February 20, 2013

Lifting livestock’s long shadow

To the Editor — In the News Feature entitled ‘Light is cast on a long shadow’ by Anna Petherick [1], it is stated that developing countries’ middle classes “are on course to demand twice the current amount of livestock products in 2050.”

This statement does not take into account the International Food Policy Research Institute’s scenario by which global meat consumption will decline until at least 2030 [2]. Moreover, Petherick [1] cited mainly livestock researchers, whereas good practice is to consider assessment by environmental specialists where significant environmental risk occurs [3].

As environmental-risk specialists employed by the World Bank and International Finance Corporation — two United Nations agencies — my colleague Jeff Anhang and I have estimated that livestock products account for at least 51% of anthropogenic greenhouse-gas emissions [4]. Links to consequential citations of our analysis can be found on our website [5].

In our assessment, reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis balanced respiration. That model was valid as long as there were roughly constant levels of respiration and photosynthesis on Earth. However, respiration has increased exponentially with livestock production, and intensified livestock and feed production accompanied by large-scale deforestation and forest-burning have caused huge increases in volatilization of soil carbon, resulting in a dramatic decline in the Earth’s photosynthetic capacity. Therefore, either carbon dioxide in livestock respiration, or its reflection in carbon debt created where land is used for livestock and feed production, must be counted as emissions.

In assessing livestock, emissions relating to land use for livestock and feed production are considered indirect emissions. According to the Greenhouse Gas Protocol — the most widely used tool for greenhouse-gas accounting — indirect emissions should be counted when they are large and can be mitigated or reduced [6]. One of the key sources in Petherick’s Feature [1], Mario Herrero, co-authored an estimate that 45% of all land is now used for livestock and feed production [7].

Kanaly et al. [8] summed up our study as follows: “Goodland and Anhang explained what may be a large-scale paradigm shift in the approaches to mitigating climate change.” Previously, renewable-energy infrastructure was thought to be the key to reversing climate change. After years of inadequate action, sufficient new infrastructure is now projected to take at least 20 years and US$18 trillion to develop [9].

Yet the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have both warned that the next five years may be the last real chance to reverse climate change before it’s too late [10,11]. We say that the only pragmatic way to do so is to replace at least 25% of today’s livestock products with better alternatives — this would both eliminate much more than 4% of agricultural emissions, and allow reforestation and forest regeneration on vast amounts of land, which could then absorb enough atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level.

Robert Goodland
World Bank, 1818 Society
e-mail: rbtgoodland/gmail.com

Nature Climate Change, January 2013

  1. Petherick, A. Nature Clim. Change 2, 705–706 (2012).
  2. Msangi, S. & Rosegrant, M. Feeding the Future’s Changing Diets: Implications for Agriculture Markets, Nutrition, and Policy (IFPRI, 2011); available via http://go.nature.com/Sdukkp
  3. Green laws take no prisoners. Legal Brief Today (13 September 2011); available via http://go.nature.com/IeAfKM
  4. Goodland, R. & Anhang, J. World Watch 22, 10–19 (2009).
  5. www.chompingclimatechange.org
  6. Putt del Pino, S., Levinson, R. & Larsen, J. Hot Climate, Cool Commerce: A Service Sector Guide to Greenhouse Gas Management (WRI, 2006); available at http://pdf.wri.org/hotclimatecoolcommerce.pdf
  7. Thornton, P., Herrero, M. & Ericksen, P. Livestock and climate change. (ILRI, 2011); available via http://go.nature.com/wYaVA6
  8. Kanaly, R. A., Manzanero, L. I. O., Foley, G., Panneerselvam, S. & Macer, D. Energy Flow, Environment and Ethical Implications for Meat Production (UNESCO, 2010); available via http://go.nature.com/VBMWVw
  9. Statement by Nobuo Tanaka, IEA Executive Director to COP 16 (IEA, 2010); available via http://go.nature.com/ivfhds
  10. Spotts, P. Climate change report: Time to start preparing for the worst. The Christian Science Monitor (28 March 2012); available via http://go.nature.com/8Cl4ct
  11. DiLorenzo, S. IEA: Time running out to limit Earth’s warming Newsvine (9 November 2011); available via http://go.nature.com/1fdbPO
environment, environmentalism, vegetarianism, veganism

