Our growing global appetite for meat might be having an even worse impact on greenhouse gas emissions that previously thought (pdf), according to a...

BurgerOur growing global appetite for meat might be having an even worse impact on greenhouse gas emissions that previously thought (pdf), according to a new report from World Watch.

The report, “Livestock and Climate Change,” finds that livestock might actually be responsible for 51 per cent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions, or some 32.6 billlion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

A landmark 2006 study from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) previously estimated the livestock sector accounted for 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

“(W)e believe that the life cycle and supply chain of domesticated animals raised for food have been vastly underestimated as a source of GHGs (greenhouse gases), and in fact account for at least half of all human-caused GHGs,” write World Watch researchers Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang. “If this argument is right, it implies that replacing livestock products with better alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change.”

Goodland and Anhang reached that conclusion after analysing greenhouse gas emissions that were “uncounted or misallocated” in the FAO study. These included emissions from breathing, emissions related to land use for livestock, undercounted methane emissions, emissions related to fish farming operations and uncounted emissions due to undercounting in livestock statistics.

The World Watch report concludes that livestock-related emissions could be significantly reduced through a large-scale switch to meat and dairy analogs — products like soy burgers and soy chicken patties, for example — or the development of laboratory-cultured (“in vitro”) meat.

“Meat and dairy analog projects will not only slow climate change but also help ease the global food crisis, as it takes a
much smaller quantity of crops to produce any given number of calories in the form of an analog than a livestock product,” Goodland and Anhang write. “Analogs would also alleviate the global water crisis, as the huge amounts of water necessary for livestock production would be freed up.”


  • Daniel Waters

    December 22, 2009 #2 Author

    Human population is near 7 billion. Suppose 3 billion of them eat cows, chickens and pigs. Contrast that to maybe 0.5 billion human meat-eaters on earth in 1700. That’s 6x as much methane produced. Contrast both those situations to the case if these people ate at the low end of the species sentience. They’d reduce methane emissions by a factor of 10 because the efficiency of producing the same number of calories by going through an intermediate species, such as cows and pigs, is 10X less than if people ate plants directly. So, both human overpopulation and the thermodynamic inefficiency of eating meat create a situation today 60 times worse than a vegetarian world with a population like that from 1700.


  • Daniel Waters

    December 22, 2009 #3 Author

    Sign me up for a job in biosynthesizing meat!
    Breeding animals for food and meat need to be outlawed immediately – mainly for the animals’ sake -except for rare exceptions.


  • Ray

    November 17, 2009 #4 Author

    Not to mention that the mass intake of soy based products has increased the rate of proteion poisoning cases significantly over the last few years


  • wesley bruce

    November 12, 2009 #5 Author

    Its complete garbage to talk about green house emissions from bovine (cattle) and other livestock without acknowledging that:
    A) the total number of animals in each family has not changed significantly since the Ice age. Domestic stock have displaced wild stock thats all.
    B) Desertification and agriculture may have reduced the total number of animals in grass land ecosystems.
    C) range fed animals produce as much methane and factory farmed animals. (its neither proven or even testable)
    D) unless the animals are directly eating oil there CO2 production is whole or substantially CO2 neutral.
    E) Termites are the major source of Methane in the southern hemisphere. (you not going to save the world by throwing gigatons of insecticides at termites are you?)

    Worldwatch and most arguing that live stock methane matters ignore these points. Did we or did we not almost wipe-out the American bison and the wild hears of Africa and the Sahel?
    I’m as opposed to feed lots as anyone but think things through a little, please.


  • craig

    October 24, 2009 #6 Author

    very informative. I wonder when someone will perform such a comprehensive study of the impact of rail service.


  • Bernard Brown

    October 23, 2009 #7 Author

    It’s a powerful report, but I think they go too far with pushing the fake meat, both because I’d expect lower emissions from less-processed foods (like a bean burrito vs. the tofu pups) and because I think the less-processed foods are already somewhat accepted – the lowly PB&J for example.

    Bernard Brown


  • Richard Schwartz

    October 22, 2009 #8 Author

    Kudos to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang for their extensive research and cogent writing. Their article has the potential of avoiding the unprecedented climate catastrophe that the world is rapidly approaching. It is essential that their article be widely read and heeded. It should be considered by governments, NGOs, the media and certainly by the delegates who will attend the Copenhagen climate conference in December.

    The choice for humanity seems clear: shift to healthy, environmentally sustainable, humane plant-based diets and provide a chance for the world to move to a sustainable path, or continue and expand present animal-based diets and the present path to a climate-disaster.


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