Tag Archives: land use

COP 19 and Climate Change: The Path to Resolution

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The Conference

On November 11th, world leaders in business, industry, and NGOs will join representatives from nearly 200 countries to convene in Warsaw, Poland, for the nineteenth annual Conference of the Parties (COP 19) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—an international environmental treaty established in 1994 to address the challenges of a warming planet.

The Sustainable Innovation Forum will be occurring alongside COP 19, featuring similar representation, with the objective of fostering innovative thinking and actions to transform energy policy and supply (energy security).

What was concerning to a few researchers in the 1980s, leading to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, is generally widely accepted today—that global warming and climate change are very real, they are worsening, and they will exacerbate severe weather patterns, threaten food security, damage the health of our oceans, and detrimentally effect many lives. Developing countries already struggling with hunger, poverty, loss of productive topsoil, and human sickness will be particularly hard hit. Importantly, although natural sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions do exist, humans are to blame for the degree of climate change we are currently experiencing, because it is largely a byproduct of our actions—certain habits that have resulted in excessive GHGs being increasingly emitted into our atmosphere over the past century. Unfortunately, previous conferences of this type have ended in lack of formal agreement and have missed targets for change. The two largest emitters in the world, China and the U.S., don’t even participate.

Urgency       Image

Every aspect of global depletion has a timeline. It’s not really a question of if we will run out of certain vital resources or environment that sustains us… it’s WHEN. Perhaps the most critical timeline we face, regarding our survival as a species, is that of climate change. We have only a three- to four-year window of time from now to drastically reduce GHGs, or we will be thrust into irreversible warming of our planet. Most experts agree that if our planet’s temperature increases just 2 degrees Centigrade from pre-industrial levels, there will be catastrophic effects—complete loss of island countries, as well as severe droughts, flooding, and storms, just for starters. If some of this sounds familiar, it’s because we are already halfway to that two-degree mark, and we’re most likely careening toward a 3.6- to 5.3-degree Centigrade rise in average temperature by the end of this century. Some researchers believe that enough GHGs have already been emitted to cause atmospheric changes that will force us into continued short-term warming, regardless of a reduction in emissions.

In fact, the International Energy Agency has been quite clear about the window of opportunity for us to limit global warming, and that window closes at the end of year 2017 (IEA).

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Wrong Focus

To date, the attention at the previous eighteen COP conferences and all other high-level climate change meetings has been on reducing the burning of fossil fuels by the energy sector, which accounts for roughly 53 percent of all GHGs. (Energy accounts for 66 percent of global GHGs, and 80 percent of all energy consumption derives from fossil fuel). Many experts suggest elimination of coal, due to its lack of efficiency and large proportion of GHG contribution.

In 2006, a now widely cited U.N. study shocked the world by reporting that the livestock industry accounted for 18 percent of all human-induced GHG. Since that time, other researchers have found that this figure may be in excess of 51 percent, which would make it by far the most significant global contributor to climate change. This disparity (18 vs. 51 percent) was a result of at least three factors: underreporting and omission of key data, use of outdated figures, and likely editorial conceptual bias of that 2006 U.N. report (see Goodland & Anhang). Note that neither report (U.N. or Goodland & Anhang) accounted for the additional GHG and ecological damage contributed by the fishing industry—the fossil fuel used by fishing fleets, as well as the transportation, refrigeration, processing, and packaging of marine life that is extracted from our oceans or raised in aquaculture operations.

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In or out of COP conventions, discussions of our climate change plight typically end up sooner or later referencing one of two figures related to the maximum amount of GHG our atmosphere can accept before catastrophic effects mount:

  • The first figure, 350, refers to the parts per million density threshold of carbon-equivalent GHGs.
  • The second figure, 565, refers to the maximum total number of gigatons (Gt) of GHGs our atmosphere is able to absorb.

Livestock have been shown to produce up to 32 Gt per year (from methane and CO2 production, deforestation, etc.). So, it is possible that we could exceed our atmospheric maximum of 565 Gt by the year 2030, simply from the continued production and consumption of livestock—without the energy sector or any fossil fuel consumption (gas, oil, or coal) even factored into the equation.

While attention should surely be given to the energy, industry, and transportation sectors, certainly animal agriculture demands equal time in any COP or similar climate change conference. BP, Shell, and Exxon are significant players in our climate change saga, but so is every business associated with the meat, dairy, and fishing industries as well as the consumers who eat their products. And it is certainly easier for consumers to reach for plant-based food items than it is for them to go off the grid with their electrical needs or drive a wind-powered car.

Mitigation vs. Adaptation    get-attachment-12.aspx

Unable to construct a workable legal framework by which all countries are accountable, and faced with what they now see as worsening climate change inevitability, the delegates at Doha, Qatar (COP 18) turned to discussions of methods for “adapting” to climate change, rather than mitigating it. Discussions about the role of agriculture were conveniently postponed, as had occurred at all prior COP conventions, so frank dialogue addressing the elephant in the room—raising and eating animals—remains quite remote. The participants at recent COP conventions have had no difficulty calling for the elimination of coal and replacement of fossil fuels by alternative energy sources such as wind and solar. It’s time they consider calling for the same measures with animal products and concomitant agriculture industries. Indeed, the solution to the climate change caused by at least one of the three largest emitters of anthropogenic GHGs can be readily found by any of the high-level COP 19 attendees—they simply need to glance down at what’s on their dinner plates!

Prescription for Change     bookhardcover copy 

When looking at strategies for solving our increasing anthropogenic GHG-climate challenge, I believe we are faced with adopting one of two approaches here in the United States, which could then serve as an example for the rest of the world.

