Greenhouse gases are invisible– as is “green” recognition of meat as source

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, May 2007:
NORWALK, Connecticut– Posting “Ten easy
steps to cutting out the #1 contributor to global
warming: farmed animals!” on April 6, 2007,
the Earth Day Network could not have been more
explicit about the most helpful action that
average citizens can take to cut greenhouse gas
emissions and slow the pace of climate change.
But the Earth Day Network message barely reached
the celebrants.
Among more than 8.9 million web postings
worldwide about Earth Day 2007, 26% mentioned
food, mostly as a component of festivities.
Only 1% mentioned “livestock,” “cattle,”
“vegetarian,” or “vegan” in any way.
Yet “vegan” was mentioned in 88,300
postings. Greenhouse gases, so named because
they contribute to the earth-warming “greenhouse
effect,” were mentioned in only 83,700 postings,
and methane, the most damaging greenhouse gas,
emitted mainly by livestock, got just 71,800
The “Green Tips for Earth Day” web site,
posted by Earth 911 with the support of the U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency, omitted any
notice of animal production and meat-eating.
Noting that Earth Day is now more a
cultural celebration than a day of
awareness-raising and protest, Vermont
environmentalist author Bill McKibben and friends
organized “Step It Up 2007,” a “National Day of
Climate Action” held on April 13, a week ahead
of Earth Day, to try to increase attention to
global warming.
More than 1,400 organizations headquartered in
all 50 states and many nations abroad took part.
“What do you feel guilty about not
doing?” New York magazine writer Tim Murphy
asked New York City “Step It Up 2007” coordinator
Ben Jervey.

“I don’t dry my clothes on hangers instead of
using a dryer. Or forgo meat altogether.
Studies show that meat consumption is not so
energy-efficient,” responded Jervey. Jervey,
27, is author of The Big Green Apple, a guide
to ecofriendly New York City living.
Apart from Jervey’s guilt complex,
equating raising animals for slaughter with not
hanging up his laundry, “Step It Up 2007”
organizers evinced scant awareness of meat-eating
as even part of the global warming issue. Meat
did not appear to rate so much as a word on the
“Step It Up 2007” web site. ANIMAL PEOPLE found
traces of only four “Step It Up 2007” events that
encouraged meatless eating.
In Britain, the Portsmouth Climate
Action Network advertised “a tasty barbecue,
with food for all, including vegetarian and
vegan.” In Saratoga Springs, New York, “Step
It Up 2007” coincided with the New York Capital
Region Vegetarian Expo.
Friends of Animals, based in Darien,
Connecticut, coordinated “Step It Up 2007”
rallies in both Norwalk and Westport.
“Activists push diet change to the head
of climate change,” recounted a Norwalk Hour
subhead the following day.
Norwalk Hour staff writer James Walker
did not actually mention the contribution of
meat-eating to global warming until his eighth of
14 paragraphs, but five of his last seven
paragraphs either quoted or paraphrased FoA
president Priscilla Feral and the Worldwatch
Institute on the role of diet in causing climate
Stamford Advocate staff writer Michael
Dinan also covered the Norwalk demonstration,
but did not mention diet, consistent with the
general tendency of U.S. news media to follow
mainstream environmentalists in completely
overlooking, ignoring, or denying the
U.S. newspaper coverage of global warming
has increased by half since 1997, according to a
proportionately weighted keyword search by ANIMAL
PEOPLE of the archives of 1,428 daily newspapers
accessible at
This appears to have raised awareness of
the possible results of global warming far more
than awareness of any of the causes.
An April 2007 survey conducted jointly by
the Washington Post, ABC News, and Stanford
University, for instance, found that 84% of
Americans recognize that global warming is
occurring. More than 70% see it as a major issue.
Asked what to do about it, however, the
pollsters found that 62% of respondents believe
power plants should be required to reduce
emissions of greenhouse gases; 42% favor laws
requiring vehicles to be more fuel-efficient;
36% want laws requiring air conditioners,
refrigerators, and other appliances to be less
polluting; about a third favor higher gasoline
taxes; and 20% favor higher taxes on electricity
to encourage conservation.
“Most say they would be willing to
personally change some things they do in order to
mitigate climate change, even if it involves
some sacrifice,” reported Washington Post staff
writers Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen. “Nearly
three-quarters said they have already made an
effort to reduce energy consumption at home;
seven in 10 said they already use at least one
compact fluorescent light bulb.”
But the survey apparently neither asked
about meat consumption nor elicited any directly
relevant response.
U.S. global warming coverage mentioning
cattle rose from 1% of the total in 1997 to 2.6%
in 1999–but 1999 was the year with by far the
least total global warming coverage. In every
other year, just over 1% of the articles
mentioning global warming also mentioned cattle.
Global warming coverage mentioning the
more general term “livestock” gradually increased
from about half of one percent in 1997 to 1% in
both 2006 and early 2007.
Global warming coverage mentioning meat
rose from 1% in 1997 to 2% in both 2006 and early