February 16, 2013

The animal killers' dilemma

Glenn Davis Stone, Professor of Anthropology and Environmental Studies at Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, and pro-GMO blogger at fieldquestions.com, posted an essay on Nov. 26, 2012, "The Animal Lover's Dilemma", by Elizabeth Vandeventer of Davis Creek Farm, Nelson County, Virginia. She is another supposedly ex-vegetarian who describes her sense of missing out on the death action in the great cycle of life. So she attacks vegans, who she blames for palm oil plantations, among other evils of industrial agriculture and chemistry, for not being more informed than the general population about the same food that everyone else eats. And of course, unlike people who just buy their packaged meat in the grocery store, she "honors" animals by raising them and thanking them before killing them to sell as packaged meat at farmers' markets.

Vandeventer was inspired to write because of the international outrage about Green Mountain College's determination to kill their oxen Bill and Lou. (They went ahead and killed Lou, rather than give him adequate veterinary care, but did it medically so they could whine that his "meat" was wasted.) Bill, no longer working for his room and board, still languishes at the college in Limbo despite at least two offers of sanctuary.

While the college raised one of those sanctuaries, called VINE, for Veganism Is the Next Evolution, to arch-adversary, unable to separate VINE's specific concern for Bill and Lou from their antipathy to its larger outlook (animal rights, human rights), and then unwilling to hear any advocate for Bill and Lou except that of their imagined version of VINE — now an extremist, terrorist organization ready to firebomb the college — Vandeventer creates her straw man at the other end, conjuring mindless consumerist sentimentalist "animal lovers" who are singularly responsible for the destruction of rain forests for palm oil plantations.

The essay is the usual self-justifying drivel, which continues in the comments below it. I write about it today because host Glenn Davis Stone just added what I suppose he thinks should be a succinct wrap-up:

Meat eating causes more death but it causes more life as well. I have been to Elizabeth’s farm and seen the hundreds of chickens and cattle enjoying life on her pastures. All because of meat eaters.
How does one respond, after the laughter, to such madness? "Rucio" tries:
And then having that life cut violently short. For the enjoyment of meat eaters. Only increasing the animals' gratitude, no doubt.
Note: According to a profile of Charlottesville (Va.)–area farmers, Vandeventer's farm has 4,000 "meat" chickens. Each of them named, of course, and roaming free. And according to her own web site, both the chickens and the cows do not exist solely on the grass and grains of the farm. Although Vandeventer claims that grazing is the only agriculture possible for her land (the pictures showing lush grasses and fairly flat fields suggests otherwise, however), her business depends on other farmland growing crops not for people but for her "livestock", i.e., it is not at all a model of sustainability unless that means only sustaining a meat industry.

Update:  Davis Stone replied to Rucio's comment: "I’m not sure what “violent” means here — Elizabeth’s animals are killed instantly. Hard to imagine an animal being grateful to people for arguing they never be born just because they were going to die." To which Rucio replied: "What could be more violent than killing another being well before the time of its natural death?" and "It is even harder to imagine an animal being grateful to people for arguing that they must kill it to justify its life."

environment, environmentalism, human rights, animal rights, vegetarianism, veganism, Vermont, anarchism, ecoanarchism

February 3, 2013

Vermont Senators defend “rural tradition” of military-style assault weapons

From The Valley News, Tuesday, Jan. 29 [comments below]:
Gun control advocates in the Upper Valley are criticizing Democrats in the Vermont Senate for abruptly withdrawing a bill that would have banned the sale or manufacture of assault weapons before the legislation even had a chance to be discussed at a public hearing.

