Thursday, 18 December 2014

Climate change: the role of livestock and agriculture.......... or: "Can steak save the planet?"

The impact of livestock on the environment is clear:
Cow 'emissions' more damaging to planet than CO2 from cars - Climate Change - Environment - The Independent
Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment - FAO

You care about the planet right? Well consider this! - YouTube

Cowspiracy Short - YouTube

This might lead you to wanting to eat less meat:
10 benefits of eating less meat | Fox News
Meat Free Monday - One day a week can make a world of difference
BBC News - MPs urge UK to eat less meat to help global food supplies
If you must eat meat, save it for Christmas | George Monbiot | Comment is free | The Guardian

... or even to eating no meat at all:
Environmental Destruction | Why Vegan? | Vegan Outreach
How does eating meat harm the environment? | Frequently Asked Questions | About PETA | PETA

However, others would argue that vegetarianism is not the answer:

Some environmental activists claim that adopting a vegetarian diet may be a way of focusing on personal actions and righteous gestures rather than systemic change. Dave Riley, an Australian environmentalist, states that "being meatless and guiltless seems seductively simple while environmental destruction rages around us," noting that animals can contribute to the food chain.[24]
Bill Mollison has argued in his Permaculture Design Course that vegetarianism exacerbates soil erosion. This is because removing a plant from a field removes all the nutrients it obtained from the soil, while removing an animal leaves the field intact. On US farmland, much less soil erosion is associated with pastureland used for livestock grazing than with land used for production of crops.[25] Robert Hart has also developed forest gardening, which has since been adopted as a common permaculture design element, as a sustainable plant-based food production system.[26]

Environmental vegetarianism - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Indeed, it could be argued that the Neolithic Revolution which brought us agriculture 

neolithic_revolution.jpg (590×782)

... has resulted in the current unsustainable trajectory:
Futures Forum: Climate change: Entering the Anthropocene

Indeed, some would even describe our foray into agriculture 10,000 years ago as a 'disaster':
The Anthropik Network » The Worst Mistake in the History of the Human Race
neolithic hunter-gatherers: Marshall Sahlins- The Original Affluent Society
Futures Forum: On the Transition: "Future Primitive"

Jared Diamond, the author of “Guns, Germs, and Steel,” describes the situation as a classic bait-and-switch. Hunter-gatherers were “seduced by the transient abundance they enjoyed until population growth caught up with increased food production.” By then they were locked in—they had to farm more and more land just to keep everyone alive. Deriving strength from their large, poorly nourished numbers, the farmers gradually killed off most of the hunter-gatherers and drove the rest from their land. Diamond considers agriculture to be not just a setback but “the worst mistake in the history of the human race,” the origin of “the gross social and sexual inequality, the disease and despotism, that curse our existence.”

The Sanctuary - The New Yorker

This is from last month's New Yorker magazine:

In 1920, she says, people ate four ounces of meat every three or four days; they all had a tub of lard in the cupboard; and their hips were wider than their waists. (Today, the average American male eats 6.9 ounces of meat a day, and women eat 4.4. Lard has all but disappeared, and so have waistlines.)

More than any other food, meat focusses cultural anxieties. In the seventies, beef caused heart attacks; in the eighties and afterward it carried mad-cow. Recent decades have brought to light the dark side of industrial agriculture, with its hormone- and antibiotic-intensive confinement-feeding operations, food-safety scares, and torture-porn optics. The social and environmental costs, the moral burden, the threat to individual health—all seem increasingly hard to justify when weighed against a tenderloin. 

In the late nineteen-fifties, Savory [Allan Savory, a seventy-nine-year-old biologist and former member of parliament from Zimbabwe and a pioneer of a grazing strategy called holistic resource managementwatched the Luangwa Valley, where he was stationed as a game ranger, turning into desert, with crusted, bare soil and oxidizing plants. Like others, he blamed overgrazing by animals, and he took part in the culling of forty thousand elephants. The land worsened. He reversed himself. In nature, he began to argue, herds of migratory animals cluster in small areas, feeding for a day or two before, driven off by predators, they move to a new spot. During the short grazing period, they till the soil with their hooves, making it receptive to water; deposit fertilizer; and chew just enough of the plant to allow regrowth. He believes that by returning large herds of livestock to the landscape and moving them frequently, ranchers can restore land to productivity. As Savory told me when I went to see him in New Mexico, where he lives half the year, cattle caused the problem and only cattle can solve it.
Cows, which produce eighteen per cent of the methane emitted in the United States, are unaccustomed to being cast as climate-change heroes. Most range scientists consider overgrazing to be the cause of much of the land degradation in the American West, and conservationists advocate “resting” the land—fencing it off from animals entirely—as the only remedy. Savory’s contrarian position, and the fact that his results rely mostly on self-reporting and cannot be replicated experimentally (too many factors to account for), has made his claims suspect in the scientific community. Several studies, for instance, have pointedly refuted the notion that hoof action improves water infiltration of the soil. He says that one distinguished wildlife biologist told him, “Allan, either you are wrong and we will not be able to dig a hole deep enough to bury you in or you are right and we will not be able to build a monument high enough.”

Can Steak Save the Planet? New Yorker

Finally, it might not be a matter of what you eat, but where it comes from:
Futures Forum: km zero - zero food miles
Futures Forum: Saving the rainforests....... indigenous communities' and palm oil corporations' commitment to "zero-deforestation"
Futures Forum: Eco-imperialism, zero-deforestation and palm oil
Futures Forum: "Sometimes the parched topsoil of the Sahara settles on London and the whole of England": How the results of intensive farming in Africa are felt thousands of miles away

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