Steaming cow poo.

Written By: - Date published: 11:57 am, June 2nd, 2018 - 54 comments
Categories: capitalism, economy, energy, Environment, farming, farming, global warming, International, political alternatives, Revolution, science, sustainability, the praiseworthy and the pitiful, useless - Tags: , ,

It’s not simply the obvious nonsense of the claim made by the Guardian and some researchers involved in a study looking at the environmental costs of various food production that pisses me off. It’s the fact that their supposed solution rests on simple individual consumer choices.

It should be obvious enough that reducing the consumption of various products has the potential to be a good thing. But that is not the same as it being “the single biggest way” to ameliorate negative impacts on the environment.

There will no doubt be some who would argue about the methodology of the study and so forth. Thing is, even taking the study at face value and accepting the conclusions it reaches, doesn’t move us forwards in terms of doing jack-shit to avoid the effects of global warming.

There is a farm out by the way. And every year the ground is ploughed, planted and sprayed with the aid of the fossil fuels that run the tractors and helicopters that are employed to carry out the ploughing, planting and spraying . Then beasts are transported in for fattening using fossil fuels. And transported back out again using fossil fuels. Off to the side, a piece of land is used to grow silage – again with fossil fuels being used throughout the entire production process.

If that land was used to produce some other food crop, what real change would take place regarding the use of fossil fuels? (That’s obviously an open question subject to a clatter of variables.)

The point is that it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that meat consumption could plummet and fossil fuel use in agriculture could stay steady or even increase off the back of that.

Consumers and consumer choices do not and will not “save the world”. That’s not to argue that we shouldn’t make intelligent decisions around what we consume with an eye to the environmental impact of what we buy and eat and so forth. But it is to argue that idiotic notions around what impact those choices might have, shouldn’t be encouraged.

If we want that industrial farming has a much reduced impact on the environment, then fossil has to be taken out of the equation. Take out fossil, and who-ever, can eat whatever amount of beef that they want – because in the absence of machines running on fossil doing the work of however many labourers, and in the absence of fossil transport “shrinking the world”, beef production will plummet. And that’s okay.

But that all sits at the level of deep systemic change, not individual consumer choice. And the last thing anyone speaking for any institution that has grown as a result of our current “world settings” is going to advocate for is deep systemic change.

I read through some of the thousands of comments the Guardian article attracted. There are a few (very few) nuggets in there. For the most part, the same tired old statements about veganism and the equally tired old statements about not having children constitute the majority of the comments.

The IPCC produces Representative Concentration Pathways that suggest future temperatures in light of our likely emissions between now and 2100. RPC 8.5 is the scenario for the greatest amount of emissions, and it’s common enough to hear public speakers from government departments refer to it as being as being extreme or an outlier – implying that we ought not to worry ourselves about that particular scenario.

But RPC 8.5 simply assumes our economic system carries on in coming decades as it has done in previous decades – ie, it continues to expand and grow off the back of fossil fuel use. And the temperature range it suggests the world will experience by 2100 is +2.6°C – +4.8°C…above the 1986-2005 average.

Add another 0.61°C to those temperatures if you want an idea of the possible temperature increase in relation to pre-industrial temperatures.

By the way. Anyone heard anything much from government (any government?) about reducing and eliminating fossil fuel use as fast as we’re humanly able? No. You haven’t. That would involve deep systemic change, and as said before…

Anyway. On the bright side, all else being equal, there will be plenty of red meat for the BBQs in coming decades, and more than enough hot sunny days to stand around in a singlet or whatever and scoff in the face of global warming – except “all else” is very unlikely to approach anything even remotely close to “being equal”.

 

 

54 comments on “Steaming cow poo.”

  1. stunned mullet 1

    Nice commentary Bill, you’re right that the article in the guardian is little more than a puff piece filler.

    i must admit I don’t tend to bother with such articles but am finding the articles in scientific publications and the likes of the economist far more informative.

    • Bill 1.1

      The study their piece builds from was published in “Nature”. Unfortunately, the full text is behind a pay wall and I haven’t been able to access sci-hub of late – which is what I normally do to access studies that haven’t been made ‘open source’.

      I think the article is more dangerous than “puff piece”. Reducing systemic problems to the level of the individual, and what an individual chooses or doesn’t choose to do, locks out the possibility for effective action.

