Where Did We Get the Idea Veganism Can Solve Climate Change?
Mistaken science is distracting us
Cattle have been denigrated as a major cause of greenhouse gases (GHG) and therefore a cause of climate change. When I first heard this as a former farmer, I thought: That’s preposterous! Cows have more impact than fossil fuels? No way.
So, I looked it up. Sure enough, there’s a report from the WorldWatch Institute in 2009 that claims livestock accounts for 51% of GHG — more than industry, coal-burning electricity generation, and transportation combined. Whatever those guys smoke at WorldWatch, I’d like some for Friday night! That report is no longer available on the WorldWatch site. (Links go to a dead page. A reader sent me this one.) It’s not hard to figure out why.
The original story emphasizing the GHG contribution of livestock came from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). FAO published a study authored by Henning Steinfeld in 2006 which claimed that livestock produced 18% of global GHG, and concluded on that basis that livestock was producing more GHG than the entire transportation sector. Although it is a mystery how WorldWatch inflated that to 51% three years later, the claim in the FAO study was eye-catching. Apparently, many eyes caught it, and then they read WorldWatch, too.
But there was a little problem.