Showing posts with label CO2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label CO2. Show all posts

Over-Consumption and GHGs

Meat Society: Number 16 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

The stuff humans consume, like food, gadgets, toys and accessories, is responsible for up to 60 percent of global greenhouse gases (GHGs), and around 50 to 80 percent of total land, material, and water use. Between 60 to 80 percent of the impacts on the planet come from household consumption.(476)

However, human shoe sizes are not identical, and it is the same with ecological footprints. Consumerism is much higher in developed countries than in poor countries. Those with the highest rates of consumerism have up to 5.5 times the environmental impact as the world average. The US have the highest per capita emissions with 18.6 tonnes CO2e. Luxembourg had 18.5 tonnes, and Australia came in third with 17.7 tonnes. The world average, for comparison, was 3.4 tonnes, and China had just 1.8 tonnes.

Lifestyle and consumption impacts are highly unequal within and between countries. For example, the carbon footprints of citizens in G20 developing countries like Brazil and India are far lower than those of their counterparts in the rich OECD nations like Germany and the UK. On top of that, there are significant differences in the consumption effects caused by rich and poor citizens in developed countries like the USA.

Overall, the world's rich are largely responsible for causing climate chaos. Moreover, climate warming is inextricably linked to economic inequality. A natural disaster crisis driven by climate-altering gases generated by the ‘haves,’ is affecting the ‘have-nots’ the hardest. 

Fifty percent of the world’s carbon outflows are produced by the world’s richest 10 percent, while the poorest half, 3.5 billion people, are responsible for a mere 10 percent of CO2 emission. Further exaggerated, the wealthiest one (1) percent of the world’s population emit 30 times the pollution of the poorest 50 percent, and 175 times the volume of carbon of those living in the bottom 10 percent.(477) 

The average GHG footprint of a person in the poorest half of the global population is just 1.57 tCO2. This amount is 11 times less than the average footprint of someone in the richest 10 percent of the world. The average emissions of someone in the poorest 10 percent of the global population is 60 times less that of someone in the richest 10 percent of the world.

The vast majority of the world’s wealthiest 10 percent are high emitters who live in developed 37 OECD countries, although this is slowly changing. In South Africa, the richest 10 percent of citizens already have average lifestyle consumption footprints ten times higher than the poorest half of the population. In Brazil, it is eight times as high. Still, around a third of the world’s richest 10 percent are from the US.

The per capita GHG footprints from the wealthiest 10 percent of Indian citizens are one-quarter of the poorest 50 percent of those from the US. The poorest 50 percent of Indians have a carbon footprint that is one-twentieth of the poorest 50 percent in the US. And, the poorest half of Indians, around 600m people, has a total emissions footprint about the same as the richest 10 percent of citizens in Japan, around 12m people.

While the total climate-altering gases produced in China divided on a per capita basis have now surpassed those of the European Union, the per capita lifestyle consumption footprint of the wealthiest 10 percent of Chinese citizens are considerably lower than the richest of their OECD counterparts. This is because a large share of China’s emissions is from the production of goods consumed in developed countries. The poorest half of the Chinese population, over 600m people, have a total GHG footprint that is one-third that of the wealthiest 10 percent of US citizens, around 30m people.

The richest citizens in the Global North and Global South can and should cut their GHG footprints through lifestyle modifications. Still and all, they cannot solve the climate crisis alone. Effectual solutions require reduced footprints from the vast majority of citizens in the Global North, who are distinctly part of the over-consumption problem.

One author, Oppenlander, argues, “Our civilization displays a curious instinct when confronted with a problem related to overconsumption - we simply find a way to produce more of what it is we are consuming, instead of limiting or stopping that consumption.”(478) This is certainly true for food animals, due to the combined efforts of governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and transnational corporations (TFCs).

For decades, the consumption of goods and services has risen steadily in industrial nations, by virtually any measure: (i) amount of household expenditures, (ii) number of consumers, or (iii) by extraction of raw materials. And, consumption is growing rapidly in many developing countries as well.

An emerging body of research is examining environmentally significant consumption, a broad term used to encompass consumption practices that have particularly serious environmental consequences. Stern notes that “(consumption) is not solely a social or economic activity but a human-environment transaction. Its causes are largely economic and social, at least in advanced societies, but its effects are biophysical.”(479)

Consumption is the result of social, economic, technological, political, and psychological forces. Global, private consumption expenditures - the total spent on goods and services at the household level - topped $20 trillion in 2000, a four-fold spread over 1960 (in 1995 dollars).(480)

There are in excess of 1.7 billion members of 'the consumer class' and nearly half of them are in the developing world. An over-consumption lifestyle and culture that became common in Europe, North America, Japan, and a few other pockets of the world in the 20th century, is going global in the 21st century.

Around 12 percent of the world’s population that lives in North America and Western Europe are responsible for 60 percent of private consumption spending. In comparison, the 33 percent of the global population living in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa accounts for only 3.2 percent of private consumption.

US consumers are leaders in over-consumption. With less than 5 percent of the global population, Americans use about a quarter of the world’s fossil fuel resources - 25 percent of the coal, 26 percent of the oil, and 27 percent of the world’s natural gas. On top of that, the UNEP calculated that 33 percent of the average US household's carbon footprint in 2010 was due to emissions caused abroad from the production of goods imported into the US market.

