Environmental Summits: Climate Change, Lies and Hypocrisy

What can be highlighted by the nature of political communication, are the ways in which particular narratives fall short of truth, as influenced by particular vested political and corporate interests. This can be seen not just regarding international relations concerning war, or imperialism, but in relation to science also, where special political or economic interests are at stake. This can be seen notably in regard to climate change, or general environmental destruction generally.

The world’s forests, the biosphere, eco-systems biodiversity and general planetary wellbeing are and have been severely under threat for decades, amidst an ever increasing global population without the sustainable level of food required to ensure poverty is eradicated. Not to mention the civil discord and political tensions this brings about in developing countries where sustainable development is economically undermined by lack of sustainable food resources and clean water. We have in the world today, over the last few years, climate change summits, conferences by the United Nations and agreements between nations on reducing emissions to combat the constant threat of global warming and threats to planetary boundaries. What is interesting, in medias reporting, but also on the institutional level itself of these agreements, is the particular focuses on the agenda, to combat climate change. What can particularly be seen is how the Paris Agreement in particular in 2015, signed in 2016, had the complete omission of the leading cause of climate change and threat to the environment. Accounting for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other causes combined: animal agriculture.

 With people such as Richard Branson stating that the world will be vegan within 30 years, and other major billionaire giant companies like Twitter, Google and others investing in plant-based meat, the authentic recreation of plant meat to reflect the taste and protein levels of animal flesh, the world is on the horizon of drastic agricultural change, with many incentives to do so. From human health, to creating wealthier societies, to eliminating global hunger, and decimating horrific cruelty to livestock animals, as well as environmental protection. Some companies have even invested in cell-based meat, from animal cells, recognizing the futility and impossibility of raising animals in the future, for those who still seek to consume animal flesh. What is interesting however, is in regards to environmental protection, as the leading cause of threats to climate change, how this has been largely ignored on an international institutional level, despite studies conducted at this level, as well as the commercial entrepreneurial innovations by large companies in promoting and investing in plant based meat. This is an alarming factor regarding the disingenuous nature of previous climate change summits, and how little they really seek to address.

In the Paris Agreement conference and signing in 2016, animal agriculture despite being recorded as being responsible for accounting for more Greenhouse gasses than all transport combined, was left off the agenda, in this agreement which has been so widely disseminated by the media as being the pinnacle of reason in tackling climate change. Why is it, given that as far back as 2009, that the World Bank promoted studies concluding the facts concerning animal agriculture, was it left off the radar, completely? Only since Paris, in the most recent United Nations summit in Bonn, was the impact of animal agriculture, as the leading cause of climate change (and not the concerns addressed in Paris) finally addressed and debated.

As many organisations and scholars state, not only is the extent of animal agriculture detrimental to greenhouse gasses and global warming through methane and CO2, but also waterways, forests and native vegetation are all adversely impacted upon by animal agriculture, as too is the level of the carbon footprint impacted upon. This occurs by both to a smaller extent the transportation of animals by the billions worldwide, of more animals than there are humans, as well as more significantly the level of Carbon Dioxide emissions by animals in the hundreds of billions, skyrocketing the carbon footprint further. The other arguments in favour of plant only agriculture are in regard to general social sustainability in terms of food production across the world, as well as factors such as the sustainability regarding western diets and the economic impact of diverting resources to health concerns arising from animal flesh consumption. Which could be diverted as expenditure into other areas if healthier plant-based diets were to a greater extent adopted within society.

Proposals made by many scholarly studies and organisations is that at policy level society should seek to eradicate the use of animal agriculture, particularly meat consumption which constitutes the largest amount of animal agriculture in which climate change is concerned, not to mention all other areas affected such as deforestation and polluted waterways, biodiversity being threatened and a host of other drastic impacts. In doing this the outcome will simply be a decrease in the carbon footprint caused by animal agriculture which constitutes the largest impact on climate change and greenhouse emissions, accounting for more than all transportation-based greenhouse gases combined. This view is corroborated by many environmental protection organisations, academic studies and journals such as Oxford university research, the Georgetown Environmental Law review, World Watch Institute and United Nations sanctioned research itself.