  • The first approach is to reduce our dependency on fossil fuel and fund research on alternative technologies, which is already underway. However, building renewable energy infrastructure such as solar and wind generators across our country to reduce climate change, although a good idea, is projected to take at least 20 more years and $18 trillion to develop. We don’t have 20 years, and we certainly don’t have $18 trillion.
  • So another solution to climate change would be to stop eating animals—today. It doesn’t have to take 20 years. And instead of $18 trillion, it costs nothing.

Replacement of all animal-based food products with plant-based alternatives is the clear immediate prescription for mitigating climate change.

Oh, and by doing so, we will also minimize our global footprint, essentially reducing nearly all other aspects of global depletion—land use inefficiencies and freshwater scarcity, damage to our oceans and loss of rainforests, rapid extinction of other species, world hunger, and escalation of chronic disease in humans.

Problems solved.

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Biodiversity and Food Choice: A Clarification

ImageThere needs to be a correction, and also modification of a particular concept, to the recently published article I had written for the North American Vegetarian Society (“Meat: no longer just a factory farm issue” in Vegetarian Voice 2012) regarding biodiversity loss. The “30,000 per year” extinction or loss of species statement I made is actually referring to species of animals, plants, insects—not simply animals (although the “animal” kingdom technically includes insects). This figure was first brought to light by Harvard naturalist and emeritus professor of biology, Edward Wilson (The Diversity of Life, Harvard University Press 1992) and supported by Niles Eldridge (Life in the Balance, Princeton University Press 1998). Others such as Georgina Mace, Paul Ehrlich have extinction estimates as high as 70,000 to 130,000 species per year (7,000 to 13,000 times the background rate).

After speaking with and interviewing numerous researchers with the Species Survival Commission of IUCN (The World Conservation Union) and COBD (The Convention on Biological Diversity), about this topic over the past four months, I now feel there are many uncertainties surrounding attempts at quantifying the exact number of species becoming extinct per year. For this reason, it is more meaningful to view our planet’s current loss of species and the impact of our food choices in the following manner:

  1. We are losing species of life as well as ecosystems on Earth at an unprecedented and alarming rate, estimated to be anywhere between 1,000 and 10,000 times the “background rate”—that which had been seen for the previous several thousands of years. Therefore, it is this massive rate of extinction rather than number of loss that becomes a more meaningful metric and cause for concern.
  2. It is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately predict the number of species loss per year because of a number of factors. One of the largest unknowns is the exact amount of species that we have on earth, which is a needed component when attempting to determine total numbers of species loss when using an extinction prediction equation. This is one of the reasons the Species Area Curve Relationship method of extinction calculation has led to speculation and wide ranges of numbers of extinct species. It is the feeling of most researchers today that although we have identified approximately 1.8 million species on our planet, there are most likely between 10 and 30 million that exist.
  3. Regardless of the exact number of species becoming extinct per year, it is alarming at best and can be most attributed to loss of habitat—and the predicted future escalation will be due to habitat loss combined with climate change.
  4. With estimates of 45% of all the land mass on Earth used by animal agriculture and 1 to 2 trillion fish extracted from our oceans each year (by fishing methods such as trawling, purse seine, long lines, explosives and other techniques that are damaging ecosystems)—eating animals (fishing and livestock production) is the largest contributing factor in habitat loss and constitutes the second largest sector implicated in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions which lead to climate change.

There has been widespread thought that marine species were more resilient to extinction and our further exploitation. However, there is finally a growing amount of evidence that fish and wildlife in our oceans are as, or more, vulnerable to extinction than many terrestrial and freshwater species. Despite continued massive harvesting of sea life from our oceans, it is generally agreed upon by researchers not affiliated with sustainable certifying organizations that the amount and distribution of threatened marine species is, at best, “poorly known.” Our demand to eat fish cannot be taken out of the equation when discussing our abuse of natural resources, eventual loss of species, and climate change.

Habitat loss is far and away the most pervasive threat to terrestrial animal species, impacting 86% of all mammals, 88% of amphibians, and 86% of all birds. One in every eight birds, one in every three amphibians and one in every four mammals is facing an extremely high risk of extinction in the near future. Overexploitation of animals for consumption remains a second major factor for extinction such as can be seen in wild meat trade in Africa and Southeast Asia and all hunting endeavors on land, globally.

Current biodiversity assessments (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, IUCN Red List, and the Global Environmental and Biodiversity Outlook) now generally agree that land use change, modification of river flow, freshwater pollution, and exploitation of marine environments are the most significant drivers of biodiversity change and loss of species. Eventually, ocean acidification and climate change will become increasingly important. With overharvesting sea life in our oceans and raising livestock on land (grazing or CAFOs), our demand to eat animals and animal products remains the largest contributing anthropogenic factor to those accepted drivers of loss of species on Earth.

Let’s eat plants, not animals, and inspire others to do the same. Dr. O

The World Hunger-Food Choice Connection: A Summary

ImageDuring many of my lectures, I have been asked to discuss world hunger as it relates to our food choices because it is a very serious and complicated issue. One billion people in the world suffer from hunger and six million children will die from starvation this year, as they did in 2011. The reality of these figures should be as startling to you as they are to me.

We all seem to have difficulty understanding how our choices, particularly regarding items we consume such as food, could possibly have an impact on something or someone elsewhere in the world. It is so very difficult to see, feel, or extend beyond the microcosm or bubble each of us finds ourselves living within. After all, if it is not directly in our sight, it must not real.