As of 2003, the US had a larger number of private cars than licensed drivers, and gas-guzzling sport utility trucks were among the best-selling vehicles. New houses in the US were 38 percent bigger in 2002 than in 1975, despite having fewer people per household on average.

China and India make up 20 percent of the global consumer class, with a combined population of 362 million. Notably, this Asian middle class is bigger than all of Western Europe. All the same, the average Chinese or Indian member consumes substantially less than the average European.

China and India’s large consumer class constitutes only 16 percent of the region’s population, whereas, in Europe the figure is 89 percent. This suggests that there is considerable room for growth in the developing world, and a vast opportunity to reduce over-consumption in Europe and the Global North.

Chapter 13: OVER-CONSUMPTION CLASS, pages 127-8

Sounding the Alarm on Carnism

Meat Society: Number 14 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

Hundreds of ecologists and agricultural scientists are actively sounding the alarm by highlighting calls for action on animal-based agriculture. A growing body of research points out that eating animal products is inefficient from the perspective of land, water and energy. And, intake of food animals is equally undesirable from a socio-economic, health, biodiversity, climate warming, and animal welfare point of view.

There are hundreds of researchers investigating the link between climate warming and animal-based diets, and over four dozen studies are listed below. These papers are a limited sample of a large body of research encompassing diverse disciplines, from nutrition to environment. Several areas of this literature are beyond the scope of this article, like animal welfare and advocacy, but they are no less consequential.

(1) In 2001, the World Bank began to be critical of funding for large-scale livestock projects due to their impacts on the environment and on social equality. The World Bank strategy recommended that institutions should “avoid funding large-scale commercial grain-fed feedlot systems and industrial milk, pork and poultry productions”(376)

(2) In 2003, Pimentel contended that the dietary pattern in North America is unsustainable. Producing the equivalent measure of protein from animals takes 11 times the amount of fossil fuel and 100 times the volume of water than vegetable protein.(377) (3) In 2007, a group of health researchers concluded that to prevent greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, the worldwide consumption level of animal products and the intensity of emissions from food animal production must be reduced.(378)

(4) In 2008, Tara Garnet argued that animal-based meals must be rationed to four portions a week to avoid run-away global warming. Garnet concluded, "Efforts to encourage us voluntarily to change will not achieve what is needed in the time available. Regulatory and fiscal measures that change the context within which we consume are vital."(379)

(5) Gowri Koneswaran and Danielle Nierenberg concluded that to mitigate climate-altering gases from the food animal sector, immediate and far-reaching changes in production practices and intake patterns “are critical and timely.”(380) (6) The film, Meat the Truth, was presented in London in 2008, and is available in 13 languages in 16 countries. Meat the Truth was the first documentary to link livestock farming and GHG pollution. The book Meat the Truth, is the continuation of the documentary. The anthology contains papers by prominent food scientists, such as Geoff Russell, Elke Stehfest, Barry Brook and Harry Aiking. Researchers from Wageningen UR, who reviewed the calculations of the film, by request of a Dutch Minister, submitted to the collection as well.(381)

(7) In 2009, Marlow's team determined that a nonvegetarian diet required 2.9 times more water, 2.5 times more primary energy, 13 times more fertilizer, and 1.4 times more pesticides than did a vegetarian diet. And the greatest contribution to the differences came from the consumption of cow flesh.(382) (8) Lord Stern, author of the 2006 Stern Review, on the cost of tackling planetary heating, and a former chief economist of the World Bank, stated that the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen should have called for a hike in the price of animal products and other foods that play a part in climate warming.(383)

(9) John Powles argued that finding paths to globally sustainable patterns of animal food production and consumption should be central to climate change policy deliberations. He wrote, “On grounds of geopolitical feasibility (as well as equity), there is no obvious alternative to a policy of ‘contraction and convergence’ - contracting consumption levels in rich countries to leave room for consumption in poor countries to converge upwards.”(384)

(10) A 2009 examination by the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency determined that global food transition to less animal consumption, or even a complete switch to plant-based protein food, would have a dramatic effect on land use. Up to 2.7 billion hectares (about 10.4 million square miles) of pasture and 100 million hectares (about 386,000 square miles) of cropland could be abandoned.(385) If implemented, by 2050 universal veganism would cut agriculture carbon dioxide (CO2) by 17%, methane (CH4) by 24%, and nitrous oxide (N2O) by 21%. This would cause a large carbon uptake from regrowing vegetation and reduce the mitigation costs to achieve a 450 ppm CO2e stabilization target by about 50% in 2050.

(11) Sonesson's team in 2010 noted, "One aspect that potentially is one of the most powerful in combating food’s impact on climate change is the choice of products, i.e. our diets. Since the differences in life cycle GHG emissions are so very large between products fulfilling similar nutritional functions, the scope for improvement is large."(386)

(12) A 2010 UNEP report stated: "Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products."(387) The lead author of the UNEP report said: "Animal products cause more damage than construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as fossil fuels."(388)

(13) Katherine Richardson and her co-authors noted in their 2011 book that by contributing to global warming “livestock plays a significant role in effecting ecosystem services at global scales by changes such as modified precipitation patterns, warmer climates, carbon storage in soils, changes in extreme events and other predicted feedback changes of global warming with results from local to global scales.”(389)

