In 2006 the UN posted breaking news on cattle-rearing generating “more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed.”
“It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.”
Cattle rearing also contributes significantly to acid rain, human induced methan, and emissions from land use and land change. It is a major cause of deforestation, esp. in Latin America where (at the time of this 2006 United Nations publication) “70 per cent of former forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing”.
Deforestation is one thing, to make matters worse, the herds cause degradation of the land. This wide-scale degradation in turns contributes to desertification.
Couple desertification with all the water needed for the animals and their feed and “The livestock business is among the most damaging sectors to the earth’s increasingly scarce water resources, contributing among other things to water pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and the pesticides used to spray feed crops.”
UN News Centre: Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns.
The source for this UN News report is Livestock’s long shadow. Some important things to understand about this information, data, and proposed solutions by the UN; while the data is very significant and valid, the proposed solutions are not vegan and therefore not the most powerful. The best solution to the environmental problems caused by the meat industry is for us to become vegan.
Here are some interesting points from the Executive Summary of this 300 plus page document:
“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.”
Global importance of the sector
“Global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/01 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, and that of milk to grow from 580 to 1 043 million tonnes.”
Structural changes and their impact
“Extensive grazing still occupies and degrades vast areas of land
“The livestock sector enters into more and direct competition for scarce land, water and other natural resources.”
Changes in production methods “are marginalizing smallholders and pastoralists, increasing inputs and wastes and increasing and concentrating the pollution created.”
“The livestock sector is by far the single largest anthropogenic user of land… In all, livestock production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.”
“Expansion of livestock production is a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring – 70 percent of previous forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feedcrops cover a large part of the remainder. About 20 percent of the world’s pastures and rangelands, with 73 percent of rangelands in dry areas, have been degraded to some extent, mostly through overgrazing, compaction and erosion created by livestock action. The dry lands in particular are affected by these trends, as livestock are often the only source of livelihoods for the people living in these areas.”
Atmosphere and climate
“With rising temperatures, rising sea levels, melting icecaps and glaciers, shifting ocean currents and weather patterns, climate change is the most serious challenge facing the human race.”
“The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2 equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.”
“The livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of anthropogenic CO2 emissions. The largest share of this derives from land-use changes – especially deforestation – caused by expansion of pastures and arable land for feedcrops. Livestock are responsible for much larger shares of some gases with far higher potential to warm the atmosphere. The sector emits 37 percent of anthropogenic methane (with 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2) most of that from enteric fermentation by ruminants. It emits 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (with 296 times the GWP of CO2), the great majority from manure. Livestock are also responsible for almost two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems.”
“The world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, scarcity and depletion, with 64 percent of the world’s population expected to live in water-stressed basins by 2025.”
“The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use, accounting for over 8 percent of global human water use, mostly for the irrigation of feedcrops. It is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures. Global figures are not available but in the United States, with the world’s fourth largest land area, livestock are responsible for an estimated 55 percent of erosion and sediment, 37 percent of pesticide use, 50 percent of antibiotic use, and a third of the loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources.”
“Livestock also affect the replenishment of freshwater by compacting soil, reducing infiltration, degrading the banks of watercourses, drying up floodplains and lowering water tables. Livestock’s contribution to deforestation also increases runoff and reduces dry season flows.”
“We are in an era of unprecedented threats to biodiversity. The loss of species is estimated to be running 50 to 500 times higher than background rates found in the fossil record. Fifteen out of 24 important ecosystem services are assessed to be in decline.”
“Livestock now account for about 20 percent of the total terrestrial animal biomass, and the 30 percent of the earth’s land surface that they now pre-empt was once habitat for wildlife. Indeed, the livestock sector may well be the leading player in the reduction of biodiversity, since it is the major driver of deforestation, as well as one of the leading drivers of land degradation, pollution, climate change, overfishing, sedimentation of coastal areas and facilitation of invasions by alien species. In addition, resource conflicts with pastoralists threaten species of wild predators and also protected areas close to pastures.”
“Some 306 of the 825 terrestrial ecoregions identified by the Worldwide Fund for Nature (WWF) – ranged across all biomes and all biogeographical realms, reported livestock as one of the current threats. Conservation International has identified 35 global hotspots for biodiversity, characterized by exceptional levels of plant endemism and serious levels of habitat loss. Of these, 23 are reported to be affected by livestock production. An analysis of the authoritative World Conservation Union (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species shows that most of the world’s threatened species are suffering habitat loss where livestock are a factor.”
“An important general lesson is that the livestock sector has such deep and wide-ranging environmental impacts that it should rank as one of the leading focuses for environmental policy: efforts here can produce large and multiple payoffs. Indeed, as societies develop, it is likely that environmental considerations, along with human health issues, will become the dominant policy considerations for the sector.”
Finally, there is an urgent need to develop suitable institutional and policy frameworks, at local, national and international levels”