U.N. warning

The paucity of attention from daily
newspapers scarcely reflects a lack of scientific
evidence. Warned the United Nations Food &
Agriculture Organization in a November 2006
report entitled Livestock’s Long
Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, “The
environmental costs per unit of livestock
production must be cut by one half, just to
avoid the level of damage worsening.”
Elaborated FAO spokesperson Christopher
Matthews, “When emissions from land use and land
use change are included, the livestock sector
accounts for 9% percent of carbon dioxide
deriving from human-related activities, and
generates 65% of human-related nitrous oxide,
which has 296 times the global warming potential
of carbon dioxide.
“Most of this comes from manure,”
Matthews emphasized. “Livestock accounts for 37%
of all human-induced methane, 23 times as
warming as carbon dioxide, which is also largely
produced by the digestive system of ruminants,
and 64% of ammonia, which contributes
significantly to acid rain.
“Livestock now use 30% of the earth’s
entire land surface,” Matthews continued,
“mostly permanent pasture, but also including
33% of the global arable land, used to produce
feed for livestock. As forests are cleared to
create new pastures, [the livestock industry] is
a major driver of deforestation, especially in
Latin America where, for example, some 70% of
former forests in the Amazon have been turned
over to grazing.”
Only 39 U.S. daily newspapers –just
3%–published anything more than a syndicated
summary of the FAO findings.
Most U.S. daily newspapers are, however,
heavily dependent upon supermarket advertising,
especially the intensely competitive meat ads.
The New York Times, as one of the few
dailies that does not even carry supermarket
advertising, deliberated over the FAO report for
a month before editorializing about it on
December 26, 2006.
“When you think about the growth of human
population over the last century or so, it is
all too easy to imagine it merely as an increase
in the number of humans,” The New York Times
editorialists began. “But as we multiply, so do
all things associated with us, including our
“At present,” The New York Times
editorialists continued, “there are about 1.5
billion cattle and domestic buffalo, and about
1.7 billion sheep and goats. With pigs and
poultry, they form a critical part of our
enormous biological footprint upon this planet.
Livestock–which consume more food than they
yield–also compete directly with humans for
water. And the drive to expand grazing land
destroys more biologically sensitive terrain,
rain forests especially, than anything else.
But what is even more striking, and alarming, is
that livestock are responsible for about 18% of
the global warming effect.”
The New York Times summation closely
paralleled the statistical summary issued by
vegetarian advocate John Robbins 19 years
earlier, as part of the promotional kit for Diet
For A New America.
“There are no easy trade-offs when it
comes to global warming, such as cutting back on
cattle to make room for cars,” the New York
Times noted, but concluded, “As Livestock’s
Long Shadow makes clear, our health and the
health of the planet depend on pushing livestock
production in more sustainable directions.”
Even before John Robbins published his
heads-up, Worldwatch Institute founder Lester
Brown had warned in similar terms since the 1970s
about the contributions of the meat industry to
the production of greenhouse gases. As recently
as February 22, 2007, Worldwatch Institute
research associate Danielle Nierenberg described
the links between raising animals for meat and
global warming to the American Academy of
Sciences annual conference in San Francisco.
There were plenty of other warnings.
Climate researcher Benoit Leguet,
investigating the probable economic consequences
of global warming for the French bank Caisse des
Depots, told Agence France-Presse in September
2005 that the 20 million cows in France produce
6.5 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas
In total, Leguet determined, French
cattle produce 38 million metric tons of
greenhouse gases per year, more than three times
the volume produced by oil refineries.
Summarized Toby McDonald of the London
Times, “There are 1.4 billion cows worldwide,
each producing 500 litres of methane a day and
accounting for 14% of all emissions of the gas.
Carbon dioxide is by far the biggest contributor
to climate change, but methane has 23 times the
warming potential of carbon dioxide, so reducing
its emission is also considered important.
“Cows need to ferment their low-grade food, such
as hay and grass, to get any energy from it,”
McDonald continued, “and the main by-product is
methane. Between 9% and 12% of the energy that a
cow consumes is converted into methane,
depending on diet, barn conditions, and whether
the cow is producing milk. In Scotland, where
there is a greater concentration of agriculture
than in other countries, cows produce 46% of all
methane emissions.”
This is about 15 times the contribution
made by cattle in England, but Scotland has
proportionately more cattle and less industrial
Biochemist John Wallace of the Rowett
Research Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, told
McDonald that altering cows’ diets could reduce
their methane emissions by as much as 70%, but
whether this can be done consistently and in an
economically productive manner remains to be
Livestock are believed to be responsible
for about 12.3% of greenhouse gas emissions from
Australian sources, reported Richard Macey of
the Sydney Morning Herald in June 2006.
Researchers Robert Herd and Andrew Alford of the