  2. AB 2

    Deep systemic change requires popular movements, collaboration, self-sacrifice and a vicious fight with entrenched business interests. It’s scary and maybe unwinnable.
    Buying a tofu burger rather than sirloin steak at New World is super easy.

    • DB 2.1

      It is not super easy. Most tofu is from GE soy these days I’d not be caught eating it at all. You know most US citizens test positive for roundup, right?

      http://time.com/4993877/weed-killer-roundup-levels-humans/

      What annoyed me most about animal rights meetings was the amount of animal products (bullshit) they readily swallow. Led by 1 part science 10 parts hyperbole.

      A ‘vicious fight’ is not required with retailers, just stop buying their shit they’ll turn up on your doorstep cap in hand.

      The majority of the plants of the world can’t be eaten by humans. To paraphrase: the majority of energy entering the earth’s system is not available to humans.

      Animals, insects, microbes… convert this energy to other forms. Many of which are palatable to us.

      How we treat these organisms is another fight. One you’ll find many carnivores would join if not for all the hyperbole and bullshit.

  3. greywarshark 3

    When a journal like Nature gets hidden behind paywall it parallels business interests that only think about profit. I realise they have costs. How can the work they do be circulated when it is for the good of people and the planet, be aired and influence discussion and good decision making for change?

    • One Anonymous Bloke 3.1

      To be fair, the article was published in Science, not Nature.

      • Bill 3.1.1

        ‘Nature’, like ‘Science’ also only offer abstracts and locks its full length articles behind a pay wall.

        IN answer to greywarshark, Sci-Hub was (probably still is) a good place to find research papers that are otherwise published by journals that limit access.

  4. Robert Guyton 4

    I wonder if you’ve misinterpreted their claim, Bill:
    “Avoiding meat and dairy is ‘single biggest way’ to reduce your impact on Earth”, if that’s indeed their claim, might be true- what other action could an individual take that would have a bigger effect, do you propose? Taking the bus? Buying an electric car? Burying bags of coal in the garden? By avoiding meat and dairy, an individual <i. might, if they find themselves part of a global movement, have significant effect on reducing their impact on Earth. Anticipating a vigorous reply from you, Bill 🙂

    • Bill 4.1

      Their claim –

      “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said, as these only cut greenhouse gas emissions.

      My argument –

      unless there is an immediate commitment to deep systemic change that allows us to dump fossil very fast and completely, then no amount of “ethical consumerism” or “individual choice” or “global movementism” will add up to much more than a sparrow’s fart in the wind by day’s end.

      • Robert Guyton 4.1.1

        Your “sparrow’s” fart, if that is indeed the measure of the effect of “avoiding meat and dairy” might still be “the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth” – that’s my argument, but I’ll not die in a ditch over it, as I agree with you that “unless there is an immediate commitment to deep systemic change…” but there isn’t going to be, is there? In the meantime, let’s practice making difficult changes to our lives; one way or another, we’ll be making them soon enough.

        • Bill 4.1.1.1

          Ah, okay. I get you now.

          So what about a road trip of indeterminate distance that involved torching every petrol station you passed (but not before “filling up” when necessary)?

          That would be quite an impact. All of those (numbers from my arse) 10 000 litre holding tanks that would normally get refilled every week ….gone.

          We agree it’s not looking like there’s currently any appetite for making the depth and breadth of changes that are necessary to stop AGW. So maybe (arson aside) the “biggest single thing” we can do is revolt and embrace the notion that burning fossil ought to be about thinkable as chattel slavery. That’s in line with the practice you mention, and just might catch on. Who knows?

          • Robert Guyton 4.1.1.1.1

            Bill – burning petrol stations might appeal, but realistically, you’re not going to get a lot of people signing up to your cause and your own efforts won’t amount to much (you’ll get caught). Avoiding meat and dairy isn’t likely to end in arrest, and might contribute to a mass movement with greater effect in the long run. A doable change, like no-meat-n-milk, could feasibly be considered a first step toward the revolution you seek. Maybe, perhaps. I don’t really think so but the article’s claim isn’t ridiculous.

            • Bill 4.1.1.1.1.1

              It’s dangerous and pernicious to suggest we’re limited to those acts or actions that an individual can take. And that’s what the conclusions from that study do. We don’t have “a long run”, and are beset by institutional inertia and problems that are systemic in nature.

              Yes, the petrol station wasn’t a serious suggestion – for the reasons you mention as well as the fact I don’t have a car and can’t drive 😉

              Anything that contributes to a sensibility that would condemn the burning of fossil is good and comes with 100% scientific backing.

