Climate change has become an everyday issue. In December 2015, the UN climate conference decreed that global warming must not increase by more than 2°C.
But even a 2°C-increase would be too high according to many experts and the effects that
are already noticeable cannot be reversed.
This is why the 195 UN states decreed that the world should be greenhouse-gas-neutral in the second half of the century.
The technologies which are needed for this purpose are available now for the most part. Next to the swift to emission-free electric cars, the percentage of current from renewable sources of energy is increasing, too.
In 2015, renewable energy sources accounted for about 10% of total U.S. energy consumption and about 13% of electricity generation. http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=92&t=4
Despite all this, the biggest CO2 source – livestock – is never seen as such. This is due to the trivial principle that money makes the world go round. Animal production and farming are gigantic machineries, which are subsidized with billions of dollars. Industry and politics find it very important to maintain these sectors of industry. For this reason all the problems caused by these industries are hushed up or toned down.
According to the official FAO survey “Livestock’s long shadow” of 2006, 18% (7.5 billion tons) of the total 41.8 billion ton emission of greenhouse gases per year – measured in CO2 equivalents – is caused by animal husbandry.
This fact shows that animal husbandry is one of the main pollutants which lead to global warming. It causes more greenhouse gases than the total worldwide traffic (13.5%).
Yet this survey is still incomplete. In its publication “Livestock and Climate Change” of 2009, the renowned World-Watch-Institute ranked the contribution of animal husbandry higher, stating that at least 51% of all climate-noxious gases (CO2 equivalents) are caused by the production of animals. Thus the most effective method of stopping the emission of CO2 and the ensuing climate change would be a diet that goes without animal products.
From the beginning 22 billion tons of CO2 equivalents stemming from the production of animals were not included in the FAO report. Thus the total emission increases from 41.8 to 63.8 billion tons.
Altogether, around 32.5 billion tons of CO2 out of a total of 63.8 billion are caused by animal production. We can suppose it is even more because the estimates are in part rather cautious and as animal production has further increased since 2009.
Respiration by livestock
When we breathe, we inhale oxygen and exhale carbon dioxide. The British physicist Alan Calverd has calculated that the breathing of the totality of livestock sets free about 8.8 tons of CO2. It is not understandable why this fact was completely disregarded in the FOA’s study.
As more and more land is needed for livestock food and meadows it is very profitable to clear the rain forests (c.f. clearing of rain forest).
One hectare of rain forest can store 200 tons of CO2, one hectare of grassland can only store 8 tons.
This factor was not neglected in the FAO report but it was not consistently dealt with Thus about 2.7 tons of CO2 equivalents are missing in the calculation.
According to FAO, 37 % of the worldwide emission of methane is caused by animal husbandry. Referring to a period of 100 years, the global warming potential of methane is 25 times bigger than that of CO2. If we consider a period of only 20 years, this factor increases to 72. In view of its significantly shorter half-life of only eight years, it is more appropriate to calculate with a cycle of 20 years in the case of methane instead of the 100-year-cycle for CO2. A detailed explanation of this issue can be found in a study of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA): http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gwps.html
The following decisive factor has to be considered in the calculation: In 2004, FAO estimated 103 tons of methane emission caused by digestion and fertilizers – today it is considerably higher. When the global warming potential of methane is 72 times bigger than that of CO2 this translates into 7.4 billion tons of CO2, or respectively 11.6 % of the greenhouse gases produced world-wide. The FAO report was based on a CO2 emission which was smaller by approximately 5 tons.
Other four categories
1. The 18% indicated by FAO refer to data from 2002. The report of the Word Watch Institute was made in 2009. In the meantime the production of meat, milk and eggs has risen by 12%, which consequently has led to an increase in the emission of greenhouses gases. This sums up to a rise by 2.5 billion tons.
2. Apart from that, the FAO report was based on population numbers which were below real numbers. In the report "Livestock's long shadow" it was assumed that 33 million tons of poultry were produced in 2002. In the FAO's "Food Outlook" it is said, however, that considerably more was produced in the same year, i.e. 72.9 tons of poultry.
In addition, FAO assumed a worldwide livestock of 22 billion. Yet other reports point out that there was a livestock of around 50 billion in that year. This means that around 10% of the greenhouse gases produced by animals were left unconsidered.
The topical figures of the official German meat atlas indicate that in 2014 about 65 billion animals were slaughtered in the whole world.
3. The emission of greenhouse gases caused by animal products was not calculated on the basis of recent measurements. The amount of recent emissions would be higher.
4. For measuring, data from the USA were used. But there, the production is more effective and causes less greenhouse gases than in developing countries with a lower state of technology.
Moreover, FAO has left out some further factors, which alone add up to 3 billion tons of CO2:
They did not consider the clearing of rainforest due to animal husbandry in Argentina.
The CO2-emission of fish farms was not included in their calculation either nor were big parts of the fishing industry.
Another factor is that for processing and storing animal products more energy is consumed than with vegetal alternatives.
This is due to the following:
Unfortunately, the outlook is not good. The United Nations estimates an increase in the world population of up to 9.7 billion by 2050. FAO believes that the meat production will rise to 455 billion tons in the same period.
Even though it seems that at least more and more people decide to do without meat, the meat production is noticeably growing in developing countries as meat prices are constantly sinking.
These perspectives are devastating with regard to the recent aim of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2°C. It is true that emissions will be reduced in the decades to come with fossil fuels being replaced by renewable sources of energy but this concerns in the first place the energy needed for running agricultural equipment and for the transport of animal products. And this amount of energy is only a very small part of the total of 51%.
In the long run, we will have to assume that these 51% will strongly increase because still more rain forest will be cleared for pasture and for feed due to the growing demand for meat and so there will be more animals exhaling CO2 and producing methane and more animal products will have to be processed.
Instead of doing so, the issue is swept under the carpet and extremely absurd measures are taken to tackle the problem of methane emission.
Scientists are striving to optimize the composition of animal feed or they simply recommend that cows should calve in still shorter periods. These efforts go as far as to perversely remove a part of a cow's flank and to replace it with a window pane only to be able to watch the process of methane production more clearly.
The fact that the pleasure of eating animal products is more important to mankind than a stable climate is a horrifying proof of the short-sightedness of our species.