New South Wales (Australia) Department of Primary
Industries told Macey that they believe breeding
cattle only from the bulls whose offspring most
efficiently convert food into protein could cut
cattle methane emissions worldwide by about 3%.
“The leader of the research effort,
Roger Hegarty, said it may be possible to
develop other methane-efficient animals,
including sheep,” wrote Macey.
But the sum of the potential gain from
selective breeding for methane reduction would be
equivalent to the gain from just 3% of the public
giving up meat.
Recognizing that livestock were
responsible for more than half the New Zealand
contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, the
New Zealand government in 2003 tried
unsuccessfully to tax agricultural methane
The New Zealand Livestock Im-provement
Corporation is now a member of the Australia-New
Zealand Biotechnology Partnership Fund, formed
to help produce cattle with more efficient
digestive systems.
Using 1938 data
The U.S. lags far behind much of the rest
of the world in officially recognizing the
greenhouse gas contributions of cattle.
The reasons why include cattle industry
lobbying clout, official denial, and use of
grossly obsolete data. As of 2005, for example,
California air pollution regulations had presumed
since 1938 that cows produce an average of just
12.8 pounds of “volatile organic compounds” per
year. These are the particulate emissions that
contribute to smog, a lower-atmosphere
“greenhouse effect,” which in 1938 was the only
part of the greenhouse emissions issue known to
Cattle industry lobbyists argued that the
1938 estimate was about two and a half times too
high. Smog researchers, however, believe that
since today’s cattle are much larger than the
cattle of 70 years ago, the typical cow today
may emit about 20.6 pounds of “volatile organic
compounds” per year–and that’s just the
relatively solid material, that does not rise to
the ozone layer and hover.
The California smog regulations of 1938
were introduced 30 years after Ford Motor Company
founder Henry Ford first marketed the Model T,
the first mass-produced automobile, and the most
popular car in the world for the next 20 years.
The Model T was originally built to run
on ethanol, which Ford imagined farmers would
produce for themselves, to run cars and his line
of Fordson tractors. Very soon, however, Ford
realized that farmers preferred feeding corn
stalks and other organic material suitable for
producing ethanol to cattle and pigs. Distilling
fuel with it was economically
counter-productive–and was illegal during the
Prohibition years, from 1919 to 1932.
Almost a century after Ford gave up on
ethanol, the White House under President George
W. Bush is still pushing it, as the most
officially favored response to global warming, a
phenomenon that the Bush administration only
formally recognized in 2006.
Summarized Carey Gilliam of Reuters on
February 26, 2007, “The Bush administration is
proposing $1.6 billion in federal spending to
promote ethanolÅ A shift to fuels such as ethanol
can help to slow global warming,” in theory, by
replacing use of fossil fuels, especially
“Traditional ethanol facilities use
natural gas or coal to fuel the boilers that
create steam and distil ethanol from corn or
other plant-based sources,” Gilliam continued.
“But such operations are vulnerable to volatile
natural gas prices, and critics say the
pollution associated with coal-fired plants
offset the benefits of substituting ethanol for
To get around that problem, a company
called E3 BioFuels on February 26, 2007 opened
the first U.S. facility to produce ethanol from
dung. Located near Mead, Nebraska, the E3
BioFuels plant is a combination of factory farm
with refinery.
“27,000 cattle stand on slatted floors to
deposit an estimated 1.6 million pounds of dung
daily into deep pits, which are located adjacent
to a new ethanol plant,” Gilliam wrote. “The
pungent waste is then processed into methane gas,
which powers the ethanol plant. Other byproducts
of the manure include fertilizer for the
surrounding corn fields. Corn is then fed back
to the cattle, or distilled into ethanol. The
2,000-acre complex produces about 24 million
gallons of ethanol a year.”
E3 BioFuels chair Dennis Langley told
Gilliam that the $77 million Mead plant “is a
prototype for at least 15 similar U.S. projects,”
including three in Kansas, three in California,
two in Nebraska and one in Iowa, each “teamed
with feedlots or dairies.”
Wrote International Bird Rescue Research
Center public affairs director Karen Benzel, who
brought E3 BioFuels to the attention of ANIMAL
PEOPLE, “This is not how the planet should be
But if history is any indication, it
won’t be, any more than Earth Day and “Step It
Up” events will, if they continue to disregard
Dung-fueled bioreactors built to operate
on the scale that Henry Ford envisioned work very
well in some places, notably India. In
Visakhapatnam, for example, the Visakha SPCA
uses the dung from several hundred rescued cattle
to supply the electricity that lights the VSPCA
complex at night.
Bioreactors, however, produce
relatively little energy from a huge volume of
waste, and tend to be climate-sensitive.
Before E3 BioFuels, the biggest U.S.
effort to produce energy from dung was a methane
extraction plant built by the New Charleston
Power Company, of Imperial, California. Opened
in 1988, the New Charleston plant lost millions
of dollars, and instead of becoming a pollution
solution, instead became one of the largest
pollution point sources in California. Closed
in 1994, the plant was still mired in litigation
for at least another five years.

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