Livestock’s carbon footprint ‘catastrophic,’ say climate experts


Feeding animal products to the world’s billions is now taking its toll, if some climate experts are to be believed. According to them, livestock farming now accounts for the use of 70 percent of the global freshwater and 38 percent of the world’s land-use conversion. Some 70 percent of the Amazon Rainforest, in fact, has already been cleared for grazing and feed crop production.

The “Livestock and Climate Change” published in the latest issue of World Watch magazine reported that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions as noted by Inquirer Science/Health on April 20. Forbes online, in its April 28 issue, wrote that the 2006 report estimated that 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs and poultry (chicken) were in fact updated to 51 percent, citing an analysis performed by Robert Goodland, a former World Bank Group environmental adviser, with cowriter Jeff Anhang, an environmental specialist at the World Bank Group’s International Finance Corp.

Excess atmospheric carbon

Goodland, who in 2008 was awarded the first (and as yet only) Coolidge Memorial Medal by the International Conservation Union for lifetime achievements in environmental conservation, wrote in his blog: “A shocking 45 percent of all land on Earth is today used for raising livestock and growing crops to feed them. But most land used for livestock and crops can grow trees instead. Reforestation and regeneration of forest are the only ways to create new, large-scale capacity to sequester today’s excess atmospheric carbon. If it is not sequestered, then it will take at least a century to dissipate.”

Goodland continues: “Replacing a quarter of today’s livestock products with alternatives would allow forest to regenerate on a vast amount of land. As a result, this may be the only pragmatic way to stop global warming in the next 5 years—which many experts believe may be the last chance to avoid irreversible climate disruption. It’s the view of the International Energy Agency, not a radical group.

“Some argue that millions of poor people have no alternative to raising livestock for their livelihoods. But tens of millions of poor people’s livestock have died recently due to climate disasters. Replacing them would risk a similar fate for the new animals. Supporting new livelihoods for those whose livestock die in climate disasters would be less risky. Microfinance, mobile banking, computers and off-grid electricity have generated dramatic growth in many poor rural communities.”


Meanwhile, Meatless Monday Philippines founding chair Custer Deocaris, a balik scientist of the Department of Science and Technology, warned that the year 2017 will be the last year that IEA has estimated for all countries to lower their CO2 emission. “Otherwise, if the target is not met, the rise of global temperature to 2ºC by 2050 will be irreversible. Most climate experts are saying 4ºC is a more possible scenario. Since 51 percent of CO2 comes from the livestock sector and that 52 percent of allowable man-made CO2 emissions were used up already by this sector since 2000, the option would be to go vegan and all efforts should be concentrated from now to 2017.

“The world needs a paradigm shift. As we approach 2017, the truth will get more inconvenient. You cannot be an environmentalist if you do not wish to cut down on meat or go vegetarian,” Deocaris previously stressed.

Deocaris, who came up with local calculations using the IEA figures as his basis, estimated that the amount of water used by 101 million Filipinos every lunch time based on the per capita meat intake would be around 40,622,913,794 liters. This would approximately be equivalent to 5.2 Ipo Dams (the water capacity of the dam is pegged at 7.5 million cubic meters). He also cited as references (to his calculations) the Inventory of US Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Sinks, the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Last April 20, Inquirer Science came out with Deocaris’ calculations: One meatless lunch by 97-million Filipinos would have been equivalent to 12,722,851 kg of CO2 saved (if all protein of the average Filipino diet with meat is replaced by soya during this meatless lunch).

It takes about 12,000 liters of water to produce one kg of beef, compared with just 850 liters to produce the same weight of wheat.

Palace underwater by 2050

Deocaris also predicted that if climate change is left unchecked, “before 2050 arrives, Malacañang will long be underwater.”

“We need to emphasize that the 2-degree threshold set by IPCC by 2050 actually means a 12- to 32-meter rise in sea level. It takes just 1.6 degrees to completely melt the Greenland Ice Sheet! So far, temperatures have already risen by 0.76ºCelsius.” He cited the link as the basis for his pronouncements.

According to the IEA, if nothing substantial would be done by 2017, it would be too late to reverse a 2-degree rise in average global temperatures by 2050.

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  • JeanSC

    I agree deforestation is a bad thing, regardless of the human land use it’s done for, or even if it’s just to rape the forest. But you can’t put down human consumption of meat just because of the carbon footprint of livestock production. Most land area which can support livestock production can also support native wild game, and did before the latter was extirpated to make room for the domesticated animals. When people eat native game, the carbon footprint’s not on mankind’s account, because the animals would be there anyway even if we didn’t eat them. I hope the vegans aren’t suggesting we should exterminate native game an make room for more domesticated plant foods for people! The right way to get meat is from eating native wild plants.

    • Vegandelight

      The article is quite clear on animal farming and in reducing meat intake to help curb global warming. 

      Do you get your McDonald burgers from spearing wild buffalos? Do you buy KFC from “sustainably”-hunted native fowls living in the jungles?    What kills the planet is not just meat consumption in the simple sense, but the sheer volume of meat eaten by 7 billion people in the planet. 

      When all people’s lives are affected, when your very life is being threatened, should you  worry more about the issue of wild life gaming than finding practical solutions to the world’s most pressing problem?    

  • Joe

    These alarming statistics need to be vetted by more scientific inquiries that are not funded by environmental lobbyists. 

    I’m not saying that there is not a risk just that we should always seek a scientific grounding for new and startling information. 

    • Gabriela Masa

      Are you looking for studies funded by the hog industry, poultry industry or funded by big corporations who own animal farms? Who stands to financially profit in issues of commercialism versus preserving the planet?

  • Richard Schwartz

    As president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America, I believe that this article should be widely spread. It is essential that there very soon be a major societal shift to plant-based (vegan) diets in order to have at least a chance to avoid a climate catastrophe and increasing scarcities of food, water, and energy, and to help shift our imperiled planet to a sustainable path.

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