          • greywarshark 4.1.1.1.2

            Bill
            It is unwise to suggest anything so drastic just because you think no sane person would do such a thing. But the world is on an insane pathway now and people are realising it and then feeling desperate, eg going on killing attacks. Arson is going to be our No.1 disaster and fear. Don’t draw it closer by talking about lightly.

      • Grafton Gully 4.1.2

        “reduce your impact on planet Earth” and also reduce your risk of getting colorectal cancer, which is high enough now in NZ to justify a sadly delayed bowel cancer screening programme.
        https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3108955/
        https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/health/100449793/outrage-over-bowel-cancer-screening-delay

  5. James 5

    You’ve clearly done little to no research. Thumbs-down.

    • JessNZ 5.1

      +100000000

    • Bill 5.2

      Are you in a big room full of typewriters and furry cousins James? If so, well done – today two sentences, tomorrow Shakespeare!

      • JessNZ 5.2.1

        You earned this disrespect honestly by calling the claims ‘obvious nonsense’ when it is just as obvious you haven’t researched the claims.

        • Bill 5.2.1.1

          If you think that consumerism, by way of individual purchase or “lifestyle” choices can have a major impact on a world confronted with AGW, then you need to take advantage of that “30 Day Money Back Guarantee” and get whoever sold you to courier a replacement thinky thing.

          • JessNZ 5.2.1.1.1

            ‘Marco Springmann, a research fellow at the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Food programme, tried to quantify just how much better: he and his colleagues built computer models that predicted what would happen if everyone became vegetarian by 2050. The results indicate that – largely thanks to the elimination of red meat – food-related emissions would drop by about 60%. If the world went vegan instead, emissions declines would be around 70%.
            ….
            Should we all go vegetarian, ideally we would dedicate at least 80% of that pastureland to the restoration of grasslands and forests, which would capture carbon and further alleviate climate change. ‘

            Do I claim this is the only step we need? No. Neither did the article that you decided for some odd reason to call nonsense because it didn’t solve the whole AGW problem by itself.

            http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20160926-what-would-happen-if-the-world-suddenly-went-vegetarian

            • Bill 5.2.1.1.1.1

              Should we all go vegetarian, ideally we would dedicate at least 80% of that pastureland to the restoration of grasslands and forests, which would capture carbon and further alleviate climate change.

              Here’s the thing JessNZ. Go vegetarian or vegan and restore grasslands and forest – and it won’t be alleviating climate change – the rate at which AGW would be progressing might have slowed (which is a good thing), but it will be progressing unless we’ve also cut fossil from the equation.

              And as it progresses, the expected climatic effects and ecological effects will become more and more severe, yes? And that makes the status of whatever restored lands that much more precarious.

              edit – the numbers.

              Globally, fossil fuel-based energy is responsible for about 60% of human greenhouse gas emissions, with deforestation at about 18%, and animal agriculture between 14% and 18% (estimates from the World Resources Institute, UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Pitesky et al. 2009).

              https://www.skepticalscience.com/how-much-meat-contribute-to-gw.html

              edit no2. And for some added perspective, emissions today are about 60% above what they were in 1990. So that <20% from livestock….

    • Robert Guyton 5.3

      Which part of my argument do you believe reveals that I’ve done “little to no research”, James. And could you please tell me whether you have done more than “little or no research” yourself?

  6. JessNZ 6

    ‘The point is that it’s perfectly reasonable to imagine that meat consumption could plummet and fossil fuel use in agriculture could stay steady or even increase off the back of that.’

    No, that isn’t reasonable – it’s wishful thinking from somebody who doesn’t want to change his comfort zone. From all the analyses, and the very first part of the article in question “The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Meat and dairy are an extremely inefficient way to produce food, so even if the replacement plant crops continued to use the same industrial farming methods, the greatly reduced amount of land needed to feed just humans (not also feed grain to livestock) would absolutely within a very short time reduce the fossil fuel use. To repeat, this would be the quickest way to reduce fossil fuel use, and no waiting for the government to declare it, although if you paid attention to Green policies… 🙂

    Other calculations compare ‘ideal’ grass-fed cows to plant-based industrial farming to confuse the argument, but that doesn’t change the fundamentals, as we simply don’t have the land available to grass-feed as much meat as people currently eat.