(14) In 2011, an Australian team showed that the efficiency of grains are 146 to 560 times that of cattle on an emissions intensity basis, and cattle can emit up to 22 pounds of CO2e per pound of flesh.(390) (15) The lead editor of the European Nitrogen Assessment, Mark Sutton, said, “Nearly half the world’s population depends on synthetic, nitrogen-based fertilizer for food but measures are needed to reduce the impacts of nitrogen pollution. Solutions include more efficient use of fertilizers and manures, and people choosing to eat less meat.”(391)

(16) A Swedish group calculated the GHG footprint of 84 common food items of animal and vegetable origin. It covered CO2e pollution involved in farming, transportation, processing, retailing, storage and preparation. The team observed that animal-based foods are associated with higher energy use and GHG outflows than plant-based foods.(392)

(17) Wirsenius concluded that reducing the intake of meat and cow's milk will be indispensable for reaching the 2°C (3.6°F) target with a high probability. He suggested that taxing animal flesh would lead to significant GHG reductions.(393) In a similar way, (18) Foley calculated that shifting to an all-plant diet could increase food calories by 50%, a staggering 3 quadrillion calories per year, and significantly lower GHG emissions, biodiversity losses, water use and water pollution.(394)

(19) Weiss and Leip suggested in 2012 that for effective reduction of GHG emissions from livestock production, releases occurring outside the agricultural sector need to be taken into account. And reduction targets should address both the production side as defined by IPCC sectors, and the consumption side.(395)

(20) A Union of Concerned Scientists report in 2012 warned, “Clearing forest for pastures makes money, but it also causes global warming pollution.” The effects of tropical deforestation are responsible for about 15% of the world’s heat-trapping emissions. And three-fifths of the world’s agricultural land is used for cattle that yields less than 5% of humanity’s protein.(396)

(21) Also in 2012, researchers at the University of Exeter argued that encouraging people to trim back the quantity of food animals they eat could keep global temperatures within the 2°C (3.6°F) threshold. Tom Powell said, “Our research clearly shows that recycling more and eating less meat could provide a key to re-balancing the global carbon cycle.”(397) Powell continued, “Meat production involves significant energy losses - only around 4% of crops grown for livestock turn into meat. By focusing on making agriculture more efficient and encouraging people to reduce the amount of meat they eat, we could keep global temperatures within the two degrees threshold.”

(22) Nijdam's analysis of over 100 protein foods ascertained that the carbon footprint of the most climate-friendly, plant-based protein sources is up to 100 times smaller than those of the most climate-unfriendly, animal-based protein sources.(398) (23) A 2012 UK study concluded that food policies must focus on demand rather than supply-side measures to address GHGs as a global issue.(399)

(24) One study found that a non-vegetarian diet uses about 2.9 greater volume of water, 2.5 greater mass of primary energy, 13 times the sum of fertilizer, and 1.4 extra volume of pesticides. And it generates GHG pollution to a far greater extent than a vegetarian diet.(400) (25) Another group calculated that 22% and 26% of GHG savings can be made by moving from the current UK-average diet to a vegetarian or vegan diet, respectively.(401)

(26) Shifting crops from animal feed to human food could serve as a 'safety net' when weather or pests create shortages. Davidson, director of the Woods Hole Research Center, reasoned that the developed world will have to cut fertilizer use by 50% and persuade many consumers to stop eating so many food animals in order to stabilize nitrous oxide (N2O) releases by 2050.(402)

In 2013, (27) Sutton and Dibb calculated that (i) almost a third of global biodiversity loss is attributable to livestock production, (ii) food animal intake is responsible for nearly half of the UK food GHG emissions, and (iii) the estimated cost to the National Health Service in early deaths is £1.28 billion ($1.82b).(403) 

On a global scale, (28) Emily Cassidy projected that a shift from crops destined for animal feed and industrial uses toward human food could increase available calories by 70% and feed an extra 4 billion people each year.(404) (29) A Swedish report stated that policy makers should discuss and try to influence what their citizens eat.(405) (30) And, a Danish study found that taxes are a low cost way of promoting climate friendly diets without large adverse health effects.(406)

(31) One more study concluded, “The emission cuts necessary for meeting a global temperature-increase target of 2° might imply a severe constraint on the long-term global consumption of animal food. Due to the relatively limited potential for reducing food-related emissions by higher productivity and technological means, structural changes in food consumption towards less emission-intensive food might be required for meeting the 2° target.”(407)

(32) In 2014, the "Meat Atlas" by Friends of Earth Europe, claimed that livestock directly or indirectly produces nearly 33% of the anthropogenic climate-altering gases.(408) (33) Also in 2014, the Chatham House report concluded that dietary change is essential if planetary heating is not to exceed 2°C (3.6°F).(409) 

(34) Researcher Aiking warned, "Under the current conditions of an unprecedented global population size it may be time to rethink issues such as consumer freedom (diet choice) compared with global food security, the use of 2.48 million tons of fish for cat food, and free trade."(410)

(35) Bajželj's model of agriculture related GHGs is one of the most robust experiments. The study warned that severe reductions in animal consumption are necessary, otherwise, agricultural GHG pollution will take up the entire world’s carbon budget by 2050, with animal agribusiness being a major contributor.(411)

(36) Tilman in 2014 projected that dietary trends, if unchecked, would be a major contributor to an 80% surge in global agricultural GHGs by 2050. This means all other sectors, like energy, industry, and transport, would have to be zero carbon by then, which is highly unlikely.(412) (37) Eshel's investigation showed that the biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints are not to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.(413)

