It's a classic apples-and-beefsteaks comparison
"This lopsided analysis is a classical apples-and-oranges* analogy that truly confused the issue," says Mitloehner, who presented a report countering Livestock's Long Shadow at a chemistry conference in San Francisco this week.
The prof says that in the United States, the true picture is that transportation accounts for 26 per cent of greenhouse emissions and cattle and pig farming just three per cent. It makes little sense therefore for wealthy westerners to become vegans, vegetarians or partial vegetarians as a means of countering climate change, as the emissions reductions would be minimal at best.
In poor nations without much in the way of transport, farming accounts for a larger percentage of emissions, but this is a larger percentage of a low overall total. Many people in the developing world are beginning to eat more meat and dairy, a trend deplored by green activists. Mitloehner, however, argues that the populations concerned are often severely malnourished under their present diet and it would be unfair to tell them they have to stay mostly vegetarian. A better plan, he argues, would be to encourage more efficient animal farming techniques as developed in the rich world.
In summary, ecologically it makes a lot more sense to worry about poor folk getting cars and trucks and buses and trains (and factories to make them and roads and rails to drive them on) than it does to fret over them eating some meat. And stopping them having meat is even more unfair than cutting off their access to transport.
Likewise in the case of wealthy westerners, our meat eating is not a significant factor in our carbon emissions (much like our flying and our IT, in fact). It is things much less simple to do without - washing, health care, ordinary transport and industry - which are actually the main sources of CO2.
"Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries," Mitloehner says. "The developed world should focus on increasing efficient meat production in developing countries where growing populations need more nutritious food. In developing countries, we should adopt more efficient, Western-style farming practices to make more food with less greenhouse gas production."
There's a statement from the American Chemical Society here. ®
*Or in this case presumably an apples-and-steaks or oranges-and-cheese comparison.
The dodgiest bit of these dodgy numbers is that they included greenhouse gas emissions from every little step of the process of meat getting to your plate, even though most of those apply equally to veggies. After all the average carrot does not jump out of a field and fly to your plate, arriving magically prepared.
And as for cow farts, aren't they offset by vegetarian farts?
In all seriousness however I am getting sick of all the pseudo science surrounding the global warming debate. If we accept for a moment that human activity is causing global warming many of the methods we are encouraged to use to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions simply do not add up. And the main reason for this is that the people dreaming up these methods are either not qualified to do so or have a vested interest.
Surely everybody is aware that scrapping an old car and buying a new one will do much more harm to the environment in the short term than continuing to run the old one, even with it's higher emissions.We all know the manufacture and transport of the new car causes more harm to the environment than driving an older car for years, but somehow we allow politicians to push things like the scrappage scheme as an enviromental solution.
And then there's the fact that big business and politicians use the issue of global warming to sweep other environmental problems under the carpet. Remember when "pollution" meant all sorts of nasty emissions? These days it just means greenhouse gas. Or rather a very select group of greenhouse gasses. It seems that politicians and their pet scientists don't want us to know about some greenhouse gasses. Water vapour? Nah, that's not a greenhouse gas. Is it?
How long before the catalytic converter comes under fire because it reduces fuel economy and so increases the emissions of CO2? On the other hand we're expected to turn a blind eye to the mercury used in "low energy" lightbulbs. And if we don't we're told it's not a problem because there's a tiny amount of mercury in each bulb and they last for ages so disposal isn't a problem. Except they don't last nearly as long as is claimed. And what happens when a factory making the bulbs manages to spill it's entire stock of mercury into the water table? That's not a problem, because mercury isn't a greenhouse gas.
Maybe one day we'll be allowed an open and honest debate on global warming and the causes thereof where interested parties actually present us with facts and figures and not leave anything out. I'm not going to hold my breath while I wait.
Honest presentation is vital
@Shaper: "whether livestock is more or less harmful than transport is not in the least bit relevant."
Understanding the relative harmfulness of any activity is of vital importance. Without this, the data will lead to the inevitable conclusion that humans are bad for the environment. Some people have actually come to that conclusion, but I think it's about as logical as believing that life is bad for your health (which is also true, but meaningless).
If we are destroying our planet - and we also need to be sure this is really the case - we must very clear about how and why it is happening. Otherwise, we will only exhaust our efforts on activities that assuage our guilt but do nothing to remedy the underlying problems. In other words, we will continue destroying the world but feel much better about it. Worse, we may fall victim to those who exploit any popular concern or belief for their own ends.
I am increasingly concerned that science is becoming a puppet in the hands of people who are either seeking power or peddling some ideology (or both). If the public is fed a constant stream of data presented as fact, and a significant proportion of that information is subsequently exposed as misleading or false, all scientific study will be tarred with the same brush.
If we studied the problem honestly, we might discover that eating meat fits into the normal 'circle of life'. But we might also discover that our whole economic model of mass manufacture, consumption, and disposal doesn't add up - and then what would we do?
Can I have the TRUTH, please?
I eat meat AND dairy everyday, and hate vegetables. But I don't buy this Prof.'s conclusions just because they are convenient to my beloved lifestyle.
Can't we have really unbiased studies, PLEASE, to at least know as best as we can what is actually going on, in a fair way?
It's either the ecowarriors preaching doom and gloom and that, whatever we do, we will undoubtedly destroy the world in a few decades, or the industry-shill, everything-is-well-forever-so-keep-consuming, scientist-are-all-corrupt (unless it's a scientist we like, of course, just see El Reg lately) pundits saying we can go on doing whatever we want regardless, because those hippies can't possibly be right and nothing I do can possibly be bad.
I'm sure the truth is somewhere in between, and in different places for different issues. I just would like to know what the reality is! It does not mean I will turn vegan anyway, but I'm not one of those who need to justify my choices to feel less guilty.
OK, so the UN numbers were "dodgy", for whatever reason. Maybe yes, maybe no. Now, has El Reg bothered to check who finances the Prof.'s work, or collaborates with him, for example? Of course not. And what does his just "three percent" of the GHG figure include in the calculations? Just animal farts? Everything but transportation? What? Without that simple info, that was happily supplied about the 2006 report to "debunk" the UN's numbers, it is hard to have an idea whether the Prof's numbers are not equally flawed. If I have to go read and analyze the original reports to get that balanced comparison, then why would I be wasting time reading "journalism"? I would just go directly to the primary sources every time. And no one has the time to do that for everything.
I didn't dig deep at all, just a quick search because I don't have the time now (I thought this "investigating" thing was something journalists should do, but apparently they only do it when they don't like the target or the conclusions). But Frank Mitloehner’s Facebook page (the publicly visible part, and at least for now) says he's a "fan of" the California Beef Council. Hm... OK, another guy under suspicion. Specially since he advocates sending the "Western-style farming practices", you know, quite likely the ones the CBC recommends, to the poor countries. Does not mean he's wrong, but does not bode well.