give me the hard sell on any of these things :)

    The issue at stake is whether the emissions from animal agriculture are merely massive (around 15% of human-caused emissions) or actually bigger than fossil fuels (51% of human-caused emissions). This matters because a) we shouldn’t use bad stats to support a cause just because it’s convenient, and b) the 51% number isn’t just used to promote the problems with livestock, it’s used to attack and undermine fossil fuel campaigners. Which is daft and divisive when we all need to be working together on this stuff.

    The core of this debate is: what do people mean when they say “51% of climate change comes from animal agriculture?”. Most people hearing a stat like this would assume it meant “51% of the greenhouse gas emissions being released by human activities right now are coming from animal agriculture”. That’s how people seem to be using that stat, and how most people seem to understand it.

    However, what the authors of the study in question mean when they use that stat is “51% of climate change comes from animal agriculture, but only if you include not just actual emissions but if we also add in lots of extra not-actually-happening emissions based on what the world might look like if we had less livestock and more forests, plus if we triple the effect of some of the emissions, and add in some extra stuff”.

    The link shared by a couple of people above is to an article by the authors of the 51% paper (Goodland and Anhang), in which they admit that this is what they have done, but defend their decision to include all these extra things because they think they’re interesting/important. Some of the extra things are indeed interesting and help to make some important points about how much better the world could be if we had fewer cattle and more forests. But, despite this, they are things that do not belong in a calculation that claims to represent the real-life emissions from agriculture as a percentage of current global emissions. Because that’s not what they are.

    Also, it’s nice to see Kip Andersen here himself – thanks for dropping by. Mr Andersen, it would be great to get your thoughts on my political analysis of the film – do you agree that we need to build a movement of international solidarity, supporting frontline struggles and finding common ground across different issues, rather than just telling people to go vegan? Thanks!

  18. #18 dannychivers 11 Feb 16

    *****DANNY’S MORE DETAILED RESPONSE TO THE RESPONSES FOR THE SUPERKEEN PEOPLE WHO REALLY WANT TO KNOW*****

    1) Being checked by someone at the World Bank, and complying with the (voluntary) global Greenhouse Gas Protocol, are not the same as being scientifically peer-reviewed. Ultimately, though, as I mentioned earlier, peer review is not the issue here. The issue is that there are three major glitches in the study, as I explain in the article (also, there are other problematic things about the political framing of Cowspiracy, but everyone seems to want to talk about the numbers so let's stick with that for now).
    2) The materials linked to above (most of which I had seen before, some of which were new to me, thanks for that) were very interesting but do nothing to counter the three errors I raise in the article.
    3) In fact, in their response to common criticisms linked above (http://bit.ly/1XlHNJE), the authors of the 51% paper (Goodland and Anhang) actually admit that their numbers are wrong. They agree that cattle respiration must be cancelled out by the absorption of CO2 by the cattle’s food. But then they say it’s OK to include it anyway, because a) overall photosynthesis by all the world’s plants is currently sucking up less CO2 than is produced by the overall respiration of all the world’s animals, and b) if the livestock weren’t on the land then the vegetation there would grow bigger and suck up more CO2. Both of which are interesting points, but neither of which are relevant to the fact that cattle respiration, in the real world here and now, is cancelled out in the short term by the CO2 sucked up by the plants they eat – something that the authors themselves admit.
    4) Goodland and Anhang also admit that tripling of the impact of methane from livestock, but not methane from other sources, is a problem with their figures. They say it makes them “uncomfortable” – but they still keep the number in there anyway.
    5) The issue of “foregone absorption” or “carbon debt” is really important. I want it to be measured and counted, I want people to know that if less of the world’s land had been historically stolen (often literally) to feed cattle then more of it would be available for forests, and carbon sinks, and for life, and livelihoods, and all the other things that matter. It’s a powerful and important thing to talk about. But it isn’t a source of real-world right-now greenhouse gas emissions, and so it shouldn’t be included in a calculation of real-world right-now greenhouse gas emissions. Doing so transforms it from a useful concept into something misleading. Which is a shame.
    6) The paper about CO2 emissions from human and animal respiration that was shared above (http://bit.ly/1XlAzWb) does *not* refute the argument that breathing is part of the carbon cycle and so does not directly contribute to climate change. In fact, it agrees, and states the case very plainly (for a scientific paper): “anthropogenic metabolic CO2 release may be considered just an intensification of cycling processes between the atmosphere and the biosphere via enhanced crop and pasture production. This is an important distinction. In an equilibrium situation, the calculated emissions do not represent a new, unaccounted flux to the atmosphere.” The paper goes on to point out that the loss of carbon sinks (e.g. forests and peatlands) to grow food for humans and animals does of course create a climate impact, but this is a separate issue from the breathing thing (and is already counted in global greenhouse gas estimates).
    7) The 15% figure does indeed come from a study by the Food and Agriculture Organisation. It quite possibly underestimates a few things, but the numbers more or less tally with other scientific studies I’ve seen on this topic and – more importantly – it doesn’t include big chunks of emissions that shouldn’t be there (unlike the Goodland and Anhang study). I’m happy to accept it’s in the right ballpark, unless someone can show me some better research. Of course, because it’s pitched at the livestock industry its action recommendations are very weak (it doesn’t talk about reducing meat and dairy consumption at all!) but that doesn’t mean the numbers aren’t more or less correct.
    8) The water consumption issue is really important - thanks for raising it – and it’s an area where Cowspiracy seems to have got its facts right. In fact, a lot of the material in Cowspiracy is genuinely useful, which is why I wish its fans would stop undermining the whole thing by using that flashy, headline-grabbing, wrongtastic 51% stat.
    9) I also found the conspiracy accusations in the film a bit weird, although some of the big “green” NGOs didn’t do themselves any favours either. As I say in the article, a lot of them probably *should* be doing more about the environmental impacts of livestock farming.