(38) West's team calculated agriculture emissions of climate-altering gases are between 20% and 33% of total manmade GHGs - from deforestation, methane, and fertilizers. In contrast, by not feeding crops to domesticates, using fertilizer where it is needed, and avoiding overuse, countries could bring down GHG outflows markedly.(414)

(39) Ripple and other scientists suggested that just like a carbon consumption tax, a tax on animal flesh could encourage people to eat less of them.(415) (40) Elin Hallström's team found that simply reducing carcass over-consumption to dietary guidelines will lower GHG pollution from livestock production in Sweden from 40% to 15–25% by 2050, and cropland use from 50% to 20–30%.(416)

(41) Soret's health-based 2014 study used a nonvegetarian diet as a reference, and found that reductions in GHGs for semi-vegetarian diet was 22%, and for vegetarian diets it was 29%. On top of this, the mortality rates for non-vegetarians, semi-vegetarians, and vegetarians were 6.66, 5.53, and 5.56 deaths per 1000 person-years, respectively.(417)

(42) In 2015, Elin Röös's team assessed three animal-based diets - a diet corresponding to Nordic recommendations, the current average Swedish diet, and a low carbohydrate-high fat diet. They determined that all three diets are above the sustainable level of climate impact.(418) (43) Another Swedish study determined that taxes on animal flesh and cow's milk could reduce emissions of GHG, nitrogen and phosphorus, by up to 12% from this sector.(419)

(44) The 2015 Chatham House report concluded, “Interventions to change the relative prices of foods are likely to be among the most effective in changing consumption patterns.” The report adds that countries should aim "to increase the price of meat and other unsustainable products" through a carbon tax.(420) And (45) Hallström's 2015 review found that dietary change can reduce the sector's GHG emissions and land use demand by up to 50%.(421)

(46) Talia Raphaely's edited collection of articles in 2015 includes one by Robert Goodland, who argued that food animals contribute 51% of GHGs. Raphaely describes how carnism impacts all aspects of human life and humanity's long-term survival prospects. Yet, society continues to ignore the negative impacts of consuming animal flesh and the sector's high contribution to global GHG emissions.(422)

(47) In 2016, a large-scale study showed that methane (CH4) from manure, ruminants, landfill, and waste, and nitrous oxide (N2O) from crop cultivation, are offsetting the land carbon dioxide (CO2) sink by two-fold.(423) (48) Another 2016 study concluded, “Deep cuts, by 50% or more, in ruminant meat consumption… is the only dietary change that with high certainty is unavoidable if the EU climate targets are to be met.”(424)

(49) Chalmers' team determined that livestock carbon consumption taxes in Scotland can reduce household demand for food animal products and result in a 10.5% reduction in Scottish food GHG emissions.(425) Also in 2016, (50) Springmann found that adhering to health guidelines on food animal consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050. Moreover, widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%, and veganism by 70%.(426)

Chapter 11: WHAT CRISIS? pages 108-111

Mitigating Demand for Animal Protein

(Global meat consumption 1961-2009)

Meat Society: Number 11 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

Eliminating subsidies for domesticates and feed crops would increase the price of livestock products and lower the intake of food animals. Placing limits on advertising and warning labels, as with tobacco products, would likewise curb demand. On average, a 10% spike in the price of cow flesh results in a 7.5% lowering of intake, and around 35% of carnists admitted that when chicken prices rise, they simply eat more vegetables.(652)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report in 2013 on reducing carbon emissions in livestock production FAO 2013 authors admit that with the burgeoning volume of domesticated food animals, complementary measures may be needed to ensure that overall greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution is curbed. Yet, oddly enough, the report provide few details on how to achieve this reduction, thereby ignoring a vast body of research that shows how mitigating demand for animal flesh could feed larger numbers of people with less GHG pollution. 

For over five decades, numerous institutes and research reports have demonstrated that cutting consumption can significantly reduce climate-altering discharges from the animal agribusiness sector. There were stacks of books published from the 1960s to the 1990s on animal-based diets and the environment. For instance, Ruth Harrison, in 1964(653); Frances Lappé, in 1971(654); Robbins, in 1987(655); Fiddes, in 1991(656); and Rifkin, in 1992.(657) These early works were influential and clearly linked carnism with environmental devastation.

Less well-known, but equally critical academic analysis was conducted by Joan Gussow and Katherine Clancy in 1986(658); Ehrlich, Ehrlich and Daily, in 1995(659); Burning and Brough in 1991(660); Joan Gussow, in 1994(661); Robert Goodland, in 1997(662); Michael Fox, in 1999(663); and Subak, in 1999.(664) These early investigations were based mainly on narrative, demographic, and ethnographic data since there was a general lack of primary research on the sector's climate-altering gases.

At the beginning of the 21st century, a flurry of scientific papers began to probe the impact of diet and livestock on ecosystems, providing the missing primary data. Namely, in 2000, research by Renault and Wallender,(665) and Dutilh and Kramer(666) were published on water productivity and energy use in the food animal sector.