Although having many layers of complexity, to most observers the reason we have world hunger is because of poverty. While on its simplest level this is true, animal based food production systems are directly responsible for many factors affecting hunger, starvation—and even poverty, which then, cycles itself back to hunger.

This correlation between animal (livestock and fish) based food production systems and world hunger is, of course, fueled by the demand for these products and can be found in generalized global factors as well as on a very local basis or regionally within countries where hunger rates are high. Together, these two categories of factors (global and local) insidiously manifest themselves in many ways.

There are two primary groups of people suffering from this poverty-hunger cycle—about 33% are those living in more urban settings (this is the case with those found in the U.S. and other developed countries), while the other 2/3 are those in rural and more undeveloped nations. For both groups, the raising and eating animals (livestock and fish) by our global community ultimately affects food prices, food availability, policy making, and even education to improve agricultural systems in those developing countries. Global factors include control of seed manufacturing and pricing primarily for livestock feed crops by large companies such as Monsanto and DuPont (Pioneer), buying and selling of grain including futures by Archer Daniel Midland, Cargill and through the processing/slaughterhouses and packaging by Cargill, Swift, Tyson, and JBS. These few but very large and powerful companies control over 65% of all seed, grain, and over 80% of all final animal products in the world. It is a very monopolized production and economic system manufacturing seeds at one end and spewing out meat at the other. Because of the global demand for meat (all livestock), cultural, social, political, and economic influences remain strongly supportive of the continued dominance of these large companies and the meat, dairy, and fishing industries in general, which then drives how global resources are being used (land, water, rainforests, oceans, atmosphere, biodiversity, etc.), how money is spent, and how policies are determined. The demand for animal products in developed countries drives resource depletion in developing countries as well as exacerbating poverty and hunger.

Realize that 82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.  One fourth of all grain produced by third world countries is now given to livestock, in their own country and out.

Globally, even with climate change issues and weather extremes, we are producing enough grain to feed two times as many people as there are in the world. In 2011, there was a record harvest of grain globally, with over 2.5 billion tons, but half of that was fed to animals in the meat and dairy industries. Seventy seven percent of all coarse grains (corn, oats, sorghum, barley, etc.) and over 90% of all soy grown in the world was fed to livestock. So clearly the difficulty is not how can we produce enough food to feed the hungry, but where all the food we produce globally is going, in addition to the other factors of pricing, policy making, and education. This will certainly become more of an issue as our planet’s human population extends beyond 9 billion before the year 2050.

On a local basis, specific animal based agriculture simply perpetuates both poverty and hunger. This is true whether in urban, industrialized countries, which are affected by all those factors mentioned above, or in rural developing countries. As an example, in Ethiopia, over 60% of their population is considered hungry or starving, and yet they have 50 million cattle in that country (one of the largest herds in the world), unnecessarily consuming their food, land, and water. More than 2/3 of Ethiopia’s topsoil has been lost due to raising cattle. Many countries elsewhere in Africa and in the Amazonian region that suffer from hunger raise cattle inefficiently at the expense of their soil, localized climate, and other resources while producing a fraction of the food they could if converting to plant based foods. This is because of their  very powerful cultural factors to raise cattle as well as demand globally and by neighboring countries.

More than 66% of the world’s poorest people (those living on $2 or less per day) live in rural areas and rely on natural resources for their existence. Global demand and production of fish and livestock has reduced traditional fishing stocks and decimated coral reef systems for indigenous people living on coasts and islands, shriveled and segmented million year old forests. This will only exacerbate world poverty and hunger because while remote from those who consume animal products, it is the world of the indigenous and the very natural resources they have relied on for centuries.

So, how would conversion to plant-based, local agriculture systems change this? Hunger and poverty, in many cases, exist as a circling phenomenon, whereby one perpetuates the other. Addressing the hunger issue will help solve the poverty issue. It has been shown that growth in the agricultural sector of a developing nation is two times more effective than growth in any other area including economics. This is because in Africa and most other developing countries where there is poverty and hunger, over 75% of the working force is engaged in agriculture. Ethiopia has 95% of its income dependent upon agriculture. However, at the same time that agricultural growth is needed, it must be in organic plant based systems because this would be the most efficient use of their resources—many of which are already critically diminished such as water and land.

Instead of using their food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land, and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia could for instance grow teff, an ancient and quite nutritious grain. Seventy percent of all their cattle are raised pastorally in the highlands of that country where less than 100 pounds of meat and a few gallons of milk are produced per acre of land used. If this land were used for the growing of teff, Ethiopians could produce over 2,000 pounds of food per one acre with no water irrigation. The end product could provide a much greater amount of much needed nutrients and even stimulate improved economics with business opportunities to sell teff (as well as many other types of produce) to other countries. Therefore, conversion to plant based food systems for local regions in developing countries would feed more people more nutritiously with more efficient use of their resources, improve long term soil fertility, create economic opportunities, all of which would provide a path toward breaking the poverty and hunger cycle.

Nearly all researchers on this topic could agree that while there are many complex layers of influences related to hunger and that war and repressive government regimes as well as climate extremes all play a role, the most significant are poverty, lack of natural resources and inefficient use of the resources they do have. And although other influences certainly may also play a role in poverty, the most significant and long-term factor that can be changed is with the development of new plant based organic agricultural systems and the education to do so. It is what we have the most control over, with the most profound impact. It must begin, though, with education and an example of this can be found in the Machakos district of south Kenya. This is a poor area economically as well as from a soil fertility standpoint and they are many times in the midst of an unstable, if not repressive, government. Nevertheless, a program was implemented teaching the women farmers, (more than 50% of the farmers in African countries are women) techniques such as erosion and rainwater control with terracing. They began focusing on organic, plant based foods instead of livestock or animal feed crops, and their yields improved by more than 50%, now using produce to feed more people and even creating business opportunities that are selling items such as green beans to other countries.