  19. #19 dannychivers 11 Feb 16

    Finally - thanks so much everyone for your interest and comments. I’m glad that people are passionate about this issue. Now let’s bring that passion into building the global climate movement – of everyone, vegan or not - that we urgently need to achieve climate justice.

    I’m off to bed now, and am away tomorrow, so you won’t see me here again for a while. I’ve probably said plenty enough already though :)

  20. #20 luciano 12 Feb 16

    ok, so... what would you say if I change the sentence:

    ‘animal agriculture is responsible for 51 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions’

    into:
    'if we stop with animal agriculture we could decrease the global greenhouse gas emitions in to half of todays actual numbers'

    thanks for your article, and count me in, in ’building the global climate movement – of everyone, vegan or not - that we urgently need to achieve climate justice.’

    p.s.: sorry for my spelling and grammar... english in not my first language.

  21. #21 OnceJolly 12 Feb 16

    @chomping climate change

    Prairie and Duarte (2005) and Calverd (2005) also estimate human respiration, and in Calverd's back-of-the-envelope calculation of global anthropogenic CO2 emissions, human respiration is included. Goodland and Anhang (2009) do not similarly include human respiration in their analysis. However, Prairie and Duarte come short of claiming the respiration is a net flux, noting: ’...anthropogenic metabolic CO2 release may be considered just an intensification of cycling processes between the atmosphere and the biosphere via enhanced crop and pasture production. This is an important distinction. In an equilibrium situation, the calculated emissions do not represent a new, unaccounted flux to the atmosphere.’ [1]

    [1] page 216 of http://www.biogeosciences.net/4/215/2007/bg-4-215-2007.pdf

  22. #22 OnceJolly 12 Feb 16

    Danny @18- Sorry, I realize that you've already the issue in my last post with the same quote. To try to add something new, I'll note that Kip's claim about the Goodland/Anhang analysis complying with the GHG Inventory (a guideline for organizational rather than national GHG inventory reporting) is incorrect. A quick web search uncovers the following from the actual Protocol documents for agriculture:

    ’The carbon incorporated into animal tissues or lost through animal respiration should not be reported in an inventory.’ [1]

    This shouldn't be surprising, since the Protocol follows the 2006 IPCC GHG inventory guidelines, which make the same recommendation.


    [1] http://www.ghgprotocol.org/files/ghgp/GHG%20Protocol%20Agricultural%20Guidance%20(April%2026)_0.pdf

  23. #23 Chomping climate change 12 Feb 16

    Mr. Chivers, with all due respect, it's not exactly true that the authors of the 51% estimate included ’not-actually-happening’ emissions in their analysis. Rather, just as the quote you've cited states, Goodland and Anhang have explained that CO2 in livestock breath shouldn't be counted ’in an equilibrium situation’ -- but they've also explained that it's a long time since livestock have existed in an equilibrium situation; indeed, livestock breath has increased exponentially at the same time as burgeoning livestock and feed production have caused a dramatic decline in forest cover. That's why, they've explained, either CO2 in livestock breath or forgone carbon absorption on land used for livestock and feed production should be counted.

    Also, whereas you've asserted that forgone carbon absorption isn't a real-world source of emissions and therefore shouldn't be counted, Goodland and Anhang have explained that it has approximately the same effect as actual emissions. Indeed, as per my previous comment, even the FAO can be seen to have started to count forgone carbon absorption, at least for crops used to make biofuel.

    So far in this comment, I've tried to address the first two points that you've claimed are errors and haven't been addressed. Regarding your third point, about methane, you've quoted Robert Goodland only very selectively; in the very same paragraph as the quote that you've selected, he explains that whatever is lost in not applying a 20-year timeframe in accounting for non-livestock methane, it's more than offset by the FAO's chronic undercounting of livestock raised each year. For example, you can see Australian researchers used FAO statistics to estimate that livestock populations rose from 60 billion in 2007 to more than 63 billion in 2012 at http://bit.ly/20XSLHw - but then you can see more than 73 billion counted in 2010 even by the livestock industry-friendly IFAH at http://bit.ly/1KdTksE.