The bill, initially filed by Senate Majority Leader Philip Baruth, D-Burlington, would have prohibited the manufacture, possession and transfer of semiautomatic assault weapons and large capacity ammunition, and made it a crime for a person to leave a firearm accessible to a child. ...

Caledonia state Sen. Joe Benning, R-Lyndon, had lunch with Baruth a few days before he pulled the bill, and told him he wouldn’t support the assault weapons ban. Baruth then shared with him that he couldn’t find anyone in the Democratic caucus who would support his bill, either.

“When he recognized there was no support for his bill, he decided to withdraw it so not to cause any conflict or discussion,” [emphasis added] said Benning, whose district includes several Orange County towns in the Bradford area.

Numerous Democrats interviewed said they wouldn’t have supported the bill if it had gone forward, many citing the rural nature of Vermont life.

Benning said he has received hundreds of emails from constituents and every email was opposing the bill, which Benning said he found shocking.

State Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Bethel, said that in 23 years, he has never supported gun control in Vermont, and it’s because Vermont is a rural area and firearms are part of rural life.

State Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Danville, said she wouldn’t have supported the bill because assault weapons are not the only way that people can harm or kill others. Take Melissa Jenkins for example. The St. Johnsbury Academy teacher was strangled to death last year and her death did not involve a firearm.

“I wish we could legislate (against) evil,” said Kitchel, a Caledonia senator also representing the Bradford-area towns.

And while Kitchel understands that there are a lot of gun owners in Vermont and gun laws are relaxed, she said there is no correlation between the number of gun owners in Vermont and gun violence. ...

Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Quechee, said he too wouldn’t have supported Baruth’s bill because he said he doesn’t want the Senate to have a reactive approach to what happened in Newtown, Conn.

Instead, he sided with Benning and said that the Senate should focus on the flaws in the system that allow people with mental illness to have access to guns. ...
If the 2nd amendment protects the right of individuals to own military-style assault rifles, why not rocket launchers, mortars, cannons, tanks? Weapons of mass destruction don't belong in the hands of individuals. This is not (yet) central Africa or Somalia. "Rural traditions" of hunting and shooting have nothing to do with assault weapons. And Adam Lanza's mom was considered to be a "responsible gun owner"; he himself was well trained to handle those guns "responsibly". Could it be that owning such guns — especially more than one — is itself a sign of mental instability? Or at least a dangerous antisocial proclivity? Or at least a very risky enabler of great potential harm?

Civilization is about limits: freedom, not license. No person is free when anyone can be a tyrant. Baruth's bill was withdrawn "so not to cause any conflict or discussion" — in other words, in cowardly capitulation to well armed bullies. That is indeed more suggestive of eastern Congo than open progressive democratic Vermont.

And U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy going on, like fellow "liberal" Jane Kitchel above, about how special Vermont is with so many guns and relatively little gun violence (ignoring its leading suicide rate) ignores the obvious fact, which Leahy just helped promote nationally, that Vermont is the go-to state in the region to load up on destructive weaponry. (This "straw purchasing" was noted in the Valley News article by former Norwich Selectwoman Sharon Racusin.) (And of course, Leahy's "job" as a senior senator is mostly to land military contracts for Vermont companies, and part of the military economy is our arming the world, including with "small" arms.)

Finally, Joe Benning (and Kitchel with a more blatant diversion) echos the inanity that "guns don't kill people, people kill people". And people with assault weapons are able to kill lots of people. A letter in today's Valley News similarly insisted that guns are just tools, that we shouldn't blame the gun any more than we blame the car in an accident. But a gun is a tool with only one purpose, a deadly purpose. A civilized society requires cars to be safe so that their use does not bring undue danger to the public. Likewise, a civilized society limits the deadliness of weaponry in the hands of its citizens.

That lawmakers fear even talking about reasonable limits that do not threaten in any way hunting and other recreational shooting, nor the defense of one's home or animals, the "right to bear arms", is itself frightening.

[Note:  The Valley News carried an editorial on Saturday about "this unseemly bit of moral retreat".

human rights, Vermont]