In developing countries elsewhere, organic plant based agricultural systems have been shown to improve yields by as much as 400%, with an average of 150%. While most researchers and organizations involved in the plight of nations suffering from hunger inherently feel that improved information technologies, increasing intensified livestock operations, and fostering the continuation of cultural practices are where energy and dollars should be spent, I can see many difficulties with that approach. Instead, I feel that the emphasis should be placed on education, redefining the word “yield” beyond short term consumptive gain, and providing guidance for the implementation of fully organic plant based agricultural systems. This is the best way to improve soil fertility for the future, provide the most nutritious food at the least cost to their environment, while opening the doors to economic opportunities—thus, “feeding themselves” and creating a food, economic, and environs security net despite what repressive forces may surround them or they may encounter.

We must remember that although climate change and extremes of water conditions from floods to droughts do obviously exist, much of the soil fertility issues that are faced by developing countries in Africa and elsewhere who have high rates of hunger and malnutrition are derived from how they have managed (or mismanaged) their own agricultural systems over the past 100 years. It would be difficult to blame any other reason than their use of livestock—their complete cultural dependence on cattle. In many areas of Africa, poorly managed cattle herds have caused severe overgrazing, deforestation, and then subsequent erosion and eventual desertification. On average, 1/2 to 2/3 of all the topsoil has been lost across the entire African continent with some areas experiencing complete topsoil loss.  Allocation of the 2.5 billion tons of grain produced globally to people instead of animals, elimination of livestock based agricultural systems globally and locally, education of all small stakeholders and governments in developing countries for furthering organic plant based systems, and of course increased global awareness of these issues and the development of a collective consciousness will help eradicate world hunger as well as many other concerns along the way.

The World Hunger Service and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations stated in 2011, regarding world hunger: “The principal problem is that many people in the world do not have sufficient land to grow, or income to purchase, enough food.”

And, therein lies the problem—explaining why there has been no progress. This statement vividly illustrates the quite narrowed, simplified view of the very institution that is leading efforts to solve world hunger.

Let’s do our part in reducing world hunger and poverty by increasing awareness about changing to a fully plant based diet. Let’s raise and mobilize the collective conscience. We can do this.

Inspire Awareness Now!

Meet Jane

ImageThis is a story about Jane, a cute, cuddly, trusting and innocent 10 month-old real life koala. It’s not so much about her life directly as it is about a major disconnect—and a necessary reconnect that I’ll begin to weave for you. Jane’s life has been affected by the food choices we make on a global basis. “How can that possibly be,” you would surely ask—after all, the food we eat comes from a grocery store or a restaurant.

Similar to its effect on many other species living on our planet, the beef you are eating today has a profound impact on Jane and other koalas in two ways. First, since the U.S. is the second largest importer of Australian beef in the world (following Japan), the meat you are eating may have actually come from Australia—part of the 200,000 tons ($1 billion worth) we import each year from their country. Second, even if the beef on your plate today is not directly from the grasslands of Australia, it is one of the building blocks of the meat and dairy industry that casts its ominous shadow over our planet. With every bite of beef you take, it is effectively stamping another vote of support and creating the demand for more and more livestock to be raised and slaughtered throughout the world. This then perpetuates Global Depletion (see the book, Comfortably Unaware) of our planet’s resources and creates substantial increases in risk factors for loss of our own health. As we continue to demand more meat, dairy, and fish products to eat in our country we are also closing our eyes to the true costs to produce those animal products—whether here in the U.S. or in other countries. Until we recognize the true value of the resources and health implications of eating animals, irreversible losses on many fronts will continue to occur. We need to impose an eco and health risk tax on all animal products that are produced, purchased from other countries (such as Australia), and sold to consumers who want to continue eating them. We need to make the entire chain of responsibility pay for the real cost of producing that food. Accountability needs to be established by affixing an appropriate economic value to animal products that reflects all resource (eco) cost during production and to us (health) after consumption, is long overdue and it should be translated into a mandatory tax. For instance, if the habitat and lives of koalas (or biodiversity anywhere on Earth) are lost by the production of an item consumed by humans, then that loss should be paid for by all those responsible.

As with nearly every other country in the world, Australia is a major cattle producer and consumer, expected to become one of the top beef producers and exporters in the world by the end of 2012 along with Brazil and the U.S. (among other things, we have the distinction of holding the #1 spot for beef production in the world in 2011). With the importing of over 2 million head of cattle and 800,000 tons of fresh beef and veal in 2011, the U.S. also has become the world’s second largest importer of beef, following only Russia.

Australia is considered a grass fed wonderland because most of their 200 million sheep and cattle raised annually are being pastured. Even so, Australia is seeing an increase in cattle going to feedlots and being “finished” on grain prior to slaughter, expecting this trend to grow to 31% of all cattle raised by the year 2020. In the U.S. there is heavy marketing and media coverage about grass fed/pastured livestock products, however, the USDA predicts our country will see a 4% increase this year (2012) in cattle that will be raised, or at least finished, on grain in feedlots instead of being 100% grass fed. This is largely due to the demand for grain fed meat by Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. grown beef, who favor the ‘marbled’ taste of grain fed cows and the obvious fact that grain fed cattle in confined (concentrated) feed operations are simply more efficient to produce and with much less land usage than in grass fed situations—which is still a few thousand times less efficient than using land to produce plant foods for us to consume.