The evidence of animal agriculture for meat production as the leading cause of climate change is provided by Goodland et al as part of World Bank research as far back as 2009, who state that previous studies conducted investigating causes of climate change had drastically overlooked certain aspects of livestock caused Greenhouse gases, for which in their study animal agriculture accounted for 51%, which included C02 from aimal respiration – as per the Kyoto Protcol’s guidelines. This was in stark opposition to the research conducted by the United Nations in 2006 in which animal agriculture was seen to account for a much lower percentage of total greenhouse emissions, which Goodland et al (2009) state did not consider land usage, fossil fuel requirements in growing crops for animal feed which would be minimised if crops were used to feed humans, underestimated general methane emissions, and in particular C02 emissions from livestock respiration. It also illustrated that what was overlooked was the fact that methane caused by animal agriculture as a serious cause of climate change could be more easily halted in its impact through massively reducing animal agriculture than combating fossil fuel emissions and carbon dioxide, given ‘the much shorter time duration of methane remaining in the atmosphere’ Goodland (2009).  

The importance of discounting or minimising the level of certain Greenhouse gases such as Carbon Dioxide through respiration can be illustrated by the Kyoto protocol, which emphasises the importance of CO2 in affecting climate change. Omitting this as a major part of animal agricultures contribution to climate change negates the severity of its impact, and contradicts what has essentially been expressed as a major climate concern – the carbon footprint. This contradiction and omission is something which was reiterated by the Paris agreement in 2015, based upon figures which were not sound or accurately reflecting total Greenhouse gas emissions. This is something which Vrbicek (2015) also attributes to ‘missing animals’ in estimates, or rather a variant of 30 billion livestock calculated as a discrepancy between research conducted by the World Bank Group and World Watch Institute and other calculations from sources such as the EPA and FAO in the US, which explains some of the minimisation added to the omission of carbon dioxide emissions.

This view regarding the severity of animal agriculture and the seeming minimisation of it in regard to carbon dioxide emissions in emphasised by Koneswaran et al (2008) who state that ‘the carbon dioxide emissions from the animal agriculture sector far surpass those from the transportation sector.’ The severity of Greenhouse gasses from animal agriculture is reiterated by Eckard (2010) who states that animal agriculture accounts for 70% of agricultural emissions in countries like Australia, and agriculture accounts for 58% of all Methane emissions which highlights the importance of agriculture in affecting emissions but the overwhelming influence of animal agriculture as most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions in agriculture generally. Whilst this only accounts 12-15% of greenhouse emissions internationally, the carbon dioxide emissions added to this, the level of greenhouse gases emanating from this industry increases significantly to 51%.  In direct conflict with this however, environmental initiatives in combating climate Change including the Paris Agreement have completely omitted mentioning Animal Agriculture as the leading cause of climate change.

When considering the other aspects of climate change regarding environmental destruction and sustainability, animal agriculture again poses serious issues. Mass deforestation has occurred in countries like Brazil, for both ‘grazing cattle as well as for growing crops such as soy to feed factory farmed animals which are subjected to virtual torture for western diets’ (UCS,2017). More generally, environmental destruction caused by erosion of biodiversity in areas in which livestock graze is also significant, so too is the pollution of waterways from factory farming and animal grazing alike. If considering the total sustainability of an initiative in combating climate change, then the reduction of animal agriculture would certainly achieve this across the breadth of environmental protection and sustainability more generally. Not only are factors such as deforestation environmental concerns in their own right as far as sustainability, but very pertinently in regard to climate change too. With mass deforestation having occurred in areas such as the Amazon Rainforest, a direct outcome is global warming (UCS, 2017). The largest influence affecting this specific issue is ‘beef production, with soy production (not for human consumption) grown mostly to feed cattle as feed in factory farming as a distant second, still acting therefore as adding to the meat industries deforestation and affecting of climate change’ (UCS, 2017). If the soy grown was only used to feed humans, there would be so much less deforestation that deforestation would be turned around, and world hunger would be obliterated.

