Do Vegans “Fucking Love Science?" The Relationship Between Animal Agriculture & Climate Change

Note: this will hopefully be a running series where I try to focus on a few discrete facts about veganism at a time and discuss how they should be looked at by individuals who purport a love of science.

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Let me just address one thing quickly: one of my least favorite sites on Facebook is “I Fucking Love Science,” which may seem odd as I have a PhD in molecular biology and am a scientist by trade. I personally can’t stand the page because it has almost nothing to do with science; I just went and perused their page and most of what it shares are cool pictures of space and nature with a random sprinkling of articles with headlines that sound cool because they're overselling the science in the articles because the authors don’t really understand the work they're discussing. The page has almost nothing to do with how science works or what it entails and I blocked it from showing up in my feed because so many people like and share stuff from it all the time.

But I’m not here to rag on a Facebook site, I’m here to talk about the idea that so many people seem to think they “fucking love science” yet, when push comes to shove, they’ll do their damnedest to ignore science that has implications they don’t like – which is about the most anti-scientific thing you can ever do.

I imagine most people reading this believe that human activity plays a role in climate change. “Of course it does,” you say, “the science is undeniable!” And I agree with you, the science is pretty undeniable, as there is a very large scientific consensus that says human activity is a contributing factor to climate change and major environmental organizations trumpet this fact and use it to encourage behavior change. They ask us to decrease our carbon footprint and cut down on things that emit greenhouse gases by doing things like using more fuel efficient cars, and they want us to turn towards alternative sources of energy that don’t rely on the burning of fossil fuels. We need to do this to save the planet, and we need to do this now! Greenhouse gases are so destructive, and everyone knows this, after all, everyone “fucking loves science!” So why would you want to argue with it?

http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/

http://www.ewg.org/meateatersguide/

 

Yet how many people know that globally animal agriculture causes more greenhouse gas emissions than the combined exhaust from all modes of transportation? That, depending on reports, animal agriculture is responsible for 18-51% of all greenhouse gases released into the environment?

The lower number, a number that is still higher than all transportation vehicles combined, is from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, an institution that I would say doesn’t have a vegan bias. The FAO recently revised their numbers down to 14.5%, though they do state that the two numbers can't be compared "as reference periods and sources differ."

The 51% number is from a study conducted by the Worldwatch Institute in which they took into account CO2, nitrous oxide, and methane from the respiration and waste coming out of the tens of billions of animals who are continually bred and slaughtered specifically for food, since without animal agriculture, they wouldn’t exist in the numbers they do (meaning the greenhouse gases  from these animals would clearly not exist if animal agriculture weren’t around). The FAO chooses to ignore animal respiration from their numbers, suggesting that the 10+ billion animals that are only on this planet due to human intervention would be replaced by wild animals if we stopped breeding them into existence, which is a highly preposterous notion. The Worldwatch Institute may have a bias towards veganism, but only in that they are for sustainable living and I don’t think I’ve ever come across a study saying animal agriculture in its current form (a form required to meet our unchecked demand) is sustainable.

There’s also another recent article that mentions 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions coming from animal agriculture. I’ll concede that all three numbers vary, but this has more to do with the methodology used to generate the numbers being different than anything else (which the FAO themselves admit in looking at numbers just a few years apart). And even with this discrepancy, the emissions attributed to animal agriculture are equal to or greater than all the emissions that come from the global transport sector (cars, trucks, trains, planes, ships, etc) combined, which routinely vary from 12%-15% depending on the report.

Now, if you agree that human activity is a driver of climate change and facts point to animal agriculture being responsible for a large portion of the greenhouse gasses released into the environment, why are you waiting for something that can take decades to implement (alternative energy sources) instead of doing something that will have an immediate impact on the day you start (going vegan)?

Click the graphic above to be taken to research study published in Climactic Change, "Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters in the UK" by Scarborough et.al. Similar trends hold true for other countries as well.