As you drive the roads through any cattle district in Australia, you will see many, many cattle and sheep, a few kangaroos, and an occasional wallaby among other things. One sight that you will not see, though, is the one of miles and miles of corn or soybean feed crops as can be typically seen along any stretch of highway in the U.S. (especially in the Midwest). This is because cattle raised in Australia, do in fact, graze for most their lives—but it is with heavy land use and an irreversible toll on wildlife. The loss of biodiversity is blatant and measurable and, unfortunately, it is with an apathetic view.

Among the many livestock operations I am visiting in Australia, there is a region in Gippsland, Victoria that represents one of those very few areas in the world where resources such as water, land, and even their climate are considered ideal for ‘sustainably’ raising livestock. Streams and spring water are abundant and pasture can grow year round, so it has become a prime location for grass fed livestock operations such as cattle, pigs, sheep, and even goats. It is also Australia’s premier area for grass fed dairy operations. The trend seen in Gippsland and across Australia is to produce smaller cows and in less time by keeping them milking at their mother’s side in pastures and then letting them grass feed until 10 to 11 months of age and slaughtering them at an average weight of 265 kg (583 pounds). This method is, of course, fueled by demand—in this case, by Japan and the U.S. for meat from smaller, younger cattle. Interestingly, from a land use standpoint, this method of “sustainable” agriculture occurring in the most favorable conditions in Australia, and perhaps in the world, still uses minimally 2.5 acres to raise just one cow. When it is all said and done, that one cow will provide 300 pounds of meat, which results in 120 pounds per one acre of land used in one year. For reference, an organic vegetable farm, just down the road from these livestock operations in Gippsland, produces on average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds per one acre of food such as tomatoes, fast growing greens, and herbs, that are infinitely healthier for us to consume.

Although throughout Australia, the total number of farms has decreased, the size of an average farm (by “size,” I am referring to the number of livestock raised as well as acreage of land) is increasing, similar to what is occurring in the U.S. However, cattle farm operations in Gippsland remain smaller, averaging 50 to 500 head of cattle per farm and they adhere strongly to ‘grass fed/pastured’ philosophies of operational methodology and marketing protocols.

The concept of ‘humane’ is largely relegated to disease reduction in livestock, with all governmental agencies such as the Department of Primary Industries, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), Australia Department of Agriculture and Food, etc. being more concerned about the quality of meat as the end product than the true physical, mental, and emotional state of an animal. For example, the very small section allocated to the welfare of animals raised for food that can be found in Western Australia’s Animal Welfare Regulations for the Pig Industry (adopted from the Australia Department of Agriculture and Food) states that the floor space in a stall for a sow should “not be less than 0.6 meter wide by 2.2 meters long” and that a sow with piglets should “not be confined for more than 6 weeks at a time in a farrowing pen less than 5.6 square meters.” This means that a sow can have the luxury of being confined to a space 23 inches wide by 6 feet long without being ‘inhumane’ and if with piglets, can be kept up to one and a half months, without being let out, in a pen 6 feet by 9 feet with its 10-12 piglets. Try that yourself sometime (with or without piglets) and then revisit this definition of ‘humane.’ Also, there are minimal enforceable measures.  This year (2012), the MLA voiced weak concern about the method of slaughter for their transported sheep ending up in the Middle East (99% of all exported sheep from Australia end up in Middle Eastern countries). With this small exception, there is a conspicuous lack of concern or regulation about the need for humane transport and humane slaughter of any livestock—knowing, of course, that there is ultimately no ‘humane’ method for us to slaughter another living thing.

As I pointed out earlier, Australia is among the largest producers and exporters of beef. This, of course, is at the expense of the health of their country—loss and inefficient use of their resources and the declining health of their citizens.

Although beef consumption is slightly declining within our own U.S. population, we are the second largest importer of beef from Australia, which is contributing to deforestation and loss of biodiversity in that country. Grazing livestock currently use over one billion acres of land in Australia, or more than 56% of the entire land mass of this country (http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/land/landuse/index.html) The rate of deforestation in Australia is increasing as quickly as anywhere else in the world with 600,000 acres lost in 2011. The majority of this forest destruction is in areas where koalas live, or once lived, therefore the world demand for beef equates into more land needed to raise cattle which results in forest loss, turning this land into pastures, which destroys the natural habitat of koalas—it’s all connected.

Hence, Jane’s family and thousands of other koalas are killed yearly primarily from direct habitat loss but also indirectly when they are hit by cars and attacked by dogs while moving on the ground in search of eucalyptus trees that were cut down in order to raise cattle. Jane is left orphaned, ending up in a remote sanctuary fighting to regain her health and parameters of life that had gone fairly undisturbed for the previous 25 million years and yet taken away in a matter of minutes by an invisible, insidious force called food choice. Jane represents species everywhere on our planet that are being devastated by livestock operations that are fueled by our demand to eat animals.

We need to think about Jane when you see beef or any other form of animal product that is considered ‘food’ for us to consume. Whether it has come directly from Australia or any other country, plucked out of our oceans, or even raised in your own back yard—meat is not ‘food’; it is a destructive human induced process.  Ask Jane.  Image

Be Aware the Myth #1

ImageOccasionally, I will encounter individuals who have difficulty comprehending the concepts and facts about food choice that I relate in my lectures and book, or perhaps even question my intent. This is normal, in that I am presenting perspectives that are in direct conflict with what 98% of the world has mistakenly learned to accept as truth regarding this topic.  Unfortunately, these are the very same individuals who are wrapped in a complex and substantial layering of influences—cultural, social, psychological, economic, and political. These individuals are collectively consuming massive amounts of our planet’s resources while raising and slaughtering billions of livestock and fish, and thus are the primary contributors to Global Depletion.  We need to change that.