    Finally, I like your thoughts about trying to find common ground - and I'd propose that from your end, that may require more than just repeating the same assertions.

  24. #24 OnceJolly 13 Feb 16

    @chomping climate change - Goodland and Anhang conflate two series that are collected by FAOSTAT. One is an estimate of the standing population (the number of animals alive at a point in time) and the other is the total number of animals slaughtered in a year. Given the short lives of broilers, there is a large different between these two series. LLS uses the former, which is the appropriate statistics to use according to IPCC greenhouse gas accounting guidelines. The 56 billion figure that Goodland and Anhang cite is the latter, and applies to the year 2007. Although the latter series also increased between 2000 and 2007, Goodland and Anhang's emission figures are for 2000. They have no valid reason for not adjust the remaining 63 percent of emissions using the 20-year figures.

    The initial emission estimate figures that both the FAO and Goodland and Anhang use are from the World Resource Institute, which is also one of the organizations that is responsible for developing the GHG Protocol that Kip Andersen mentions above. If we are to believe that these figures truly undercount inventories by 22 Gton of CO2e, then the mistake rests with with the WRI (and also IPCC estimates, which also exclude respiration) and not the FAO. However, as noted above, the Protocol explicitly states the respiration is not to be included. The WRI also used the 100-year GWPs to produce their estimates. It's possible to confirm that the Protocol (which are for organizational reporting and not the inventories submitted under the UNFCCC) calls for the use of the 100-year, so the selective use of the 20-year GWP for methane only for livestock is a further violation of the Protocol. The Protocol is also for inventories for specific years and doesn't support selective updates (Goodland and Anhang adjust emissions for increases in the tonnage of livestock production between 2002 and 2009, but do not adjust for increases in emissions related to energy production that occurred after 2000. With the exception of the Protocol's requirement that the 100 year GWPs be used, which can be confirmed on the organization's website, addition details on the previous claims are available here: https://oncejolly.wordpress.com/an-analysis-of-livestock-and-climate-change/

  25. #25 dannychivers 14 Feb 16

    Dear Chomping Climate Change,

    Thanks again for your comments. I do hope you appreciate that we’re ultimately trying to achieve the same goal here. I absolutely agree that the environmental impacts of livestock are huge and terrifying, not talked about enough, and something the world needs to tackle urgently. My only aim here is to make the campaign for a fair and sustainable food system (with far less meat and dairy) more effective, by being sure that we’re using reliable and defensible statistics that don’t undermine our cause, and also that we’re aware of how these issues intersect with other struggles around the world.

    Sorry to keep banging out the same three tunes on my statistical drum, but the reason I keep repeating these same three points in my responses is that none of the sources to which you’ve linked actually rebut those points! Anyway, I’ll be very happy to respond to the specific items you’ve raised in your latest comment – I’ll do it in 3 parts:

    _______________________

    1) Quoting your comment:

    “Goodland and Anhang have explained that CO2 in livestock breath shouldn't be counted ’in an equilibrium situation’ -- but they've also explained that it's a long time since livestock have existed in an equilibrium situation; indeed, livestock breath has increased exponentially at the same time as burgeoning livestock and feed production have caused a dramatic decline in forest cover. That's why, they've explained, either CO2 in livestock breath or forgone carbon absorption on land used for livestock and feed production should be counted”

    ____________________

    I'm afraid this is - again - a case of trying to add together apples and oranges. In Goodland and Anhang’s initial paper, they’re talking about counting the CO2 from cattle’s breathing. The problem is that, over the short term, this will *always* be in equilibrium – a cow cannot breathe out more carbon than it has absorbed from its food, and that food will have been very recently grown and so will have sucked that carbon out of the air very recently. So if we’re looking at the net amount of CO2 emitted from all sources globally over a particular year (which is what most people mean when they say “global greenhouse gas emissions’), these two things will pretty much cancel each other out. Within the population of cows that exist now in any given year, there will always be an approximate equilibrium (as pointed out in the separate scientific paper that we linked to earlier).

    When challenged on this, Goodland and Anhang shift their position and instead say “well, even if you don’t count the emissions from livestock’s breathing there’s the issue of foregone carbon absorption instead, from all the forests that have been lost to grow cattle feed and pastureland”. This is true, but – crucially – it’s a different kind of climate impact, measured over a different time frame. It’s not a source of real-life emissions that are actually being emitted (or absorbed) from (or by) an animal, plant, or power station in the world right now; it’s a “what-if” scenario, based on what those lost forests *would have been* absorbing if they’d been allowed to stand.

    As I’ve said above, this is an important and powerful calculation. But it is a completely separate figure from the annual emissions that are actually happening now, which is what most people take the 51% figure to mean, and why they are so shocked by it (and rightly disbelieving of it).

    It’s also something that Goodland and Anhang had already included in their calculations (it’s the thing I’d referred to as “Error 2” or “imaginary emissions” in my original blog), so it’s a bit strange that they also try to use it again as a separate point here.

