COP27, Climate Change, & Global Meat-Phobia
I agree with George Monbiot - governments aren’t discussing livestock enough - but his calls to eliminate livestock are short-sighted and will cause more harm than good.
“There are just two actions needed to prevent catastrophic climate breakdown: leave fossil fuels in the ground and stop farming animals,” writes Monbiot. And as you can guess, here is where he and I deviate as keyboard warriors in the discussion of COP27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, sponsored by Coca-Cola, the world’s top fossil fuel-based, plastic polluter.
He calls for the elimination of livestock and a farm-free future.
I call for the elimination of overly simplistic, techno-utopian visions that would undermine millions of people’s livelihoods, destroy local economies, and cause more harm than good, especially in places where livestock are an integral part of sustainable, agro-ecosystems.
Villainizing all livestock and advocating for radical shifts of diet and land use everywhere – and even being so bold to posit a future where protein is derived from large fermentation vats – is senseless.
Here are just four ways livestock matter and deserve a more nuanced discussion about the role they have in transforming our food, land and justice systems.
Livestock ranchers, farmers, and pastoralists provide key ecosystem services.
Well-managed grazing can lead to improved environmental outcomes and beneficial ecosystem services like improving soil health (manure fertilization) and nutrient cycling (returning nutrients to the soil via manure, reducing waste and runoff), preserving and restoring wildlife and pollinator habitat, and stimulating vegetation growth (through their movements across land surfaces).
About ⅓ of the world’s food supply is produced by small, family-run farms.
Eliminating livestock only intensifies poverty, malnutrition, and inequality. Livestock is the most valuable household asset for roughly 1.3 billion people around the world and is a “living ATM” during times of need. Animal-sourced foods provide critical nutrition to people around the world, especially during pregnancy and the first 1,000 days of life. When we neglect livestock, we neglect the millions of women who depend on livestock for an income and a pathway to economic independence.
Livestock emissions are misleading, overblown, and contribute to misinformed, dangerous decisions.
Well-respected data and graphics providers, like Our World in Data, provide easily-consumed data for journalists to easily scapegoat livestock as the big villain of climate change. However, comparing various food groups might be well-meaning, but unfortunately, it is flawed. Some foods mainly emit long-lived climate pollutants, such as CO2 and nitrous oxide, while others (e.g. beef and lamb) emit the short-lived pollutant methane. The truth is mainstream assessments of livestock and climate change are flawed and they make sweeping generalizations about the industry with dire consequences that will accentuate global food and climate injustices.
A focus on net-zero targets for carbon removal from land – through reducing livestock use and planting trees, for example – misunderstands natural ecosystem function and will misfire.
Trees are fire-prone carbon sources in many environments and can be less effective at capturing and retaining carbon than grasslands with well-grazed livestock. The rush to plant trees in the name of “carbon removal” where trees shouldn’t be planted or to decommission biodiverse ecosystems, like grasslands, because they’re most suitable for grazing livestock is driven by misunderstandings of ecosystems and carbon dynamics. While there are many agroforestry and carbon removal projects genuinely working towards restoration and regeneration, blanket statements like “plant more trees” or “eliminate all livestock” lack forethought.
Calls to eliminate grazing animals underutilizes grasslands and leads to further destruction of biodiversity, increased climate risk, and unethical displacement of Indigenous communities and pastoralists. Ironically, to restore and maintain optimal health, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration, these grasslands are best managed with more animals and animal impact, not less.
We should not ignore livestock-related challenges. But we should also not ignore the many sustainable approaches to raising livestock that are essential to helping more than a billion people survive the climate emergency. Many people around the world do not have the privilege to eliminate nutrient-dense, animal-sourced foods, and anti-meat proclamations are dangerous, elitist, and ignore the many benefits of grazing animals within a sustainable food system.
Livestock keeping – in the right places, with the right management – can and should be part of the climate solution. These are the solutions our leaders and governments should be discussing.
Lew Moorman: Innovating Regenerative Ag at Soilworks and Venture Capital at Scaleworks on Consensus in Conversation. What do the transition from radio to television, from on-premise to cloud-based software, and from conventional to regenerative farming have in common? An uproar of “no ways” and “impossibles” prior to acceptance. If you’re curious about innovation in the agriculture sector or how maximizing profits incentivizes sustainability, you’ll want to hear what Lew has to say on this episode. Listen here.
The fox owns herself by Antonia Malchick. Antonia gave me a brilliant idea (absentee vote and plan to be entirely off-grid over election days) and a thought-provoking story regarding a fox. Here’s an excerpt: “The question of property, and how long ago it was that some humans decided to claim ownership over others—water, wildlife, women—and then create justifications for such claims through centuries of philosophical, religious, and legal argument. What could change if we inverted that relationship? If we started from an assumption that all beings own themselves, that every being has agency and choice?” Read the full essay here.
FACT SHEET: Biden-Harris Administration Announces Roadmap for Nature-Based Solutions to Fight Climate Change, Strengthen Communities, and Support Local Economies. I’d be remise to discuss COP27 without mentioning the Biden-Harris Administration’s Nature-Based Solutions Roadmap, an outline of strategic recommendations to scale nature-based solutions. Most notable concession when discussing the challenges to accelerating nature-based solutions: “Federal policies and processes can unintentionally promote conventional solutions over nature-based solutions.”
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