If you grew up being told by your family, and later on by society, that blood letting would cure an infection (which was the case for nearly two thousand years until the late nineteenth century), the chances are quite high that you would not understand or believe a person who came along trying to explain to the masses that a simple antibiotic pill would cure you—while blood letting may, on the other hand, kill you. How could that be?

It’s time I address all those believers in blood letting that I have encountered or will encounter, by responding directly to one of the more recent communications we have received below. The subtopic is about grass fed livestock, however his remarks and tone strike a bit deeper, displaying perpetuated belief systems that tend to foster barriers to finding reality, combined with a pronounced reluctance to change—all too commonly found in our global society.

The following is from “Tom”, as posted on You Tube and our Comfortably Unaware Facebook page and copied for you to see below:

“This isn’t a lecture, it’s a sermon. No facts just a totally disorganized clinging to his uninformed biased self-evident beliefs. Livestock’s Long Shadow didn’t address pasture raised beef at all but focused on modern conventional industrialized chemically fertilized feed crop production that raised animals in CAFOs, the total opposite of pasture raised operations that sequester tons of carbon on pasture every year. His example of raising a cow on 2-20 acres assumes that the cow is on a lot.”

And, my response:

Tom, I am truly sorry you feel that way, having essentially missed the entire central theme of my lecture, book, and message. It is NOT about the 2006 United Nations L.E.A.D. Committee’s report, Livestock’s Long Shadow (which actually did account for grazing livestock, but underestimated their methane and respiratory carbon dioxide production and therefore minimized their contribution to global anthropometric greenhouse gas emissions). My message is about the foods we choose to eat and the effect is has on Global Depletion. It’s about aspects I have uncovered over the past 40 years researching this subject, beginning with the fact that our planet is unhealthy and so are we. My intent is to simply relate these facts to audiences in order to increase awareness, which will ultimately lead to better health. For better context, please see a full lecture at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=drS5hHdelR8&feature=related

And, then, perhaps listen more carefully to the one section “The Myth About Grass Fed Beef: Is it Sustainable” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VoqHmd32XxI&feature=channel_video_title or read my book, “Comfortably Unaware.”

Global Depletion is a term I use to describe the loss of our primary resources on Earth as well as our own health due to food choice. It’s still about sustainability, just from a different direction. The single largest contributor to Global Depletion is the raising, slaughtering, and eating of animals—over 70 billion livestock animals and 1-2 trillion fish (some researchers have estimated as many as 1.7 trillion chickens are raised and slaughtered in one year). I speak and write about how eating animals is negatively, and in many cases irreversibly, impacting world hunger, water scarcity, agricultural land use inefficiencies, loss of biodiversity, loss of our own health, and the ravaging of our oceans and fish. This stark reality is well documented by numerous organizations and researchers. Scientific literature is now replete with articles in each area I discuss, and easily accessible for those who wish to open their minds or take the time to hear it.

Regarding the grass fed argument of yours and other individuals, I have researched and visited over 150 various grass fed/pastured animal operations in the U.S. and many other countries. The numbers are always quite consistent, in that you cannot raise one grass fed cow on less than 2 to 20 acres. Even Polyface Farms and agriculture educational institutions with their “mob grazing” and “juvenile growth rotation” techniques cannot extract more than one cow per acre of land, which then produces not more than 480 pounds of an end product (“edible carcass weight”), that some consider food. During the 2 to 2 ½ or even 3 years required to raise that cow, you will need minimally 20,000 to 1,000,000 gallons of water (20,000 gallons for drinking and up to 1 to 2 million gallons for irrigating portions of your pasture which is necessary in many areas of the world), and you will have produced 3 to 4 tons of methane and carbon dioxide by way of enteric fermentation and respiration. After consuming this end animal product, you have created for yourself a 20-30% increased risk of contracting coronary heart disease, cerebrovascular disease, any of the five most common cancers (colon, lung, breast, prostate, pancreatic and many more), diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease, kidney and gall stones, diverticulosis, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, and many more diseases. This risk is from eating animal products and animal protein, which does not change if it is grass fed.

These reflections are not my “beliefs”, as you charged. Sadly, they are quite factual. Nearly one thousand researchers have found similar conclusions— independent of each other.

If you are defining a person who relates facts, as one who provides a “sermon”, then fine, my lecture must be a sermon.

And, finally, the only “self evident beliefs” I am guilty of conveying are the following:

  1. that all the damage we are doing to our planet by way of eating animals will end
  2. that people such as yourself, as improbable as it may seem, will ultimately become aware

I certainly appreciate your comments and providing me the opportunity to respond, as we collectively move forward, evolving toward a healthier and more peaceful planet. Dr. O

What Was Missed At Durban

ImageThe 2011 United Nations Climate Change Conference concluded Sunday morning (December 11) in Durban, South Africa. Although there was the usual drama that accompanies these conferences, ministers finally reached an agreement on a new text, referred to as the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action, that will see the Kyoto Protocol extended into a second commitment period by a number of countries. While this may seem promising, it marked the 17th time that a global climate change summit displayed the continued and blatant omission of addressing food choice as a significant factor.

In order to appreciate why this is so important we should first review what the event is all about. In 1997, 194 nations drafted and adopted the Kyoto Protocol—an international treaty developed from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) to identify and mitigate human influencing factors on climate change. Nations now gather annually as part of the Conference of the Parties (COP).