  26. #26 dannychivers 14 Feb 16

    2) Quoting your comment:

    ’Also, whereas you've asserted that forgone carbon absorption isn't a real-world source of emissions and therefore shouldn't be counted, Goodland and Anhang have explained that it has approximately the same effect as actual emissions. Indeed, as per my previous comment, even the FAO can be seen to have started to count forgone carbon absorption, at least for crops used to make biofuel.

    ______________________________

    If we say that foregone carbon emissions have “approximately the same effect as actual emissions”, we’re saying that if all those forests hadn’t been chopped down and were still standing today, they’d be sucking up a similar amount of carbon as is now being emitted by the livestock industry. If that’s true, that’s a powerful and interesting statistic. But it doesn’t mean we can add that number into our annual accounts of real-world emissions. I’m sorry to keep repeating this, but it’s the core of the whole matter: when people use the 51% figure, they think it means the amount of greenhouse gas that is actually being emitted by the livestock industry in any given year. If trees are being chopped down in that year for livestock pasture, then the carbon from those trees should be included (and indeed, this is included in the 15% figure). But to say “if all the trees ever chopped down by the livestock industry in history were still standing, they would have sucked up x amount of carbon this year, so we’ve added that in too” – that takes the figure far beyond what people think it means, and therefore makes it misleading. As soon as you tell people that this is included in the 51% (as I’ve tried to do in this blog), they can immediately see that it shouldn’t be there, and that the 51% doesn’t mean what Cowspiracy says it does.

    I’m all for calculating the foregone emission absorption, for livestock and biofuels and everywhere else that it's relevant. It help to understand the full, long term climate impact of these kinds of activities. But what we shouldn’t do (and what the FAO don’t do) is add it into annual accounts of global greenhouse gas emissions, because it's measuring a different thing.

  27. #27 dannychivers 14 Feb 16

    3) Quoting your comment:

    Regarding your third point, about methane, you've quoted Robert Goodland only very selectively; in the very same paragraph as the quote that you've selected, he explains that whatever is lost in not applying a 20-year timeframe in accounting for non-livestock methane, it's more than offset by the FAO's chronic undercounting of livestock raised each year. For example, you can see Australian researchers used FAO statistics to estimate that livestock populations rose from 60 billion in 2007 to more than 63 billion in 2012 at http://bit.ly/20XSLHw - but then you can see more than 73 billion counted in 2010 even by the livestock industry-friendly IFAH at http://bit.ly/1KdTksE.

    _____________________________

    I wasn’t being purposefully selective in my quoting there, I was just trying to sum things up as simply and concisely as possible because my posts were becoming somewhat epic! In any case, the point I made still stands – Goodland admits that it’s wrong to boost the livestock methane (by applying a 20-year timeframe) without doing the same for the non-livestock methane. But rather than change this in his calculations, he asserts that it’s offset by the undercounting of livestock figures by the FAO.

    Firstly, this is bad statistical practice. If tripling the methane effect is wrong, then he and Anhang should remove it from their figures, and then deal with the possible undercounting of cattle as a totally separate thing, rather than saying “we made an error, but they made an error too, so they kind of cancel each other out”. Secondly, as OnceJolly states above (thanks OnceJolly), they are looking at different data sets from different years using different methods that can’t really be compared directly. But thirdly – and most importantly – let’s say that the bigger figure of 73 billion is correct. In that case, the FAO’s figure of 63 billion only represents about 86% of real livestock emissions. Which means that rather than 15%, livestock emissions actually represent 17% of annual global emissions.

    Which is huge. But it’s not 51%.

    I’m aware that I’m repeating myself a lot here, but I hope it’s helpful for everyone reading this to understand what I’m getting at, and why the rebuttals from Goodland and Anhang don’t address the central problems with their original study. While some of the things they are measuring are interesting and important in other contexts, they shouldn’t be added in here to make an inflated 51% figure – a figure that hinders, rather than helps, our campaigns for a safer climate.

    Chomping Climate Change - I hope you understand my purpose here is to show, very clearly, that all these extra things have been included in the Goodland and Anhang study, things that most people would not expect to be there. If you are personally happy with these extras being included (despite all the reasons I've laid out here) that's up to you. But we should at least be honest about the fact that these extra things are in there, so that the readers can make up their own mind about the 51% number.

    Thanks for the opportunity to lay all of this out in more detail, and maybe we'll meet in real life at a climate and/or vegan event sometime!

  28. #28 Wally 14 Feb 16

    I have to say that your article was very well reasoned and I would agree that the 51% is not really a helpful figure. The figure itself is not really important. The fact is that feeding animals the plants we grow in order to then eat the animals to get our nutrients is unsustainable.

    I would wholeheartedly disagree with one very salient point you made though, and this highlights that you are as misleading, if not more so, than Kip Anderson. You state the following at the end of your article:

    [3] The CO2 from cattle’s breathing is cancelled out by the carbon sucked out of the air by the plants eaten by the cattle in the first place. Animal respiration is part of a cycle, not a source of emissions, which is why it is not included in any serious climate change studies.

