The Attack on the Attackers of Beef

Recently there have been numerous articles and speeches attacking the beef industry for their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.  Many of these attacks call for the planet to go vegan, or at least vegetarian, and site the livestock industry as a major cause for climate change. 

In response, the beef industry has come out with studies of its own and continuously attacks both the reliability of the claims against it, as well as the validity of the data.  Among other things, these beef supporters are claiming that the numbers are skewed and that cattle can actually contribute to a reduction in greenhouse gases.  

Let’s start with these two points that I completely agree with:

1) Beef supporters oppose a quote stating that livestock contributes 14% of the greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. 

Emissions from Livestock is not 14%. 14% is the highest quote I’ve ever seen for ALL of agriculture, not just livestock (sometimes they use a cow silhouette as a symbol – hence the mistake). The most quoted number, the one the IPCC uses, is 11% for ALL agriculture, of which livestock is a large, but not complete part. 

2) Holistically managed, regenerative beef operations not only don’t contribute to GHG emissions, they actually sequester carbon from the atmosphere.

Silvopasture is an important solution. This is basically the integration of livestock grazing within forests.  In fact, it’s considered the 9th most important solution by Paul Hawken’s climate plan Drawdown, with the possibility of cutting down 31GT of carbon by 2050 (we release ~40GT a year globally).

It’s obviously really hard to calculate all those numbers, but frankly, who cares.  We know that livestock, and especially cattle, the way they are currently being raised, contributes a huge amount of greenhouse gases — not including the shitload of rain forests cut down, and the amount of land used.  Silvopasture is a solution, but we won’t be able to consume the amounts we’re consuming today with that kind of farming.  

Everyone (and I mean everyone sane) agrees that energy is the number one greenhouse gas emitter (between ~50-73%).  But in second place is transportation, and then a virtual tie between land use and agriculture (all at ~6-12%), followed by industry and residential/commercial.  As soon as you understand the science and know that each of these sectors is contributing to warming greenhouse gases, the exact numbers are irrelevant — they change annually, and each study includes different things in each sector. 

I am not advocating that the planet go vegan — although I am not against it. I would just like a change in the way we produce this shit, and reduce consumption of the worst of these meat products, or at least pivot toward chicken, fish and even pork. If you want to ignore science, a horrific trend in the U.S. these days that will kill millions of people, go ahead.  But don’t fight me on this one, even if it means you may lose your rib-eye. Again, keep your bacon (I do miss bacon). Hail the Impossible Burger!