If we are to look at the general social sustainability impacts of the world having a plant based diet, in conjunction with the immediate environmental ones, a few key areas arise, these include, general societal wealth based on efficiency of food production, eradicating the circumstances of deforestation and the effects on local  communities, the effects upon western communities in regard to human health affected by changing diets, as well as the general outcome for greater humanitarian aid to developing nations whereby greater economic freedom in regard to agricultural production would enable fairer trade with third world countries as would be driven by market forces. To begin with, the social sustainability as far as production and societal wealth would be greatly benefited, and greater economic sustainability would occur as a consequence according to Rowling (2016) who states that ‘societal wealth would certainly be increased within developed nations’. Added to this the Humane Society International (2009) also state that if animal agriculture were abolished, ‘world hunger would easily be eradicated, with more than the Earth’s population being able to be provided for using crops and grains.’ This view is reiterated by Phillips (cited in Marcus, 2000) in the context of resources and wealth at the  disposal of nations seeking to assist others, whilst considering that ‘sustainability economically and environmentally is also impacted upon by political factors regarding access to wealth, governance, trade and so forth.’

Another aspect of sustainability relating to the reduction of meat consumption is the impact on human health, and the general social sustainability born out of this which compliments the sustainability in combating climate change. With vast amounts of government expenditure going towards medical research in combating many diseases, most notably cancer, with campaign strategies and innovations utilised to address health issues within western societies, it stands to reason that eradicating some of the health concerns by prevention to begin with would not only benefit a nation economically, so far as reducing required expenditure but certainly create greater sustainability and health for communities which otherwise may be affected to large degrees by diseases which ‘decreases in meat consumption can certainly avoid’ according to Campbell et al (2009). Campbell et al (2006) state that in countries where a more traditional plant-based diet had been the norm, ‘instances of cancer had been greatly lower, to almost non-existent compared to countries which have adopted greater intake of meat’.  The outcome of decreasing meat consumption within society as this research would suggest would therefore be a healthier and more economically sustainable society.

Whilst all of these considerations demonstrate the benefits and the effectiveness of the proposal to decrease or eradicate meat consumption as a strategy to combat climate change and enable general social and environmental sustainability out of this, other factors also are required to be considered, such as the losses faced by animal agricultural industry and the sustainability threats this poses to society more generally. The major losses caused by this replacement of animal agriculture would be the meat industry, including farmers, abattoir and meat workers, as well as those working in industries involved with meat produce. The job losses caused by this replacement would however easily be mitigated by future employment opportunities in other agricultural sectors, such as plant-based agriculture. This is reiterated by Clarkson (2014) who highlights the ‘major entrepreneurial trends of businesses adjusting to cater to plant based dietary trends’ which in the broad spectrum is bound to extend to general job opportunities in the agricultural sector and processing of such produce as a consequence of greater demand requiring further supply.  The effectiveness of this would be dependent upon the governments handling of this proposal and how transitions away from animal-based agriculture to plant based would be in both short and long term. Considering the statements by Koneswaran et al (2008) from over ten years ago however, the ‘requirement for this change regarding climate change is pressing and immediate, with delays only further exacerbating a very environmentally, socially and economically unsustainable industry’.

It would appear therefore that despite some industry losses caused by this replacement, with outcomes such as unemployment, potential short-term economic losses, that the change from meat consumption and animal agriculture more generally has overwhelming evidence of environmental sustainability as well as economic sustainability for society more generally. Not only would this conversion drastically reduce carbon emissions through reducing the amount of carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses through limiting livestock production and usage but the environmental impacts caused by deforestation due to animal agriculture would be greatly reduced, inclusive of which is a further reduction of global warming if deforestation decreases, alongside biodiversity based sustainability and environmental sustainability more generally. Added to this, the health benefits for society are also significant, as to is the decrease in government expenditure into areas such as health. Added to this again is the general economic sustainability brought about by more sustainable and cheaper food production, going hand in hand with sustainable land usage. The final outcome is of course general wealth and sustainability potentially enabling further transnational sustainability for developing nations.

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