Categorized | Featured, Science

Livestock Accounts for 51% of Climate Change

Updated: Dec 29, 2009

In 2006 U.N. concluded that about 18% of climate change is due to livestock. Three years later (2009), scientists conclude that livestock accounts for a staggering 51% of climate change.

Cows, Climate Change / Global Warming

Two scientists, Goodland and Anhang, from the Worldwatch Institute conclude that a staggering 51% of climate change is due to livestock in their recent study.

United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates that 7,516 million metric tons per year of CO2 equivalents (CO2e), or 18 percent of annual world wide GHG [Green House Gas] emissions, are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs, and poultry. That amount would easily qualify livestock for a hard look indeed in the search for ways to address climate change. But our analysis shows that livestock and their by-products actually account for at least 32,564million tons of CO2 per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions. 1

Regardless if you believe the widely accepted U.N. numbers or the more recent findings, livestock is the leading contributor to climate change.  Some countries are already reacting to the new information.  Swedish National Food Administration are trying to help Swedish consumers make informed decisions.  By labeling the carbon footprint of food products they are aiming at nudging consumers away from food products that heavily contribute to climate change, such as animal products.

The amount of livestock “walking” the earth waiting to be turned into beef products, poultry, and pork to cheese or a glass of milk is posing a serious problem for our climate (not to mention our health). For example, enormous amounts of forests have been logged and leveled so we can keep more and more grassing cows. These are the very forests that absorb CO2, emit O2, and store vast amounts of CO2 in the form of wood (carbon sink) thereby countering climate change. As of 2006, 70% of the loggings in the Amazon are used for raising and feeding livestock. In addition, worldwide “livestock production accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet2 So not only are we destroying forests that help remove the CO2 that causes global warm but we replace them with cows that breath out methane which is about 23 times more harmful than CO2 3. On top of that we grow more food for animals than for ourselves and we also provide them with more water than ourselves. Aside from climate change or health benefits from removing animal products, it simply is inefficient and unsustainable to keep animals for our consumption, especially at the scale it is done today.

According to the FAO, 37 percent of human induced methane comes from livestock. Although methane warms the atmosphere much more strongly than does CO2, its half-life in the atmosphere is only about 8 years, versus at least 100 years for CO2. As a result, a significant reduction in livestock raised worldwide would reduce GHGs [Green House Gases] relatively quickly compared with measures involving renewable energy and energy efficiency4

The bottom line is, there may be nothing else that can contribute more to climate change than consuming foods derived from livestock (and the same goes for your health but lets leave that for another discussion). In fact, livestock even by UN’s numbers of 2006 is responsible for more global green house gas emissions than the entire transportation sector.3 This means, changing what we eat by reducing and hopefully eliminating animal products altogether is the best and probably the quickest way to help slow down global warming. I’m troubled about what our future will look like and what burden we are paying forward to future generations. What we eat makes a big difference! 

All we need to do is change our eating habits to a whole plant-based diet for a sustainable future and optimal functioning.

References:

Goodland, R., & Anhang, J. (2009, November). Livestock and climate change: What if the key actors in climate change are… Cows, pigs, and chickens? World Watch. [free full text PDF]

1. p. 11

2. p. xxi

4. p. 13

Rosenthal, E. (2009, October 22). To cut global warming, Swedes study their plates. New York Times. Retrieved December 23, 2009, from http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/23/world/europe/23degrees.html

Steinfeld, H., Gerber, P., Wassenaar, T. D., Castel, V., & de Haan, C. (2006). Livestock’s long shadow: Environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization. [free full text PDF]

3. p. xxi


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