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More on Omissions of Emissions: Livestock and Climate Change

I was very pleased to present on the climate crisis at two recent events in Melbourne. The first was the Annual General Meeting of the Mullum Mullum Festival, covering the municipalities of Whitehorse and Manningham, while the second was the Animal Activists Forum, held at Trades Hall.

The slides can be accessed by clicking the image if you would like to check them out.

Title-Slide-480Presentation slides
In the second presentation, a member of the audience asked two related questions.
  1. Don’t we need manure from animals to fertilise the soil?

  2. Don’t animals enable us to extract nutrition from land which is not suitable for cropping?

In response to the first question, I suggested that we could possibly retain animals on farmland without killing them for food, and that the number involved could be a small fraction of the number maintained for the livestock sector.

Because of the sector’s scale, which results primarily from its inherent and gross inefficiency, effluent is produced at an unsustainable level. I have cited examples in previous papers:

  • American journalist Jim Motavelli has provided a stark example of the disastrous effects on waterways of intensive farming practices. He has stated: “The much-publicized 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska dumped 12 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, but the relatively unknown 1995 New River hog waste spill in North Carolina poured 25 million gallons of excrement and urine into the water, killing an estimated 10 to 14 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal shellfishing beds. Hog waste spills have caused the rapid spread of a virulent microbe called Pfiesteria piscicida, which has killed a billion fish in North Carolina alone.”

  • In December 1997, the U.S Senate Agricultural Committee released a report stating that livestock raised for food, produce 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the country, roughly equivalent to five tons per annum for every US citizen. In that year, cattle, pigs, chicken and turkeys produced an estimated 1.36 billion tons of solid waste, 90% of which was from cattle. On that basis, it’s not surprising that spills such as the New River incident occur.

In relation to the second question, we would not need to encroach on lands that are not suitable for cropping if we were not producing livestock. That’s because the inefficiency of livestock as a food source is causing us to use many times the land area that would be required if we relied only on plants as our source of nutrition.  Land that is currently used for animal feedcrops could be converted to crops for human consumption.

A recent paper released by the Institute on the Enviroment at the University of Minnesota suggested that, “The world’s croplands could feed 4 billion more people than they do now just by shifting from producing animal feed and biofuels to producing exclusively food for human consumption”.

The lead author, Emily Cassidy, has been quoted as saying: “We essentially have uncovered an astoundingly abundant supply of food for a hungry world, hidden in plain sight in the farmlands we already cultivate. Depending on the extent to which farmers and consumers are willing to change current practices, existing croplands could feed millions or even billions more people.”

Much agricultural land could also be allowed to regenerate as forest if we were to cease using it for livestock grazing and feedcrop production. As I have stated elsewhere, such an approach is essential if we are to have any hope of overcoming the climate crisis.

In Australia, grazing in the rangelands is severely degrading the soil and releasing massive amounts of carbon.


It can be intuitively appealing to believe that livestock are an essential component of the food production system. However, the only essential aspect of livestock production is that we replace it with the plant-based alternative.

It is also essential that we accept the absolute necessity of addressing the climate crisis, rather than avoiding the issue. In my presentation at the Animal Activist Forum, I ended without showing my usual concluding slide, in which I quote Dr Andrew Glikson of Australian National University. I greatly admire Dr Glikson as someone with outstanding academic credentials, who is willing to say it as it is. Here is the slide:


Note: Click here if you would like to download the presentation.

See Also: Omissions of Emissions: A Critical Climate Change Issue

Additional Images:

Warming-relative-to-1951-1980Warming relative to 1951-1980 base period (NASA)
African-savanna-burningAfrican savanna burning (NASA MODIS fire map)


Motavelli, J.,“The Case Against Meat”, E Magazine, 3 January 2002, http://www.emagazine.com/archive/142

Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Minority Staff: “Animal Waste Pollution in America: An Emerging National Problem”, Dec.1997, cited in United States General Accounting Office Report to Hon. Tom Harkin, Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry, US Senate, “Animal Agriculture Waste Management Practices”, July, 1999, http://www.gao.gov/archive/1999/rc99205.pdf, as at 2 July, 2008 and Liang, A.P., “Current State of Foodborne Illness”, Conference for Food Safety Education, Florida, 17 Sep, 2002

Doyle, Michael P., “Food Safety Challenges from Farm to Table”, Center for Food Safety, College of Agricultural Sciences (undated) http://www.pitt.edu/~super7/14011-15001/14291.ppt#291,1,Food Safety Challenges from Farm to Table

Emily S Cassidy et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015 doi:10.1088/1748-9326/8/3/034015, cited in University of Minnesota News Release, 1 Aug 2013, “Existing Cropland Could Feed 4 Billion More”, http://www1.umn.edu/news/news-releases/2013/UR_CONTENT_451697.html

Glikson, A., “As emissions rise, we may be heading for an ice-free planet”, The Conversation, 18 January, 2012, http://theconversation.edu.au/as-emissions-rise-we-may-be-heading-for-an-ice-free-planet-4893 (Accessed 4 February 2012)


Paul Mahony is an environmental and animal rights campaigner who is trying to remove what he considers to be blinkers and blindspots in the community, resulting from social, cultural and commercial conditioning. You can find Paul on Twitter, Slideshare, Sribd and his own blogging site, Terrastendo.

This article first appeared on the author's Terrastendo website on 20th October, 2013

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