UN Report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” eyes a dark future

FAO-emblem_en(EDITED: I received an interesting anonymous communiqué indicating that some of the info in this UN Report is actually underselling the problem in some regards plus actually encouraging action that is contrary to what I would expect to hear after reading the introduction to the Report. I’ve added some notes below based on what I have learned.)

It is probably well worth reading the whole report, but I’ve included a link to the introduction of UN’s 2006 report regarding the incredible and increasingly insurmountable burden that the livestock industry is having on our planet.

ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e01.pdf

The report outlines the many variables involved in the decimation of our environment, ecosystems and the future well-being of our species. The summary of the report gives the impression that one of the only ways we will see an improvement in our current climate change predicament is to stop eating meat:

  • 30% of the entire non-ice-covered landmass of earth is dedicated to livestock production and feeding; (my informant indicates that the landmass used is actually more like 45% according to this report)
  • habitat losses of other species because of climate change has already resulted in species disappearing at a rate of 100 to 1000 times the pace of species found in our fossil records
  • and currently one-third of all amphibians, a fifth of mammals and an eighth of all birds are now threatened by extinction
  • methane emissions from global agriculture is the largest from any other sector and methane causes 20 times the damage to the environment that CO2 does
  • while general global population steadily increases, demand for meat increases even more quickly as income and living standards increase and more people can financially afford to eat meat. The problem is accelerating rather than decreasing.

These are just a few general stats from this informative but possibly misleading report.

At first I was thinking that this landmark report was going to be a catalyst to possible widespread changes in the agriculture industry and people’s rethinking about meat consumption. However, the report later states that it is promoting “intensification” of the meat industry as the way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems rather than eating less meat, the latter which I would have thought was more obvious. The trouble with this advice of course is that, if anything, cattle do not need an even more intense lifestyle than they already have and this will undoubtedly lead to even greater cruelty in the containment and treatment of these animals.

Apparently, the authors of the Long Shadow report are livestock specialists, not environmental specialists — and they work not for the UN but for the FAO (Food & Agriculture Org), just one of 19 UN specialised agencies.

Worse yet, it has been estimated that the meat industry is actually responsible for at least 51% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas according to Bill Gates, who cites an analysis done by environmental specialists employed by two other UN specialised agencies — the World Bank and IFC (International Finance Corporation). However, while Bill Gates is absolutely right in pushing for less meat consumption and more clever crop-farming practices, there’s also some suspicion that he is pushing hard for GM crops and is actively investing in it. This will of course be the new danger if and when livestock production is reduced; companies like Monsanto will step in and try to further control and intensify our food production in crops.

Another report also suggests that the determined efforts by governments to invest in renewable energy as the key to reversing climate change will either fail or come at an unrealistic financial cost compared to simply reducing our dependency on meat and the sheer number of resources required to upkeep livestock. The climatic improvements made by renewable energy infrastructure are largely negated by emissions created by the livestock.

Vegan-thinking is starting to rise into a powerful position in the media and into the minds of scientists and environmentalists, but what we need now is for governments to take the bold step forward in enforcing reductions in meat consumption and educating its citizens on why this unsustainable practice must be reversed.

Unless we can turn things around in very short order, we are looking at a near future where our demand for the food we want outstrips every. other. important. thing. about. this. world. The time to act is now (well, it’s probably passed that now, but we should start now anyway to lessen the impact!)

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