In 2003, Wirsenius,(667) Leitzmann,(668) Pimentel and Pimentel,(669) and Reijnders and Soret(670) conducted primary research on metabolism, nutrition, water use, protein choices and other aspects of livestock production. In 2004, Rattan Lal measured carbon outflows on farms(671), and in 2006, Eshel and Martin calculated the climate-altering pollution from various diets.(672)

This valuable body of pertinent scientific research was widely available before FAO's 2006 and 2013 assessment of GHG emissions from animal agribusiness. Peculiarly, the popular environmental literature and volumes of primary data on demand-side analysis were both ignored by the UN authors. Moreover, since the vast majority of people on the planet already eat a climate-friendly, plant-based diet, then it makes sense for the FAO to concentrate on transforming livestock over-consumption.

By way of illustration, a team of Italian researchers noted that a plant-based diet based on organic products has the smallest environmental impact. Their findings, published online in 2006, showed that cow carcass had the greatest impact, along with cheese, fish, and cow's milk.(673) This and many other studies were ignored by the FAO. The mitigating demand approach, based on personal action, helps to solve the food crisis, and social inequalities as well. The UN food agency refuses to come to grips with the larger issue of the inefficiency of animal-based diets, and by all odds, the Earth could support larger numbers of people for a given area of land farmed if humans ate lower on the food chain.(674)

In 2007, McMichael's team investigated ways to reduce the impact of livestock production on the environment and concluded that current efficiency measures were not producing the magnitude of amendments required to sufficiently impact GHG footprints. The most equitable way was a constriction and convergence policy. The team concluded that Western countries should considerably reduce their red meat consumption, and developing countries should not surpass this lower target.(675)

Demand-moderating policies are vital because of the overall low potential for reducing agricultural GHGs by technological means. Besides, there are inherently large land requirements for ruminant flesh production. So what humans eat does matter.(676)

Based on improvements in scale, the FAO's strategies for 30% GHG reduction have increased vulnerability and negative side-effects. Even if, somehow, efficiency improves and yield gaps are closed, the projected demand for food animals will continue to drive agricultural expansion.(677) Mitigating demand is an effective way to reduce the sector's climate-altering gases, but is not entertained by the leading food authority in the slightest.

FAO 2006 projects that the global agricultural area may expand by 280m ha (1m sq mi) in 2030, from the current 5.1b ha (20m sq mi) to 5.4b ha (21m sq mi). One team used these estimates and assumed a minor transition towards vegetarian food, with a 25% diminution in animal consumption, and a somewhat lower food wastage rate. In this scenario, land use drops to 4.4 billion ha (17m sq mi), and land use in high-income regions dwindles down further by about 15%.(678)

Demand-side measures offer a greater potential of 1.5 - 15.6 Gt CO2e per year in meeting food security and GHG emission challenges, than do supply-side measures. The latter offers only 1.5 - 4.3 Gt CO2e per year at carbon prices between $20 and $100.(679) At the national level, in the UK, for instance, the average diet embodies 8.8 kg (19.4 pounds) CO2e per person every day. Eliminating food animals from the diet will lower food-related climate-altering discharges by 35%.(680)

The UN food agency encourage public subsidies for the cattle industry to increase efficiency, but to help mitigate the escalating environmental impacts of cow carcass production, the FAO should instead call on governments to should stop subsidizing cow flesh production, and cease the promotion of cattle consumption. Governments should also regulate and control the future expansion of soybeans and extensive grazing.(681)

In an evaluation of processed protein food based on soy-beans and animal protein, researchers observed a variety of environmental impacts associated with primary production and processing. Notably, the impacts for animal flesh were four to 100 times greater than that vegetable protein, while the comparison of cheese impacts ranged from 5 to 21 times greater than vegetables. And, the energy use for fish protein was up to 14 times larger than protein of vegetable origin.(682)

Mitigating demand for animal protein is an effective way to reduce GHGs, but the FAO and other UN climate reports ignore this approach. The German consumer protection organization, Foodwatch, calculated that shifting from a conventional diet based on animal flesh and cow's milk, to a conventionally-raised vegan diet would reduce GHG pollution by 87%, while shifting to an organic diet containing animal carcass and cow's milk would only reduce emissions by 8%. By contrast, a 100% organic vegan diet would reduce GHG pollution by 94%.(683)

If humans restricted their diet to primary producers – eating plants, instead of eating the herbivores, fish and other animals that eat plants - the Earth could support much larger populations of people. Plus, there would be comparatively less land degradation because fewer acres would be needed for food production. 

For demand-side animal protein measures to work, given the difficulties in implementation and lag in their effectiveness, policies and reforms should be introduced quickly. Also, mitigation programs could be integrated with other plans of actions, such as improving environmental quality and dietary health.

Chapter 17: THE POLITICS OF MEAT, pages 173 - 4.

Food Animals' GHGs

Meat Society: Number 6 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

The agriculture sector is responsible for at least 22 percent of total global manmade greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, 80 percent of which comes from livestock production.(60) Despite the oversized footprint, animal products account for only one-third of global human protein consumption.

Eating local food makes environmental sense when we buy seasonal fruit and vegetables from local farmers. But the tendency is to overemphasize food miles and underemphasize other impacts. There is no support for claims that local food is universally superior to non-local food in terms of its impact on the climate or the health of consumers.(61)

On average, transport accounts for just 11 percent of the GHG pollution caused by the food industry. So beans and pulses shipped from the other side of the world can cause far lower impacts than locally produced animal carcass, cow's milk, and chicken eggs. In the UK, GHG releases per item of food would probably be greater under self-sufficiency than under the current food system.