The intent of COP, then, is to essentially find methods of reducing the production of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) into our atmosphere by the three principal component gases—carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide. Greenhouse gases (which also include water vapor and ozone) are those that absorb and emit infrared radiation. The Protocol, as a legally binding agreement, was entered into force in 2005 with the objective to reach a target reduction of 5.2% GHG emissions from the 1992 levels by the year 2012. Commitments in the Kyoto Protocol were based on “joint implementation”, “clean development mechanism”, and “international emissions trading.” Emissions trading was established to allow nations that can easily meet their targets to sell credits to those that cannot.

Although some strides have been made since 1997 with the Bali Action Plan in 2007 (COP 13) and the Cancun Agreements reached at COP 16 in 2010, the conferences have been characterized as seeing minimal progress in their first fourteen years due to differences in opinion between developed countries and also because the treaty applied to only industrialized nations—“37 Annex I countries” as referred to in the Protocol—but imposed no mandate on developing countries which includes emerging economic powers and significant GHG emitters like China, India, Brazil , and South America, Mexico, and Korea. As of December 2011, the U.S. has not and will not agree to an extension of Kyoto beyond 2012 or sign the treaty unless there is a balancing of requirements between developed and undeveloped countries. The Cancun Agreements realized the need to commit both economically strong as well as developing countries by proposing a Green Climate Fund (GCF) to help deliver financial aid to poorer nations. The GCF was proposed to mobilize $100 billion annually from private and public funds but has yet to see implementation.

As of early 2011, many scientists felt the existing Kyoto pledges were far less than what was needed to reach the UN’s goal of keeping a temperature rise to less than 2 degrees Celsius, the calculated maximum amount above which we will likely see truly catastrophic effects. China, India, and the U.S. are waiting until a mandatory review of new science findings scheduled for 2015. This caused postponing the redrafting of internationally binding GHG emission commitments and involvement of unsigned countries until then. With this delay, it is predicted that global warming will reach 3.5 degrees Celsius or worse in coming years. (Climate Action Tracker, 12-6-11)

The negotiations in Durban revolved around extending the Kyoto Protocol, inclusion of all nations into a binding contract, and adoption of the GCF. In last few and extended hours of Durban amidst heated debate, an agreement was made by more than 190 nations to do just that—to continue towards a treaty that will include all emitters, define and enforce goals, and implement the GCF by 2015 which will be fully in force by 2020. Nations also agreed to create measures that would involve preserving tropical forests and the development of clean energy technology.

The World Resources Institute described the results at Durban as a “major climate deal” that would lead to better negotiations. While on its surface, the results at Durban could be construed as purposeful, even successful, the conference did little more than simply keep future talks viable—an agreement to agree. Major emitters such as China, India, and the U.S. are still not bound and so the outcome at Durban should be viewed as unsatisfying to anyone striving for real change in GHG emission policy. Alden Meyer, director of policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists responded by saying, “The decisions adopted here fell well short of what was needed.” The U.S. chief American climate negotiator, Todd D. Stern, stated that he was “hopeful that negotiations in coming years would produce a more equitable arrangement.” Since the primary goal of these COP meetings is to reduce the impact human activities have on climate change, one would have to view them as unsuccessful, since GHG are in fact on the increase and major contributing sectors, such as the meat, dairy, and fishing industries have not been properly addressed.

Regarding climate change, most researchers agree on the following:

  1. Global warming is occurring
  2. Climate change is worsening
  3. Major destructive and catastrophic events—flooding, droughts, rise in sea levels, melting of polar ice caps, etc. will occur and are directly proportional to rises in Earth’s temperature
  4. Climate changes are related to increases in greenhouse gases
  5. Anthropogenic (human induced) GHG emissions are large enough, beyond natural emissions, to be a significant contributing factor to global warming and climate change
  6. The largest sectors for anthropogenic emissions are energy and agriculture, together comprising more than 95% of these human induced GHG emissions
  7.  The single largest component of agricultural emissions are those from raising livestock, which contributes between 20% and 51% of all total GHG emissions globally (energy+agriculture)

Although wider acceptance of a Protocol extension and inclusion of all nations into a binding international contract now seem a delayed but future possibility, there remains an obvious omission from any COP discussions and implementation strategies. What is clearly missing from this list above is a #8, which would connect the final dot—that, since raising livestock is one of the single largest contributors to human induced GHG emissions and since the objective of all annual COP meetings is to mitigate human induced GHG emissions, then we simply need to stop raising livestock.  However, this would necessitate definitive and legally binding universal language stipulating that all countries “stop raising and eating animals”—with strict, time activated, and enforceable measures in effect. To date, policy makers have been unwilling to do this and there has been no such statement or regulation in the mix. With or without annual international climate change summits, with or without signed agreements, proper progress will not be made with reducing GHG emissions until the issue of food choice is on center stage and raising livestock is eliminated by all nations.

More on this subject can be found in the book “Comfortably Unaware.”