Click the graphic above to be taken to research study published in Climactic Change, "Dietary greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eaters in the UK" by Scarborough et.al. Similar trends hold true for other countries as well.

Going vegan can cut an individuals carbon footprint in half! And all you have to do is simply eat delicious and healthy vegan food. That's it, there's no modifying your house or buying an expensive new car, all you have to do is eat good food. A lot of people like to tout they’re cutting back on their meat consumption (only to replace meat with cheese- and egg-based dishes, greatly negating the effort), and people love Meatless Mondays because they can talk about how they’re making a difference one day a week, so there's obviously an awareness out there of environmental impact of animal agriculture. But if we lived in a world where all our energy could be generated from wind, solar, and waves, how would you feel if almost everyone decided they were going to run a gas-guzzling generator anyway – but only six days a week – to power their house while you used the emissions-free energy sources all seven days?

Wouldn’t you be mad at them, since there is so much more they could be doing? What would you say to them to get them to switch? Maybe they don’t want to switch because they’re so used to gas/coal power or maybe they feel that wind power doesn’t give them the same amperage as fossil fuel power. How quickly would you show them the facts; that there’s no difference between the wind/solar energy and the energy generated from coal?

Do you not change because you feel the “science isn’t settled?" Because if you feel that way, you’re coming across just like a climate change denier who doesn’t feel like the science on human-induced climate change is settled. Do you say that because every report on climate change and animal agriculture comes up with different numbers? There's no denying they do, but when differing methods all come to the same conclusions, it's further proof that those hypotheses are true, not false!

What research have you read or done to convince yourself that animal agriculture isn’t a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions? I guess those articles written by farmers and large animal agriculture conglomerates proclaiming #NotAllMeat really have you convinced. I’m sure those people, unlike the big oil companies saying they don't cause climate change, are writing those article because they care so much about getting the science right, not because they have a financial stake in keeping people unaware of the damage they're doing to the earth every time the sit down to a meal with animal products on their plate. How much data do you need to be convinced that animal agriculture is bad for the environment from a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint? If you need more data, you can wait for the inevitable to happen and get more data on the issue, or you can make the switch to veganism and start helping the environment now. The best part is, we have no nutritional requirement for any animal-derived food at all!

If you could switch your house over to all solar/wind generated power at zero net cost to you, how quickly would you switch? If suddenly electric cars got 400 miles per charge and cost the same as a gas powered car, how quickly would you be at the car dealership making a trade in?

http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet

http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/food-carbon-footprint-diet

If you would do both those things today, have I got a deal for you! Veganism costs you nothing and has the wonderful benefit of greatly decreasing your carbon (and water!) footprint immediately. A single person going vegan makes a huge impact on the amount of greenhouse gases that go into the environment, so even if you’re one of those “what good can one person do” people, you can actually do a lot! Your change can be an inspiration for others to change too, creating a ripple effect and making the collective contribution of you going vegan that much greater!

Additionally, animal agriculture has been shown to be the top cause of species extinction, Amazon deforestation, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, the spread of disease, and a pervasive driving force between many other devastating social and environmental ills including world hunger.

So if you really “fucking love science” and believe in human-induced climate change, you’ll start your vegan journey as soon as you can.

Written by Craig

Click the above graphic to be taken to "Organic: A Climate Saviour?" The foodwatch report on the greenhouse effect of conventional and organic farming in Germany based on the study “The Impact of German Agriculture on the Climate“ by the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) 

Click the above graphic to be taken to "Organic: A Climate Saviour?" The foodwatch
report on the greenhouse effect of conventional and organic farming in Germany based on the study “The Impact of German Agriculture on the Climate“ by the Institute for Ecological Economy Research (IÖW) 

"COWSPIRACY: The Sustainability Secret" is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following an intrepid filmmaker as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today, and investigates why the world's leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. A cut co-produced by Leonardo DiCaprio is now streaming on Netflix. See more at: www.cowspiracy.com.



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