    If, as you say, 70,000,000,000 farm animals are part of the natural carbon cycle, then if we were to cut down the entire forested areas of the world to feed and graze cattle, this would be a natural part of the carbon cycle. However, as any educated person realises, the carbon sink of animals is minuscule compared to the existing forests. It is completely irresponsible of you to mislead people in this way. Yes, I agree with you, that we need to change our energy sources, but we also need to reduce our animal consumption rather rapidly in addition to reducing our overall consumption levels.

    Failure to tackle all 3 of these areas will result in catastrophe.

  29. #29 Kitchencounterculture 15 Feb 16

    Thank you for writing this article. I'm glad you point out the statistical problems Cowspiracy relies on, because as activists we want to base our arguments on ’truth’ as much as possible given the intensely difficult problems of accounting for all variabilities. But what I really like about your piece is the reminder that really good activism unites rather than divides-- that we all can work on different parts of the puzzle rooted from however we happen to connect with the issue. I love your approach and am going to link to this piece soon in my blog when I finish something about veganism, climate change and personal activism. So, thank you!

  30. #30 dannychivers 15 Feb 16

    Dear Wally,

    Thanks so much for your comment, but I think you've misunderstood my final point - apologies if I wasn't clear.

    The removal of forests to create pastureland for cattle is a huge problem for the climate, as you say. This impact is already included in the standard annual measures of livestock impact (such as the 15% FAO figure). It's massive and scary and is having terrible impacts on local people's livelihoods and on wildlife in addition to an impact on the climate through the loss of forest carbon.

    I was referring to something different in my final comment - the incorrect idea that the CO2 cattle breathe out is having an impact on the climate. This is the CO2 that is sucked up by the plants grown to feed the cattle, and so isn't counted. By contrast, the carbon lost to the atmosphere each year from deforestation to grow the feed absolutely SHOULD be counted, and already is.

    Hope this helps to cleat things up,

    Danny

    PS I agree that the precise figure for the impact of livestock emissions is less important that the fact that it's BIG and we need to take action. That's why I get annoyed by the 51% figure - it's not necessary to use this kind of overinflated stat to try to push this issue. We already know it's a big problem, so why overhype it and thus discredit ourselves?

  31. #31 OnceJolly 15 Feb 16

    From the IFAH factsheet that Chomping climate change links:

    ’Please note that these are not standing inventories (animals alive on a particular day) but the total number of animals alive in a year, which is particularly important for poultry where most commercial broiler chickens are slaughtered after 42 days.’ (page 3)

    So no, the world population of farm animals isn't 70 billion. A 2012 article by the World Watch Institute (the same organization that published Goodland and Anhang's analysis) uses the correct FAOSTAT series and reports a figure of 26.7 billion for the year 2010. [1] In comparison, the 2006 FAO analysis reported a population of 21.7 billion for the year 2002.

    [1] http://vitalsigns.worldwatch.org/vs-trend/farm-animal-populations-continue-grow

  32. #32 OnceJolly 15 Feb 16

    The IFAH estimates appear to be conceptually different from the FAOSTAT statistics. The former include animals that are to be slaughtered in a subsequent year but were alive in the reference year, while the latter include only animals that were alive and then slaughtered in the reference year. Consequently, the former will be higher than the latter. However, even if the series were conceptually the same, Chomping climate change does not establish why we should believe that the consulting firm providing the IFAH estimates (Vetnosis Ltd.) is more reliable than the FAO.

  33. #33 Holistic health 18 Feb 16

    I may regret this, but I feel someone needs to say something about the ways livestock can fit into human production systems without destroying the climate. I do not feel that veganism is advisable for either human or planetary health.

    As a veterinarian and having studied animal nutrition intensively, I do not find that veganism is a ’species appropriate diet.’ I know of far too many cases of the catastrophic consequences of this diet when followed long-term, particularly by people who haven't the faintest idea of what vitamins, essential amino acids or essential fatty acids actually do in their bodies.

    As an environmentalist who has delved deeply into the issues, I find that holistic planned grazing is a fantastic tool for food production, carbon sequestration and habitat restoration. Far from damaging the land, proper grazing methods build topsoil, which by definition is carbon-rich.

    Widespread veganism is not a solution for the planet. Producing more and more tons of grains and pulse crops in vast monocultures does not sequester carbon in any way. It is fossil-fuel intensive and destroys many many more sentient lives per calorie than pasture-raised livestock.

    See the work of Alan Savory (Restoring the Climate through Capture and Storage of Carbon Using Holistic Planned Grazing, pdf available online), Mark Shepard (Restoration Agriculture), and Eric Toensmeier (The Carbon Farming Solution) for more details on the role of livestock in production systems that are not merely sustainable, but truly restorative for the planet.

