You care about climate change. I’m making an educated guess about that because you are reading this. Beyond that I don’t know who you are or YOUR personal reasons for wanting to protect our planet. Yes, you want to make a difference; you want things to change, but I wonder how open you are to change, if that change is in your own life?
What if that change was something that wouldn’t cost extra money, wouldn’t cost extra time, (except perhaps at the start while you are getting the hang of your new behaviour), is likely to benefit your health, and is likely to be the biggest positive impact you can personally have on the causes of climate change. Would you be open to giving it a go?
The Elephant in the Room
As the dangers of climate change are increasingly recognised and accepted, there have been calls for individuals to do their bit to help by perhaps using energy efficient light bulbs, taking 2-minute showers and buying more energy efficient cars. But they are ignoring the real solutions.
The United Nations Environment Programme has spoken out, saying that the only way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change is to shift away from animal products in our diets.
A 2014 research paper on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions concluded that livestock farming produces more GHG emissions globally than all forms of transport, and said “consumption of meat and dairy produce is a major driver of climate change”.
Back in 2006 the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, estimated that 18 per cent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. However this figure seems to be a huge underestimate. Livestock and Climate Change written in 2009, states that at least half of all anthropogenic (human-caused) GHG emissions results from the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food.
OK, these figures are only estimates, but while people argue about the details, our planet is suffering the ravages of climate instability.
And why is everyone not on the same page with this issue? Last year, the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret exposed the lack of consideration by environmental groups of the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, despite the need for substantial and urgent action to prevent global catastrophe. It’s time to stop ignoring the elephant in the room and move away from animal agriculture.
How do farmed animals contribute to climate change?
Farmed animals are responsible for 25-40 per cent of all anthropogenic methane emissions. This is the biggest single source. The majority is produced in the stomachs of ruminant animals, for example cows, sheep and goats, where bacteria break down cellulose in the absence of oxygen (enteric fermentation). Anaerobic manure storage produces about 10 per cent, with methane also coming from animal excrement deposited directly onto the soil during grazing.
The breakdown of nitrogen-rich livestock urea and faeces by soil bacteria results in nitrous oxide emission. This is added to by waste products of nitrogen-based synthetic fertilisers, which are used to get more productivity out of pastureland. Almost six million tonnes of nitrous oxide, (more than half of all anthropogenic sources), are produced annually across the globe through urine from managed livestock and fertiliser use.
Let’s not forget the carbon dioxide emitted through land clearance, loss of soil carbon, feed crop production and energy use. Animal agriculture is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization to contribute about nine per cent of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions, with land clearance being the main culprit.
What about New Zealand?
We have over 10 million cattle and 26.9 million sheep, who are belching and pooing their way through the day. Although we only produce 0.15 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gases, our very high livestock to human ratio means that New Zealand is the fifth highest contributor to climate change per capita out of the developed nations. Agriculture is responsible for over 50 per cent of New Zealand’s total GHG emissions.
It seems almost every day that yo-yoing dairy farm pay-outs are in the news. There is an urgent need for New Zealand to diversify economically, both for economic stability as well as to mitigate our role in climate change. However, New Zealand’s agricultural policy is pushing in the opposite direction: wanting to increase the national dairy herd and implement increasingly intensive farming practices.
Part of the Problem or Part of the Solution
So my question to you, as someone who really cares about climate change: are you ready to take the biggest step you can take to reduce your personal contribution to climate change? Are you ready to stop supporting the meat and dairy industry, and instead encourage the growing of sustainable, plant-based food in our country?
How about taking the SAFE 30-Day Go Veg Challenge for advice, recipes and support? It’s the easy way to make the change and the biggest action you can take to combat climate change. Every veg meal you eat is a vote for the planet. Together we CAN make a difference!
Marianne Macdonald MSc Campaigns Officer, SAFE