Climate Change and Livestock Production

Some of you will smash me for this post, but so be it. I want to share something with you that I have been exposed to for a while, and I find really interesting.

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One of the speakers at this conference (I have been on the bill with him before) is Dr. Frank Mitloehner, of UC Davis, a climate science researcher focused on the role that livestock plays in climate change. I really encourage those of you interested in this issue to look at his work. The vast majority of his work is funded by public funds - he is not an industry shill, and he openly states that climate change is real (not a DENIER, so keep your pointing fingers and heretic-burning torches in your pockets). His message is that we cannot eat our way out of climate change, and that fossil fuels, not livestock, is the real issue. Carbon in the atmosphere due to livestock is contained within the carbon cycle, and consumed by plants, particularly with the fact that there millions fewer ruminant animals in North America than there were a hundred years ago (we killed all the bison). He is not the only one discussing this.

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Fossil fuels release sequestered carbon from the earth, and increase atmospheric carbon dioxide out of balance with the planet’s carbon cycle that is driving climate change. I am not doing it justice with this simplistic explanation, but having heard him speak a number of times over the years, his research is compelling. He hates the right vs. left division, and has met with AOC and her staff several times in the last year, and he is encouraged by these meetings that he can make all sides of the debate listen to the science. His real criticism is not for lefty politicians, who he believes will listen and respond to the truth, but for the media that does not present the full story, and promotes ideas like “meatless Monday” which, even if achieved, will have no impact whatsoever.

He cites numbers showing that the world cannot produce enough fruits and vegetables to feed a rapidly growing population if everyone went vegan- the math shows we cannot meet our nutritional needs, and he has fascinating data to show that livestock production in the United States and Europe is not a problem with respect to climate change because of our massively increased efficiency. We have increased meat and dairy production incredibly, while dramatically reducing the number of animals. China, for example, a nation with the most pigs of anywhere in the world, has a 40 percent mortality rate in their pig production, a number that would never be tolerated here. India has the most cows in the world - and they don’t eat them, leading to a massive impact on climate due their long lifespans. Africa has terrible inefficiency in its livestock production. As he puts it, we know how to fix this because we used to be them. His challenge, as he states it, is to communicate this science to the public and to our leaders so that we focus on helping the developing world achieve the food production efficiencies that have reduced the environmental footprint of Europe and North America to levels where they are not drivers of climate change. A big part of his message is that people need to look more deeply at climate change than the media is presenting, because the science is complex and only a small part of it is actually being discussed.

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It is really interesting stuff, and I encourage you to read up on him. You can follow him on Twitter at @GHGGuru. He has a blog at https://ghgguru.faculty.ucdavis.edu/ There, he says:

As a professor and extension specialist at the University of California, Davis, I have the privilege of working on these issues. I teach hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students each year and I see firsthand their concern and commitment. Anyone who believes our so-called Millennials and Gen Z-ers are going to be our undoing, I wish you could see what I see. They are passionate, smart and willing to take a stand.There are many conversations in our social and traditional media spaces, around our dinner tables, and in our homes and offices about how we can work toward a “sustainable” planet. In launching this blog, I’m aiming toward creating a forum to share ideas and talk about our next steps as we prepare for 2050 and a projected world population of 10 billion. I hope we’ll also be able to work together to create a space that puts forth scientific-based evidence so as many people as possible have accurate data on which to base their decisions.My academic position has me working closely with the agricultural industry – farmers, feed companies, NGOs, my colleagues at UC Davis and other highly regarded educational institutions, world environmental and health organizations, to name a few – to benchmark and reduce negative impacts of farming on the air we breathe and the climate. Simply put, we must better understand the role of agriculture in nourishing our world. At the same time, we need to know where to focus our attention for cleaner air and a stable climate.“Simply put, we must better understand the role of agriculture in nourishing our world. At the same time, we need to know where to focus our attention for cleaner air and a healthy climate.”

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Ok, go ahead and smash me now.  

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