There are many factors that add up to making animal-based agribusiness one of the largest GHG emitter, and driver of deforestation and ocean acidification. In essence, the sector is a major component of all three major sources of GHGs – carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O). Both CH4 and N2O are especially dangerous because they are potent shorter-lived climate forcers that cause accelerated heating. These gases can push the climate to dangerous thresholds, or tipping points, for habitability.

The GHGs generated from a full life cycle of animal products adds up to an extraordinary volume of climate-altering gases. And, since livestock production is the main cause of deforestation, and thereby a reduction of earth's CO2 sequestration capacity, the sector's impact is far greater than its direct releases of GHGs.

This article argues that animal-based agribusiness is responsible for at least 30 percent of all GHGs. For example, in regards to CO2 releases, the food animal sector consumes most of the world’s grain and water, and produces the most waste, and is the main cause of the 26 percent that the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) 2014 Emissions Gap Report attributed to agriculture (11 percent), forestry (11 percent) and waste (4 percent).(62)

In addition, the livestock sector adds some part of the 39 percent of CO2 that UNEP attributed to industry (18 percent), transport (13 percent), and buildings (8 percent). In addition, there are CO2 releases from respiration, pollution, illness, and other aspects of the lifecycle of animals and their by-products.

For methane (CH4) discharges, livestock waste and digestive process are a major part of UNEP's 2014 estimate of 16 percent of the total manmade GHGs attributed to this gas. Methane is released from livestock production and fracking by the fossil fuel industry. And, in regards to nitrous oxide (N2O), the fertilizer used for animal feed is the main source of UNEP's 2014 estimate of 6 percent attributable to this gas. 

Most of the food animal sector's CH4 and N2O outflows come from manure and fertilizers used to produce feed for the animals. In addition, CH4 is produced from enteric fermentation, a digestive process that causes animals to release methane by exhaling, belching, or excreting gas.

Animal products, both flesh and cow's milk, require extra resources and cause additional GHG pollution compared to plant-based alternatives. Animal production entails colossal energy losses since only 4 percent of crops grown for livestock turn into edible carcass.(63) And 1 kg (2.2 lb) of animal protein requires 6 Kg (13.2 lb) of plant protein.(64) In a comparison of GHGs, protein from cows generates 40 times the global warming of beans, and 10 times that of chickens.(65)

It takes, on average, 28 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce one calorie of meat protein for human consumption. In comparison, it takes only 3.3 calories of fossil fuel energy to produce 1 calorie of protein from grain for human consumption.(66)

Nitrous oxide from fields and methane from livestock are projected to rise from 7.1 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent (CO2e) in 2000 to 13 GTCO2e in 2070. This is greater than all human activities combined can safely produce without exceeding 2°C of planetary heating. And, land use modifications and the carbon footprint from animal-feed were not even incorporated in these calculations. So dietary transformations are crucial for meeting the 2°C target.(67)

Both CH4 and N2O are rising faster than CO2, and livestock is a main source for each potent GHG. Global agricultural non-CO2 releases will climb significantly until 2055 if food energy consumption and food preferences remain constant at the level of 1995. Non-CO2 GHGs will climb quicker with enhanced incomes, due to its link to greater food energy consumption and dietary preferences towards higher value foods, like animal flesh and cow's milk.(68)

Yet, if the demand for livestock products is reduced by 25 percent each decade from 2015 to 2055, this will lead to lower non-CO2 emissions even compared to 1995. Notably, reduced animal consumption was determined to be of greater effectiveness than technological mitigation options.

Over the past 50 years, the global food system has become heavily dependent on cheap water and energy, nitrate fertilizers, chemical herbicides, pharmaceutical drugs, and so on. At the same time, production, trade, and processing are progressively being controlled by a smaller handful of transnational food corporations (TFCs).

In a global corporate-controlled food system, governments and regulations are co-opted, and profits come before people and planet. The industry is the recipient of massive state subsidies and support and has vast influence over media, national and international agencies.

From local to global, livestock is one of the top contributors of serious environmental problems.(69) Despite this, there are few cases of the industry being held responsible for any of the problems it creates. Case in point, the USDA estimates that 89 percent of US cow carcass ground into patties contains traces of the deadly E. coli strain.(70) Yet, the animal-based agribusinesses are not held accountable for illness or treatment for the life-threatening diseases they cause.

Alarmingly, many of the world’s recent pollution problems and health pandemics have stemmed from corporate-controlled factory farms. As a ramification of livestock production, there have been decades of deforestation, land degradation, biodiversity loss and extinction, rural conflict and displacement, herbicide and waste pollution, water shortage, air pollution, dead zones, chronic diseases, global warming, and so on.