Biodiversity Loss and More Rainforest Thoughts

Depletion of our land on Earth due to our choice of foods encompasses a number of topics—direct and inefficient agricultural land use, feed crops produced for livestock, and even depletion of our food supply, or world hunger. (Please refer to Chapter V, Comfortably Unaware, “Whose land is it anyway?” Global Depletion of Our Land)

These are important issues that we will continue to touch on, but I think it’s important to, once again, discuss on how our food choices are affecting the loss of other living things on earth—our plants, animals, and insects. The loss of biodiversity is happening so quickly to so many species that it can only be considered a 6th era of extinction.  But, this one is much different than the previous 5 because they were all caused by phenomena out of our control whereas this one, we are actually creating.  The question is why? There are a few primary reasons—unprincipled or poorly planned urban sprawl and pollution are certainly major factors—but certainly one of the major reasons is due to what we are requesting to eat, on a global basis. Scientists have divided our planet into 825 terrestrial “ecoregions” (as well as 450 freshwater and a number of oceanic ecoregions) each defined by its own distinct set of animal and plant species as well as climate. Of all these land ecoregions, almost ½ are reported to have livestock as a current threat. The World Conservation Union reported last year that “most of the world’s endangered or threatened species” on their “Red List” are suffering habitat loss due to livestock—not due to agriculture—but to livestock. The most recent Convention on Biological Diversity was just held in Nagoya, Japan last October as a follow up to the one held in 2002. Here were their findings: They agreed that none of their goals from 2002, for lessening the rate of biodiversity loss, were met. Then they confirmed that the main pressures for the rapid loss of species are all increasing in intensity—which are habitat change, overexploitation, pollution, invasive species, and climate change. And then lastly, all countries reworked their “targets” and strategies to meet them. Here is what they came up with: They agreed to protect 17 percent of the land area of the world that remains (as I pointed out in “Comfortably Unaware”, we now know livestock are already using 30 to 50% of the entire land mass on earth so their thought at Nagoya is to protect 17% of what’s left over for all the other millions of species of living things…) and there was agreement to protect 10 percent of all our oceans by the year 2020. So, you can see my concern. Also, there were no political or economic motives established and nations can police themselves with a “flexible framework”.  That’ll probably work. Let’s see—the Javan Tiger: extinct due to habitat loss from livestock. The Tasmanian Tiger: extinct due to habitat loss from cattle (actually the last one was killed by a farmer because it was in his “hen house”). Giant Eland, Howler Monkey, Red Wolf, and Jaguar: all endangered because of the advancement of livestock operations, and there are tens of thousands of other examples. Great Apes such as the Mountain Gorilla (only 350-450 remaining), Chimpanzee, Lowland Gorilla, Orangutan, and other primates are all endangered—in one way or another—because of the decisions made about food, which results in habitat loss or overt slaughtering of these individuals. In our oceans, pick any of the 80% of all fish species that are now overexploited, with many endangered. And the list is even longer with species of plants and insects. Nearly all concerned researchers agree that the primary causes of the rapid biodiversity loss we are witnessing on our planet today is by pastured or grazing livestock on land, and by unsustainable fishing practices in our oceans. There has been no improvement in a global resolution because we are failing at addressing the primary issue. Nowhere in the resolution from Nagoya, adopted by nearly 200 countries, is exact wording to effectively address our choice of food as it involves animals.

We need to touch briefly on rainforests again. They seem so far removed from all of our daily lives and yet so critical for our existence. Rainforests have been heavily impacted by our choice of foods, and it is time for some important updates. On average, 34 million acres of Amazon’s rainforests have been lost every year since the 1970’s. This number has declined for a number of reasons, to around 20 million acres in 2009. That’s 20 million acres of rainforests gone forever, destroyed in just one year. Certainly, this is an improvement—but it’s still far too much and there needs to be zero tolerance. I don’t think there should be one acre lost. Why? Because of the immense importance of rainforests, the primary reason for destruction is not justified, and we can’t replace them in our lifetime. Therefore, zero tolerance. About 80% of all rainforest loss is due to raising cattle with another 10% due to growing crops to feed them. It’s still happening today, the same reason, just less acreage is being destroyed. It seems like this really shouldn’t involve you, right? Well, until very recently, the U.S. has been the single largest consumer of Central and South America beef. We have many multi national companies that perpetuate the demand here and abroad for animal products or for feed crops that directly come from rainforests. Regarding crops, 80-90% of all soy grown worldwide is fed to livestock—not to us—and most of this soy is grown on rainforest-cleared land. The corporate producers of meat products—Cargill, Georgia Pacific, Unical, Texaco, etc. as well as the food retailers will continue clearing rainforest until we stop the demand for animal/livestock products. Recently, there have been millions of acres of rainforests in Malaysia and Indonesia that are being slashed and burned to grow palm oil. This oil is used for alternative fuel, but also for the food industry. We do not need palm oil as a dietary requirement and the biofuels generated from these palm plants are in many ways contributing more to climate change than the fossil fuels they are intended to replace. For every acre of primary rainforest that is cleared and replaced with palm oil, there is 65 times as much carbon released into the atmosphere as can be saved annually by using the palm oil as a fuel substitute. Indonesia is losing 7 million acres of rainforest per year. This is the habitat of the orangutan and many other wonderful species of living things. There is a sickening, thick shadow of smoke that can now be seen looming over these countries from peat fires of all the acres of rainforests being burned daily. Rainforests produce 20% of world’s supply of oxygen and also serve as tremendous carbon sinks because they take carbon dioxide out of our atmosphere and sequester it into the soil, long term. How perfect. So, with any discussion about climate change or greenhouse gas emissions, we will always need to include discussions regarding rainforest management. And, therefore, with any discussions about climate change, rainforest management, or even sustaining our future life on Earth, there will always need to be specific attention given to why we kill and eat animals.

The Rainforest is home to over 5 millions species of plants, animals, insects—over ½ of all living things on our planet. They shouldn’t be lost because of our choice of foods or our collective indifference. Let’s all make a change.

Please read more about this and other areas of global depletion of our resources and our own health in “Comfortably Unaware.”