  34. #34 Joshua Byrd 21 Feb 16

    The article WAS peer reviewed and if you read it it was intentionally meant to be inclusive of ALL possible emissions including livestock transportation and negative effects etc etc. Be sure to check your facts. The FAO statistic used to be 18% until the FAO sold out to the meat and dairy industry in 2012 and the new 14.5% stat coincidentally came out in 2013.


    Watch here for selling out stats https://youtu.be/KpmTiHjUEBU?t=3m31s

    Check here for responses to all statistical facts in the film http://www.cowspiracy.com/blog/2015/11/23/response-to-criticism-of-cowspiracy-facts

    I understand you may be primarily involved with the renewable energy side of things, but it doesn't mean you need to actively attack the other side of the argument. I've seen this happen too many times before. We're on the same team. Come on mate.

  35. #35 rad rad 21 Feb 16

    Joshua, no the article was not peer reviewed, and Cowspiracy's other claims have also been dissected in excruciating detail in the previous comments. They are extremely lacking.

    As an environmental activist I am really bothered by the Cowspiracy promoters and Cowspiracy statements like ’A global shift to a vegan lifestyle will do more to repair the damage done to the earth than a global abandonment of fossil fuels. Fossil fuels absolutely must be addressed and movement towards renewable energy is essential.’ and even ’even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels, we would not see a mark in the atmosphere for close to 100 years’ which are ridiculous if anybody looks at the actual science.

    Cowspiracy originally claimed that animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of GHG emissions ’according to a UN report’. Now if you watch on Netflix or visit their website, some pages have been updated to say that it is 18%. But this figure is still adjusted from the UN report, which says 14.5%. Despite cutting their headline figure by a factor of three, they maintain that ’No one has challenged the validity of any of the other facts in the film.’ (false) and even lean conspiratorial with ’The focus and debate around animal agriculture's GHG emissions is a distractive tool used to try and create an atmosphere of doubt... The criticism the film has received has largely been from individuals and organizations who have an invested interest in the livestock industry. They are trying to create doubt in the same way that the fossil fuel industry tries to create doubt around human induced climate change.’

    So in other words Cowspiracy's original release was wrong, the IPCC and its hundreds of scientist authors is wrong, all the climate scientists in dozens of institutions are wrong and secretly in the pay of Big Farm-a, even the UN report is wrong, but Cowspiracy's ’adjustment’ of the UN figure is correct.

    Cowspiracy does both environmentalists and vegans a disservice.

  36. #36 Dave 15 Mar 16

    Changing how we eat, commute, and consume other resources is critical in these times, but we have to remain conscious of the true problem of the world...overpopulation. These other issues are the symptoms of a looming imbalance caused by a world reaching its carrying capacity. More dialog is needed on this topic

  37. #37 Duncan Noble 21 Mar 16

    Thanks for your great blog post. You have done a great job of showing why the 51% figure is not accurate, and also made some good suggestions on how to be a better activist.

    I have done a lot of work around GHG accounting, and helped to develop some of the Standards in this area (e.g., GHG Protocol, ISO 14064 series, etc.). Some defenders of Cowspiracy and the Goodland and Anhang study allege it relies on the ’global standard for measuring GHGs’. As you point out, this is clearly not true. For example,just considering your 3 notes:

    1. Methane. The methodology used to account for methane by Goodland and Anhang violates one of the fundamental principles of GHG accounting found in the GHG Protocol, ISO 14064 and many other GHG Standards: Consistency. They use one GWP (global warming potential) for methane from livestock and a different GWP for all other sources of methane. This does not allow for a fair comparison.

    2. Mixing of Attributional and Consequential accounting approaches. Your note 2 addresses this point. Most studies try to attribute or allocate emissions to something: a person, a product, a country or, in this case, an economic sector/activity. Other studies look at the consequences of a decision. Both approaches can be useful. But in this case, Goodland and Anhang use a hybrid attributional/consequential approach for agriculture, and compare it to actual total emissions. Clearly a violation of the consistency principle again.

    3. Counting biogenic carbon emissions from animal respiration only considers part of the livestock system. The full system also includes biogenic carbon removals from growing of the feed that the animals eat. Since carbon is neither created or destroyed in this system, CO2 emissions from animal respiration must be balanced by CO2 removals from growing what they eat. Some of the carbon livestock eat is converted to methane, so CO2 emissions via animal respiration should be slightly less than CO2 removals via photosynthesis, but pretty much all GHG Standards ignore this small discrepancy and assume CO2 emissions and removals are balanced.

  38. #38 Matt Bidault 06 Apr 16

    Hi Danny,

    Agree with most of your article - nice stuff. 51% is certainly an over-estimate.

    One thing that is worth pointing out though is there are huge methodological uncertainties surrounding the measurement of land-use change linked to South American GMO soybeans. If you start delving into the LCA soybean studies, you quickly realise that all the authors OMIT the direct land use change that has taken place due to soybean expansion due to methodological shortcomings. These LCA soybean results are then directly included into the meat LCAs, with only some mentioning that the land use change was omitted.

