Skip showers for beef

I’ve been meaning to share the Skip Showers for Beef video which is very funny but has an important message. They’ve also got a website at:

A friend sent me a link to the Cowspiracy movie this morning and I’ve just been watching it. Most of it I am already aware of and indeed I think I’ve written about stuff like this on my blog before. But the approach taken by the film is very good. They criticise environmental organisations for largely ignoring one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions: livestock farming. They quoted a figure which I hadn’t heard before and I’m unsure of the accuracy of it. They claim that the livestock contribution to human-induced greenhouse gas emissions is 51% rather than the 18% stated in the 2006 FAO report: Livestock’s Long Shadow.

The 51% figure comes from Livestock and Climate Change. Their argument is that some things were overlooked in the original report including livestock respiration. There is a rebuttal for this in Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: the importance of getting the numbers right. In the rebuttal it is argued that the CO2 emitted during respiration is part of the short-term carbon cycle where plants absorb the CO2 through photosynthesis and animals emit it so the two things cancel each other out. Therefore respiration by livestock should not be counted. Goodland and Anhang, authors of the original article, respond to this by saying that while the model of the carbon cycle makes sense in situations where respiration and photosynthesis remain roughly constant, that’s no longer the case. Respiration has increased exponentially with some 60 billion animals now raised for food each year alongside a corresponding decline in forests.

I’m not really sure which figure is accurate but one thing is certain, the world cannot sustain this level of meat production. We who live in wealthy countries who have plenty to eat and do not require meat to survive need to eat less of it.

14 responses to “Skip showers for beef”

  1. I really like your argument because it’s not predicated on the eating of meat being totally wrong environmentally, just eat less of it. My view on it is really idealistic: I eat pulses for most of my protein needs, but also drink organic milk and supplement with eggs and meat from higher welfare sources. We ought to eat less meat as a society and it depresses me that it is so far from most people’s minds. It also depresses me that a small change in lifestyle from everyone could eradicate the need for low quality low welfare meat, while promoting much better health, but that it is so far from being reality.

    • The scale of meat production by our society is just so huge that I find it very depressing too. Some people eat meat 2 or 3 times or more per day. They have a ham sandwich for lunch and then steak for dinner. Why? It’s just not necessary. Eating a predominantly plant-based diet is good for and good for the planet. It’s a win from every angle but old habits are hard to change and I suspect it will a century or more before this becomes mainstream.

  2. In some parts of my country, beef is banned because of religious reasons.I would also suggest to eat little of it so that we could feed the needy 🙂

  3. I wonder if the day will come when people will look back through history and wonder how people could have killed animals just so they could eat meat and dairy foods. We might be living in a barbaric age right now without knowing it.

    I’m sure if people had to kill the animals they ate, a lot of us would be vegetarians or vegans.

    It really is interesting to read the extent to which livestock farming contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. This might prove the catalyst towards a kinder and more sustainable lifestyle. I hope so. 🙂

  4. It’s an important subject, and I’m glad you’re on to it.
    The amount of water required to produce 1 pound apples = 49 gallons
    The amount required to produce 1 pound beef = 5,214 gallons. So what’s
    the point of asking me to take a shorter shower when my neighbors are out there grilling hamburgers?
    If a vegan left the shower on all day every day for a full year,
    they would still consume less water than the average American omnivore. Of course, a plant-based diet is also healthier for us as individuals, even without the calling to help the environment and feed the world.

    • Yes, exactly. I do think we should have the freedom to make our own decisions about how to live our lives but at the same time I have a strong sense of justice and the way we currently use resources is grossly unfair. Some people use far more than their fair share.

  5. Goodland and Anhang were *not* authors on the original FAO study, as can be easily confirmed from the list of authors. Their premise that GHG inventories should include respiration is on the face of it ridiculous…it basically implies that over my lifetime there needs to be a stand of trees somewhere sopping up the cumulative CO2 I emit over my life, while ignoring that this carbon is cycling back and forth between me and the food grown to sustain me. Emissions from clearing forests for pasture or land for food crops and subsequent losses in soil carbon are already accounted for in the LULUCF (land-use, land-use change and forestry) measures. Indeed, one of the innovations of Livestock’s Long Shadow was to attribute emissions for the clearing of forests to the livestock sector.

    • Ah, whoops. I made a mistake there. I skim-read this from Goodland and Anhang and misinterpreted:

      “The commentary by Herrero et al. (2011) promoted Livestock’s Long Shadow as containing the
      single authoritative assessment of GHG emissions attributable to livestock. They did so without making
      an explicit disclosure that one of them was the lead author – and another of them a co-author – of
      Livestock’s Long Shadow. ” I’ll correct it in my post.

      Thanks, I’ll correct it in my post!

      I must admit I thought the 51% seemed a bit ridiculous but I was hoping someone might provide a better argument than that it’s “ridiculous”.

  6. Glad to be doing tad less damage in terms of our family’s meat consumption. I remember you blogged about this earlier. I vaguely recall my comments.

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