I have a few questions for your consideration. After posing these questions, I'll outline what the evidence suggests about each question. I'll follow that with a discussion of what it all means for those who want to enjoy quality lifestyles guided by reason, exuberance, athleticism and liberty.
Here are the questions:
- What do you think is the most destructive industry in America and elsewhere in the world today? Hint: It's not the tobacco industry. It's not the oil and gas industry, either.
- Why are the world's leading environmental organizations unwilling to talk about the problems that the most destructive industry causes that degrades the environment and threatens the health of every living creature on the planet? Hint: It has to do with donations.
- What is the leading cause of deforestation?
- What is the leading cause of water pollution – and guzzler of water?
- What industry is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry?
- What industry more than any other drives rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean dead zones, and virtually every other environmental ill?
One more question – then I'll provide answers and a discussion. This is the most important question: Why is it that one industry, the one featured in what I believe is the correct response to every one of the above questions, almost entirely unchallenged by almost every environmental organization?
Introducing Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret
Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn have produced a 91 minute film called Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret . It features a variety of notables; the cast includes Michael Pollan, Richard Oppenlander, Will Tuttle, Howard Lyman and Will Potter. Other experts involved include Michael Besancon, Michael Klaper, David Robinson Simon and Kirk R. Smith.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is playing in theaters across the country. I watched it on Netflix. It makes a convincing case that Animal Agriculture is by far the most destructive industry to ever operate on Earth. Nothing else comes close. The data presented throughout the film fully supports this sweeping judgment. In addition to the horror that the products of this industry inflicts on humans and animals and damage to air quality, to ocean resources and to the sustainability of the environment, an equally amazing reality supported throughout the film is the sellout of the world's environmental organizations to this industry. Representatives of such organizations are silent on the role of Animal Agriculture – that is, the dairy, cattle, pork and other animal protein factory farming operations. This industry seems to have bought not only our politicians but the leadership of the very agencies we rely upon to safeguard the natural world.
This film should alert the public to the mistreatment of humans and the environment in a way that the film Blackfish served to alert patrons of Sea World about the treatment of killer whales.
Despite the ghastly revelations, this documentary is fascinating to watch from beginning to end, and contains many moments that are unexpectedly humorous. It is not unlike Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, in fact, Kip Anderson credits that show as inspiration for his environmental awakening.
So, what exactly is the impact of Animal Agriculture on the planet's ecosystems and environments that make it such a disaster for one and all? Much of the information, but not all, comes from a United Nations News Center entitled entitled, Livestock's Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. The producers of Cowspiracy have set up a website, with regular updates, providing references, notes, sources and the statistics used in the film.
A partial summary of the problems associated with Animal Agriculture includes the following.
GREENHOUSE GASES: Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide and which remains in the atmosphere for 150 years. Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day.
WATER: Fracking (hydraulic fracturing) water use ranges from 70-140 billion gallons annually; animal agriculture water consumption ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually. Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US. The amount of water used to produce 1lb. of beef varies greatly from 442 – 8000 gallons. The filmmakers used the widely-cited conservative number of 2500 gallons per pound of US beef. Five percent of water consumed in the US is by private homes; 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture. Animal Agriculture is responsible for 20% -33% of all fresh water consumption in the world today – 1/5 of global water consumption.
LAND: Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth's ice-free land. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. In addition to the monumental habitat destruction caused by clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops and for animal grazing, predators and competition species are frequently targeted and hunted because of a perceived threat to livestock profits. The indiscriminate use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops often interferes with the reproductive systems of animals and poison waterways. The over – exploitation of wild species through commercial fishing, bushmeat trade as well as animal agriculture's impact on climate change, all contribute to global depletion of species and resources. Nearly half of the contiguous US is devoted to animal agriculture. The US lower 48 states represent 1.9 billion acres. Of that 1.9 billion acres: 778 million acres of private land are used for livestock grazing (forest grazing, pasture grazing, and crop grazing), 345 million acres for feed crops, 230 million acres of public land are used for grazing livestock.
WASTE: Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US. This doesn't include the animals raised outside of USDA jurisdiction or in backyards, or the billions of fish raised in aquaculture settings. Also in America, 335 million tons of dry matter is produced annually by livestock. A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. In this country, 130 times more animal waste than human waste is produced – 1.4 billion tons, from the meat industry annually. (Five tons of animal waste are produced per person.)
In the US alone livestock produce 116,000 lbs of waste per second. The count per animal type is as follows:
* Dairy Cows – 120lbs of waste per day x 9 million cows.
* Cattle – 63lbs of waste per day, x 90 million cattle.
* Pigs – 14lbs. of waste per day, x 67 million pigs.
* Sheep / Goats – 5lbs of waste per day, x 9 million sheep / goats.
* Poultry – .25-1lbs of waste per day, x 9 billion birds.
OCEANS: 3/4 of the world's fisheries are exploited or depleted; fish-less oceans are likely by 2048. At present, 90-100 million tons of fish are pulled from our oceans each year – an unsustainable rate. This amounts to 2.7 trillion animals pulled from oceans each year. For every 1 pound of fish caught, up to 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. As many as 40% (63 billion pounds) of fish caught globally every year are discarded. Scientists estimate as many as 650,000 whales, dolphins and seals are killed every year by fishing vessels.
RAINFOREST: Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction. One to two acres of rainforest are cleared every second. The leading causes of rainforest destruction are livestock and feedcrops.
WILDLIFE: Ten thousand years ago, 99% of biomass (ie zoomass) was wild animals. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the zoomass.
HUMANITY: World population in 1812 was 1 billion; in 1912, it was 1.5 billion; and in 2012, it was 7 billion. Seventy billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide; 6 million are killed for food every hour. Humans drink 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food each day. Worldwide, cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day. Worldwide, 82% of starving children live where food is fed to animals and the animals are shipped to and eaten in western countries.
MISC: Dairy consumption may leads to breast lumps and may give guys man-boobs.
The land required to feed one person for 1 year on a vegan diet is 1 / 6th of an acre. The comparable figures for vegetarians and meat eaters is 3x and 18x, respectively. Each day, a person who eats a vegan diet saves 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 square feet of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent and one animal's life.
What to Make Of It All?
For starters, the future as we think of living on the Earth today does not lie ahead. It will be different. Quite so. It seems unimaginable that Animal Agriculture will continue as it is – the resources on the planet will not sustain it and we won't be able to live very well with the deterioration of the environment and the earth's resources. Things will have to change. How fast will changes come and what will bring changes most rapidly? Nobody knows. However, individual changes by those, like ourselves, who are favorably situated, can be immediate or at least pretty soon, for varied motives.
The film clearly favors a transition to vegan diets, which seems simplistic and unlikely, as well as the only way out of disaster. Most living today, at least under prosperous western standards, are unlikely to make the switch. Of course, they will be gone soon enough – in a few generations in any event.
Everyone with the slightest interest in a healthy lifestyle should watch this film. Besides the major topic of how Animal Agriculture is ruining everything, almost as much as religions have been doing throughout human history, Cowspiracy exposes the complicity of environmental organizations that are ignoring the impact of animal agriculture. This alone makes the film a must see.
Be well and look on the bright side. And maybe, just maybe, think twice next time you pick up a menu or wander the aisles of a supermarket.