    Of course, studies cannot be perfect, but soybeans in Latin America cover the size of Germany and France put together and this predicted to rise considerably in the near future, as China increases its demand for pork and chicken (two animals that require a surprisingly large amount of soybeans per kg produced).

    So, it is crucial for there to be more transparency in global food cycles, as one kilogram of soybean grown on an Argentinian grassland only adds about 1kg of CO2 eq per kg of soybean produced, yet if the soybean is grown in the Brazilian Cerrado that increases to an additional 7kg CO2eq per kg soybean produced, and if the soybean was grown in the Amazon that figure flies up to 17kg CO2 eq per kg of soybean. There is huge variation that is completely unaccounted for in current GHG emissions per kg meat estimates, which is completely wrong and unacceptable. It takes around 0.250-0.5kg of soybeans per kg of pork and/or chicken produced (WWF source - significant variation between farms within and across EU countries). At the moment, 3.77 kg of CO2 eq is released per kg of danish pork, but but if you need 0.250g of soybeans per kg pork, and the soybeans (omitted) landuse change was 15kg per kg of soybean (Amazon rainforest), then you're actually looking at 7.5kg of CO2eq per kg pork....

    At the moment, we have no idea where the GMO soybeans come from as they are all mass-delivered to Rotterdam and then onto other European ports.

    So whilst deforestation has been included when it animal agriculture is directly culpable, these LCA soybeans do not, and this is tremendous underestimate.

    Dalgaard, R., et al., LCA of soybean meal. 2008

    Castanheira, & Freire, 2013, Greenhouse gas assessment of soybean production: implications of land use change and different cultivation systems
    http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652613003442

  39. #39 OnceJolly 17 Apr 16

    @Matt Bidault:

    Goodland and Anhang begin with the FAO's ’Livestock's Long Shadow’ (LLS) estimate (18%). The latter study assumes that half of cropland expansion into forests in Bolivia and Brazil is for livestock feed [1]. Whereas this may be an underestimate, unlike regional LCA studies, the LLS does include these emissions.

    [1] page 91 (Part III) of http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM

  40. #41 Devina Maxwell 22 Jun 16

    About this film and its effect on the mental health of young children and teenages.
    Below is a letter i wrote to my daughter's school after My youngest daughter declared she wanted to only eat vegan after being shown this Film at school.

    Once again I feel compelled to share my opinions and experience on anxiety and eating disorders for teenagers as I believe it is not on the conscious minds of the School or the teachers and it should be !
    As you know My eldest daughter suffers from anxiety and is currently weaning off medication to help her with obsessive thinking. She is just 19 and this all started when she was only just 17 and attending high School. It was explained to me by a leading Australian physicist ,specialising in child and teenage Mental health, that it is because of this anxiety ,her age, genes, personality and her environment she fell into a eating disorder that almost killed her.
    It cannot be pinpointed to any one of experience, however ,whilst sitting with her in therapy a large part of it was due to watching films made to shock us into action such as “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” which at the time of her seeing was virally being posted around face book
    This film shows the shocking truths about the effects of industrial animal agriculture on the planet. It shows its a leading cause of deforestation, rainforest destruction, greenhouse gas production, water consumption and pollution, habitat loss, species extinction, ocean dead-zones, topsoil erosion, and a host of other environmental ills, it explains animal agriculture is the biggest issue facing the planet today . I am sure you know this , as it has just been shown at the school.
    Quite a handful of responsibility to take on for a young person who is restricted in most choices they want to make.
    For my eldest daughter, and I am lead to believe a huge percentage of teenagers who have watched this film , the only option was to immediately restrict her diet to vegetables or she could not live with herself.
    I am not against these films but I believe there is further responsibilities that should be taken when showing them to young , not yet fully developed minds. These types of shock films deeply affect teenagers ,affecting their mental states which in turn can affect their relationships with themselves their families and friends.
    It is important to understand that at this stage in life they are more than ready to take risks, rebel against parents without weighing up the costs and consequences. Their brains are actually culling unnecessary connections and refining others . They are at a very vulnerable disadvantage.
    We all want our children to be well educated and to understand the world as it is, to be able to make a difference when they are older and ready. But these types of films promote immediate action and they are just downright scary. Some Children may be unaffected, in fact they love the horror of it, but for the ones that are effected very grim thoughts start entering their daily lives.
    My youngest daughter who as you know is in year 8 (12-13yrs old ) She came home yesterday saying she wants to only eat Vegan . I asked her why and she told me about the film and how it affected her class. I asked her if she new about the dietary requirement that a teenager needs to grow their brains and bodies and the kinds of foods she would need to eat to keep he functioning to her full potential. She really didn’t care about that she said “ill just eat veggies”. Need I say more …........ I was close to tears having been through such a similar situation with my eldest.

  41. #42 Devina Maxwell 22 Jun 16

    About this film and its effect on the mental health of young children and teenagers.
    Below is a letter i wrote to my daughter's school after My youngest daughter declared she wanted to only eat vegan after being shown this Film at school.