    ‘We currently produce enough calories to feed 10-11 billion people worldwide, however, the majority of this food goes to feed livestock, not hungry people.’

    http://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/world-hunger-population-growth-ditching-meat/

    • Bill 6.1

      So okay. Meat and dairy accounts for 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gasses. That doesn’t actually mean very much since “greenhouse gasses” in that context includes any amount of neutral emissions and emissions from sources that can never be brought to zero.

      What’s the breakdown/difference in emissions from fossil associated with land use and energy?

      I can’t bring the numbers to mind at the moment, but I know that agriculture (land use) is typically a very distant second in that regard. And the important bit is that those emissions (from fossil) can be brought to zero.

      Meanwhile, to take your scenario to its extreme, we could wipe out livestock, have every person on the planet eat a vegan diet, and temperatures would continue to rise because fossil would still be being burned.

      • JessNZ 6.1.1

        The big picture of how to sustainably feed the growing population has been documented in its various forms since at least 1971 Diet for a Small Planet. Trying to play whackamole with the emissions figure as if that were the only point under discussion shows you are more interested in arguing than understanding. Also, animal based emissions (methane) are really not as easy to dismiss as you are pretending.

        Luckily, there’s heaps of research for those who are interested. The WHO talks about it, the UN talks about it , the World Resources Institute – search on sustainable diet and remember it’s their job to look at all of the factors (yes, including emissions) and returning a message so we have a tiny chance for the future.

        • Bill 6.1.1.1

          I’ve no argument with the proposition that we can feed the world’s population – at least for now and before we begin losing substantial amounts of agricultural land because of sea level rise (~ 25% of the world’s crop land gone at 1.5m sea level rise apparently, because “deltas”)

          In just about every OP on AGW I’ve done, (and given the idiotic assertions you make about me in your comments, I can only assume you haven’t read them) I make the point that land use emissions need to be reduced by as much as possible.

          I also make the point (often enough) that it’s dishonest not to separate out energy from land use because that allows policy makers and politicians to fudge and propose doing much less around emission reduction than what is necessary.

          I’ll state the obvious again and just for you.

          If we are serious about avoiding the effects of AGW, then fossil related emissions must be dropped to zero as fast as possible, and land use emissions need to squeezed as much as possible. There is no room for holding fossil emissions above zero on the basis they’ve been “off-set” by some land use emission having been dropped, or sink created – not if we’re being serious.

          • JessNZ 6.1.1.1.1

            You started by calling the claims nonsense because they don’t seem to address the issue you want to debate, and you said it was reasonable to a believe that even if meat were replaced by plant crops, agricultural fossil fuel use could remain steady or grow. This is nonsense.

            AGW is indeed one factor, along with all the other environmental issues caused by animal farming as in the start of the “nonsense” article ‘…It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and water pollution (eutrophication) and air pollution (acidification).’

            I think we need to get serious about all of those, not just emissions. Lack of freshwater could become urgent before AGW effects do.

            • Bill 6.1.1.1.1.1

              I called the claims for the nonsense they are because they are predicated on individual choices that ignore the systemic roots of the world’s current problems.

              I said it’s reasonable to envisage agricultural use of fossil increasing or holding steady in some instances where there has been a switch from livestock. Are you confident that in all scenarios of switching from sheep to almonds, for example, there would be a drop in fossil use?

              AGW trumps every other environmental concern that may be out there because its impacts are so wide-ranging. You can change land use to be the greenest of all the green and the effects of AGW has the potential to simply wipe out whatever you’ve created by way of intense drought, flood, dust storm, wind or any combination of those besides whatever other effects are coming our way (new disease/pest vectors, shifted climatic zones, sea level rise etc).

              Deal with AGW and we become incapable of exacerbating many of the other environmental problems we’ve created. (eg intense water use for dairy farming is no longer possible in a world that’s doing what needs to be done to ameliorate AGW – because there is no intensive dairy farming )

  7. Tricledrown 7

    Vegan or Vegetarians will save the health system $billions obesity diabetes and other diseases would decline rapidly.

    • adam 7.2

      No offence but most of the diabetics I know were either vegan or vegetarian. The majority stopped being vegan and/or vegetarian once they became diabetic.

      So Tricledrown you might wanna back up your assection with some science please.

  8. DS 8

    Reminds me of the truly toxic idea of Food Miles. Which ignores the fact that it is environmentally better (in terms of emissions) to produce dairy, lamb, and apples in New Zealand and then ship them to Britain, than it is for Britain to produce these things itself.

