Can you guess what it is? It is the leading cause of global warming, species extinction, rain forest destruction, habitat destruction, water pollution and ocean dead zones. If you guessed burning coal, forestry, transportation, human waste, human trash, industry, fracking, burning fossil fuels or nuclear energy you would be wrong. The answer is animal husbandry.
It isn’t just animal rights folks saying it. A 2006 report from the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FOA) “says livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems, including global warming, land degradation, air and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” To look at the report online, Google “livestock’s long shadow.”
Some facts: A whopping 45 percent of the world’s ice-free surface is used for agriculture. Of course, this massive use of land takes away from animal’s natural habitat, and thus the loss of biodiversity. In Brazil, 80 percent of the rain forest was destroyed for cattle. Animal production accounts for 91 percent of Amazon destruction. The rainforest is being reduced by an estimated one acre per second, an area about the size of a football field.
According to the United Nations, livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, including nine percent of carbon dioxide and 37 percent of methane gas emissions worldwide, according to the Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative. This is compared to 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions due to all forms of transportation.
In 2009, two advisors from the World Bank did a study of human induced green house gasses, and found that animal husbandry accounted not for 18 percent of greenhouse gases as the United Nations had stated in 2006, but 51 percent. Methane is 85 times more potent than C02 in its effect on global warming—reducing. Methane will have a greater effect on the atmosphere than reducing CO2 emissions. Yet all we hear about is burning fossil fuels.
Raising animals for food uses 1/3 of the planet’s fresh water. It takes 660 gallons of water to produce one quarter pound hamburger — it is the equivalent of showering for two months. It takes 1,000 gallons of water to make one gallon of milk. Domestic water use only constitutes five percent of water consumption in the United States, compared to 55 percent for animal agriculture.
People would do much more to help water conservation by not eating meat than by taking shorter showers. A staggering 100 billion gallons of water is used for fracking. But 34 trillion gallons of water are used for animal agriculture. Domestic water use only accounts for five percent of all water use. Fifty-five percent of our water use is for animal agriculture.
It isn’t just farm animals. It is commercial fishing. With massive nets, we are losing our fisheries. Fishermen can’t really fish for cod off of Cape Cod anymore.
Ocean dead zones are caused by lack of oxygen, called “hypoxia.” Phosphates and nitrates from farm runoff spawn plant and algae growth (“eutrophication”), and when the plant and algae die and decay, great oxygen is consumed, depleting the water of oxygen.
Scientific American has observed the federal push to increase Midwest corn production effectively loads even more algae-inducing nutrients into the already overloaded system. The runoff nutrients from farming create excessive algae or plants; when the algae or plants die, oxygen is then consumed in the decay; this depletes the waters of oxygen, making fish life impossible. Pollutants in the Mississippi River have decimated the Gulf’s shrimp industry.
All this while government subsidizes the grain and soy the livestock lives on. Without subsidies, a Big Mac should cost $13 to $15, some say $20 to $30. If meat cost its true amount, we probably would not eat it, or eat it in 1930s proportions, which was about once per week.
So, you would think environmental organizations would be in up in arms about it. This is all brought out in a documentary, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret,” which showed at the Regal Cinema at the Berkshire Mall earlier this week. The premise of the film is that environmental groups ignore the leading cause of environmental destruction for financial gain.
It works like this: Environmental non-profits such as Green Peace, Surfrider, Rain Forest Action Network, Greenpeace, survive by donations, and the vast majority of those donors eat meat. Documentarian Kip Anderson made “Cowspiracy” by taping environmental organization after environmental organization in two-hour interviews. One after the other can’t answer simple questions about the environmental effects of animal agriculture. Greenpeace refused to meet with the documentaries producers. It is an environmental disaster ignored by the very people who should be championing it.
Rinaldo Del Gallo, III is a local attorney who is leading a drive to ban Styrofoam and plastic grocery bags in Pittsfield.