    Once again I feel compelled to share my opinions and experience on anxiety and eating disorders for teenagers as I believe it is not on the conscious minds of the School or the teachers and it should be !
    As you know My eldest daughter suffers from anxiety and is currently weaning off medication to help her with obsessive thinking. She is just 19 and this all started when she was only just 17 and attending high School. It was explained to me by a leading Australian physicist ,specialising in child and teenage Mental health, that it is because of this anxiety ,her age, genes, personality and her environment she fell into a eating disorder that almost killed her.
    It cannot be pinpointed to any one of experience, however ,whilst sitting with her in therapy a large part of it was due to watching films made to shock us into action such as Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, which at the time of her seeing was virally being posted around face book
    This film shows the shocking truths about the effects of industrial animal agriculture on the planet. It shows its a leading cause of deforestation, rainforest destruction, greenhouse gas production, water consumption and pollution, habitat loss, species extinction, ocean dead-zones, topsoil erosion, and a host of other environmental ills, it explains animal agriculture is the biggest issue facing the planet today . I am sure you know this , as it has just been shown at the school.
    Quite a handful of responsibility to take on for a young person who is restricted in most choices they want to make.
    For my eldest daughter, and I am lead to believe a huge percentage of teenagers who have watched this film , the only option was to immediately restrict her diet to vegetables or she could not live with herself.
    I am not against these films but I believe there is further responsibilities that should be taken when showing them to young , not yet fully developed minds. These types of shock films deeply affect teenagers ,affecting their mental states which in turn can affect their relationships with themselves their families and friends.
    It is important to understand that at this stage in life they are more than ready to take risks, rebel against parents without weighing up the costs and consequences. Their brains are actually culling unnecessary connections and refining others . They are at a very vulnerable disadvantage.
    We all want our children to be well educated and to understand the world as it is, to be able to make a difference when they are older and ready. But these types of films promote immediate action and they are just downright scary. Some Children may be unaffected, in fact they love the horror of it, or they simply aren't interested but for the ones that are effected very grim thoughts start entering their daily lives.
    My youngest daughter who as you know is in year 8 (12-13yrs old ) came home yesterday saying she wants to only eat Vegan . I asked her why and she told me about the film and how it affected her class. I asked her if she new about the dietary requirement that a teenager needs to grow their brains and bodies and the kinds of foods she would need to eat to keep he functioning to her full potential. She really didn't care about that she said ill just eat veggies I like. Need I say more ........ I was close to tears having been through such a similar situation with my eldest.

  42. #43 Warren 16 Sep 16

    Excellent article, I mostly agree and I think you don't discredit the movie but enhance its positives.

  43. #44 rita 20 Sep 16

    I agree - up to a point, I had noticed the statistical discrepancies, of course, and personally never use either dubious health information OR climate change information (although I do use reliable info from the latter)in disseminating veganism for one very simple reason: it misses the point, which is that removing life from others &/or exploiting them is unethical. There is enormous debate - and struggle to improve - within vegan circles about the preponderantly white middle class presence, and that is a good thing, but the bottom line is the morality of killing.

  44. #45 Barry Adams 20 Sep 16

    Cowconspiracy and the vibrant presence on facebook and other media of the Vegan activists has in my experience made a significant difference. Cowconspiracy is propoganda, but propoganda on the ethical and moral side of the global warming argument so the authors and promoters need to check their facts urgently and if necessary admit to their errors loud and clear.

  45. #46 Tom Andersmy 15 Oct 16

    I'm not trying to justify the 51% figure, but in my opinion, it's reasonable to claim the emissions from breathing are really emissions, because emissions are emissions. Sure, it's gross, not net, emissions, and no carbon dioxide can be emitted by animals unless it comes from plants. But nonetheless, something like 10 billion tons annually is emitted as the respiration of livestock. Given that there are only 3 trillion tons of CO2 in the atmosphere, this really is a sizable amount. The utility of the GHG statistic can be to show the magnitude of humans on global emissions (and sequestration). Many figures completely ignore land use, land-use change, and forestry. What humans do isn't too insignificant to cause global changes. When people realise that animals breath that much, they also realise that trees hold more than twenty times the amount of CO2 than farmland.

  46. #47 System design Archtiect 18 Oct 16

    Interesting how the CO2 emission had take a twist to knock out Animal husbandry as a cause to the global warming.In the first place 40% of the emission is due to buildings. Animal husband should take a lesser emission. Even so if it is high emission, they can offset rethinking the fossil fuels used in Power plants, which is the main culprit for CO2 emission.
    http://www.sda-archtiect.com
    System Dssign Archtiect
    Net Zero Carbon Architect
    Ar Perumal Nagapushnam

  47. #48 andrew wright 01 Dec 16

    hello
    why the fuck is this so long, goddammn aint nobody got time for this shit

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Danny Chivers is a climate change researcher, activist and performance poet. He is the author of the New Internationalist's The No-Nonsense Guide to Climate Change: The science, the solutions, the way forward.

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