In spite of its multiple hazards, uncertainties over GHGs from animal-based agribusiness relates to the fact that while most of fossil fuel emissions are measured and accounted for, this is not the case with the livestock sector. And while eating tofu dogs will not correct everything that is wrong with the atmosphere and planet, ignoring livestock's GHG pollution and effects will make a monstrous problem much worse.

from Chapter 2: MEAT THE FUTURE, pages 18-19

Food's Footprint

Meat Society: Number 5 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157)

Animal agriculture has an enormous greenhouse gas (GHG) footprint, and is the second main source of climate-altering gases. In the EU, for instance, 29 percent of all consumption-derived GHG emissions are food related. This almost 1/3 figure does not include discharges from goods produced within the EU and exported.(50)

There is overwhelming evidence that animal-based diets cause greater planetary heating than plant-based foods, but there are differences in GHG production. The environmental costs per calorie of dairy, chickens, pigs, and eggs are strikingly lower than the impacts of cows - the production of which requires 28, 11, 5, and 6 times the sum of land, irrigation water, GHG, and nitrogen, respectively, than the other livestock categories. On top of that, plant foods use two to six-fold lower land, GHG, and nitrogen than even those of the non-cow animal-derived calories.(51)

Greater trade liberalization, like NAFTA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), will lead to higher economic benefits for some, and come at the expense of the poor, the environment and the climate if no other regulations and safeguards are put in place. In addition, mounting demand for agricultural goods will intensify the pressure on global water resources over the coming decades.(52)

Deforestation, mainly in Latin America, leads to remarkable amounts of additional carbon pollution due to trade liberalization. In the future, non-CO2 outflows will mostly shift to China due to comparative advantages in livestock production and rising demand for animal products in the region.(53)

Eliminating all CO2 pollution from the energy and transportation sectors is not enough to stop global warming. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that agriculture, land use, land-use modification, and forestry total around 23 percent of total manmade GHGs. This means that powerful GHGs from food and agriculture - mainly nitrous oxide (N2O) from agricultural soils, and methane (CH4) from livestock - will continue to cause planetary heating.(54) 

Excessive nutrient flows cause eutrophication, worsens biodiversity loss, and exacerbates transformation of the climate. Eutrophication is the ecosystem's response to the addition of inorganic plant nutrients, especially phosphates and nitrates, through detergents, fertilizers, or sewage. One example, is the "bloom", or great increase, of phytoplankton in a water body. Negative environmental effects include hypoxia, the depletion of oxygen in the water, which may cause death to aquatic animals. 

Nitrous oxide is the third biggest contributor to manmade climate warming, and although there is far less in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it is a salient greenhouse gas for three reasons. First, it is very efficient at absorbing energy; second, it stays in the atmosphere for a long time; and third, it is the most significant ozone-depleting substance in the atmosphere. Once emitted, nitrous oxide stays in the atmosphere for about 120 years. Nitrous oxide (N2O) lasts a long time, and for over 100 years, each molecule has a warming impact almost 300 times that of carbon dioxide (CO2), and around 9 times greater than methane (CH4). And, N2O outflows could double by 2050.(55)

A 2013 Worldwatch Institute report estimated that global greenhouse gas pollution from the agricultural sector totaled 4.7 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO₂e) in 2010, up 13 percent over 1990.(56) A 2006 report from the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) showed that the global livestock sector is growing faster than any other agricultural sub-sector.

The world’s livestock population is expected to increase 76 percent by 2050, with a 65 percent surge in demand for cow's milk. And, remarkably, 80 percent of growth in the sector comes from industrial production systems. Currently, mirroring their fossil fuel releases, the world’s largest food animal consumers are China, EU, US and Brazil.(57)

The FAO's 2013 follow-up livestock report reiterated that livestock is the fastest growing agricultural sub-sector. The food agency's newer assessment was limited to direct farm discharges, but it still estimated that the animal food industry produce 14.5 percent of total anthropogenic climate-altering gases, which is in excess of all forms of transportation.(58)

The FAO figure still places the animal food industry at second place, after energy production, in terms of global manmade GHG pollution. A 2010 UNEP report likewise showed that animal products caused greater damage than producing construction minerals, such as sand or cement, plastics or metals.

In 2009, one of the World Bank's most distinguished environmental assessment experts, Dr. Robert Goodland, wrote a thought-provoking research paper estimating that the lifecycle and supply chain of animal-based meats, egg products, and dairy products accounted for at least 51 percent of manmade global GHGs.(59) One of the main reasons for the difference between the FAO and Goodland's GHG figures is that the FAO's 15 percent estimate is a partial assessment that only takes into account GHG discharges from the farming part of animal-based agriculture.

In fact, all of the lower 11 to 18 percent GHG estimates do not represent a full life-cycle GHG analysis of the animal food industry. These lower assessments end at the farm-gate and, therefore, exclude downstream GHGs from transportation, food processing, packaging, and sale of food animal products. Goodland's 51 percent estimate encompass these post-farm emissions, which are critical to assessing the total contributions of the animal food industry to global warming.

While the pathways between anthropogenic climate-altering gases and planetary heating are complex, and emissions are not equivalent to warming, there is still a strong correlation between livestock GHG releases and planetary heating. After energy production, animal-based agribusiness is the second, and possibly the main source of manmade climate warming pollution. The evidence for this is presented in Parts II and III of the book, Meat Climate Change.

In contrast, if we limit human activity and livestock production in the tropical forests of the world, this could play a valuable role in helping to curb the rise in carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the atmosphere. Preventing further losses of carbon from our tropical forests must remain a high priority.