    • Bill 8.1

      If the refrigeration and shipping emissions, plus whatever else, are fudged – then sure, better for all of us if the Shropshire shopper buys lamb transported from NZ than lamb trotted along to the works in Shropshire. 🙄

  9. NZJester 9

    One way to optimize crop growing as well as animal farming and reduce the carbon footprint would be to build renewable energy powered hydroponic farms for crops. The fertilizer nutrients would be recycled through the system, so large amounts of it are not going into local waterways helping to clean them up. In greenhouse conditions, the crops can be grown all year round with a harvest every day creating a sustainable non-seasonal job that creates a better work environment for employees not having to worry about weather conditions putting a bite into their wage packets. You put the seed in one end and a slow conveyor system slowly transports it day by day from one side of the greenhouse to the other as it grows to be harvested on the other side. That means a steady flow of work and not being stood down a few days needing to wait for crops to be ready.
    Use of solar, wind and other renewable energy sources to power it all reducing carbon use and water waste quite a lot.
    Animals could be feed some of the crops in large grass areas under the wind turbines meaning there would be no need to pump fertilizer on the grass to make it grow faster as you would be supplementing the grass with other hydroponic foods. The cows waste could also be collected regularly and processed for use in supplying some of the nutrients for the growing of some crops. Electric vehicles used for farm purposes another major way to reduce carbon.

    • DB 9.1

      What a crock. Hydroponics doesn’t recycle nutrients it dumps them and the polluted water regularly.

      If you’re talking about Aquaponics then get facts straight. I got an 18 year old system hasn’t needed cleaning once. John Key that feckless idiot gave someone 50K for the same thing built 14 years after mine. I’ve had skin in this game for a long time.

      You sound like the guy trying to convince me we need LED’s to supplement field lighting.

      No idea WTF he was talking about.

      How we farm needs to change. Your proposed system is a big plastic factory, not a farm.

      Biodigestors. Wetlands. Azolla culture. Functional shelter belts. Mixed forestry. Cover cropping. Mixed pastures and perennial grasses. Water storage and distribution. Alternate power according to local conditions.

      It aint rocket science.

      We have the land, now convert it to more permaculture type systems. Corporate farmers will suffer, people and the land will flourish.

      Once we’ve mixed it up dairy will still be on the table, but also many other products to balance the diet and help reduce overall emissions.

      I agree fossil fuel use is a major contributor. But so are our habits. Buying greenwashed rubbish like (GE soy) tofu contributes to big corporate entities. Planting a garden directly reduces your bills, emissions, food miles. While providing aesthetics, exercise, items for trade, real nutrition…

      A garden will re-engage you with the world, your body, and your community.

      • Molly 9.1.1

        Enjoyed reading this comment AB.

        Have just completed an assignment on the Aquaculture push by the National government, so your reference to that struck a chord. But primarily, your thoughts on permaculture, diversity, people and gardens. Been out in the garden this last beautiful week up in Auckland, and will spend the wet rainy afternoon sorting through seeds, and watching Gardener’s World on Youtube.

        • greywarshark 9.1.1.1

          Molly
          There is some great stuff coming forward from commenters here like yourself who know or are learning useful future-facing knowledge. Did you mean AB or DB in your earlier 9 1 1 comment? (It is an indication for the advantage of an actual word that registers rather than anonymous letters I think)

  10. Marcus Morris 10

    Surely the key statement was:

    “More than 80% of farmland is used for livestock but it produces just 18% of food calories and 37% of protein” –

    I listened to a NZ agricultural scientist talking with Kathryn Ryan not too long ago when he made the suggestion that our use of prime agricultural land for dairy production was not necessarily the best strategy.

    It is a debate worth having especially in the light of the present crisis besetting the dairy industry. Given that fossil fuel use will, inevitably, be a major factor, what practice will give the best fuel to nutrition ratio.

  11. eco maori 11

    Audre excerlint link I tryed to convince one person that every Dairy Farms should have solar panels on cowshed roofs it would cost less if Fonterra Backed it well they have a mess to clean up now.
    Bill As for that articular in the Guardian about meat and dairy I read it any intelligent person will pick up that the study on meat and dairy products that the facts have gone through a Prism of someones $$$$$$$$$$$ and bent the facts to suit some people whom have a problem with this type of farming trying to suppress the demanded for meat and Dairy products I wounder why when I read a articular that has would or could it is full of ——– as far as Eco Maori is concerned. Ka kite ano

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