From Chapter 2: MEAT THE FUTURE, pages 16-17

Global Carnism

(Meat Atlast 2014)

Meat Society: Number 3 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

Intake of food animals is high in the global North, but the global South is catching up and this confluence spells disaster. While the international food trade complicates using national figures, a country-specific analysis of carnism is still instructive. China is the biggest consumer of both animal carcass and cow's milk products, with the US, the EU, and Brazil in the top five.(529)

In 2011, Americans ate 38 million tonnes (mt) (83 billion lb) of pig, chicken, cow, sheep, and goat carcass, and 40 mt (88 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs. In the same year, Brazilians ingested 19 mt (41 billion lb) of carcass and 30 mt (66 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs. Meanwhile, Russians consumed 10 mt (22 billion lb) of animal flesh and 20 mt (44 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs.

In 2011, Mexicans ingested 8 mt (17.6 billion lb) pig, chicken, cow, sheep, and goat carcass, and 10 mt (22 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs in 2011. As well, Indians ate 5 mt (11 billion lb) of flesh and 64 mt (141 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs. While, the Japanese had 6 mt (13 billion lb) of carcass and 8 mt (17 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs, the Vietnamese ate 5mt (11 billion lb) of animal flesh, and Argentines consumed 4 mt (8.8 billion lb). In addition, people in Europe (EU27) consumed 40 mt (88 billion lb) of carcass and 43 mt (94 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs. 

Per capita, carcass consumption in China has multiplied six-fold over the past 40 years, from an average of 20 kg (44 pounds) per capita in 1980, to 52 kg (114 pounds) in 2007. In 2011, the Chinese consumed 75 mt (165 billion lb) of pig, chicken, cow, sheep, and goat carcass, and 64 mt (141 billion lb) of cow's milk and eggs. Pig carcass has been the main component of total flesh consumption, and constituted 54% of total animal flesh intake, 80% of red carcass intake, and 99% of fatty red meat intake in 2011.(530)

In 2011, the proportion of Chinese adults who consumed red meat surged from 65% in 1991 to 86%, while chicken consumption soared up from 7 to 21%, and seafood from 27 to 38%. In 2011, the average intake of red meat was 86 g (3 oz) a day; for chicken it was 71 g (2.5 oz) day; and seafood was 70g (2.5 oz) a day. In India, animal consumption has grown by 40% in the last 15 years, though it is still 40 times less than average consumption in the UK.(531)

Every week, the average person in the UK eats 1.6 kg (3.5 lbs) of animal carcass and 4.2 liters (1.1 gal) of cow's milk. This is equivalent to 6 pig sausages, or 450g (16 oz); 2 chicken breasts, or 350g (12 oz); 4 ham sandwiches from pig, or 100g (3.5 oz); 8 slices of bacon from pig, or 250g (9 oz); 3 burgers from cow, or 450g (16 oz); 3 liters (0.8 gal) of cow's milk; 100g (3.5 oz) of cheese; and a portion of cream.(532) For the entire year of 2011, each UK resident ate an average of 82 kilograms (180.7 pounds) of carcass, equivalent to 1,400 pig sausages, or nearly 4 a day. What’s more, chicken consumption in the UK has doubled from 1987 to 2007.(533)

The average UK carnist eats in excess of 11,000 animals in their lifetime - 1 goose, 1 rabbit, 4 cattle, 18 pigs, 23 sheep and lambs, 28 ducks, 39 turkeys, 1,158 chickens, 3,593 shellfish and 6,182 fish. The diet of each British carnivore requires a vast quantity of land, fuel and water to raise and process the animals that reach their plate.(534)

By way of illustration, the soybean equivalent required to produce a UK citizen’s average annual intake of animal flesh and cow's milk products is 54.4 kg (120 lbs). This total equates to 22.2 kg (49 lbs) of soy for chicken, and 12.5 kg (27.5 lbs) for pig flesh. In addition, 6.7 kg (14.7 lbs) of soy are required for chicken eggs, another 3.8 kg (8.3) for cow carcass and veal, and 1.9 kg (4.1 lbs) for milk. On top of this, 1.7 kg (3.7 lbs) of soy are needed for cheese, and 5.6 kg (12.3 lbs) for other products.(535)

One large-scale survey in the UK looked at the average greenhouse gas (GHG) discharges associated with a standard 2,000 kcal diet in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents per day (kgCO2e/day). It was 7.19 for high meat-eaters (defined as in excess of 100 g or 3.5 oz per day), 5.63 for medium meat-eaters, 4.67 for low meat-eaters, 3.9 for fish-eaters, 3.81 for vegetarians and 2.89 for vegans. Dietary GHG outflows in meat-eaters were twice as high as those in vegans.(536)

Chapter 14, DIET OR POPULATION? pages 139-140

Trends in Animal Production

(Meat Atlast 2014)

Meat Society: Number 2 in a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

Agriculture generates over a quarter of the world's greenhouse pollution, overwhelmingly from livestock production. There are billions of farm animals worldwide, far surpassing human populations. In 2013, the cattle population reached 1.4 billion animals, up 54% from 1963. The number of chickens ballooned from 4.1 billion to 21.7 billion between 1963 and 2013. During the same period, the pig population soared upwards 114% to reach 977 million.(520)

Animal numbers will proliferate along with greenhouse gases (GHGs). Pork and poultry will grow at faster rates than cows. According to one study, there will be "a net increases in GHGs from the agricultural and livestock sectors but a diminishing trend in the emissions intensities across commodities (GHGs per unit of product)."(521)

'Red meat' refers to cow, pig, sheep, and goat carcass, and their flesh contained in processed foods. 'Processed meat' refers to nonhuman animal flesh preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or addition of chemical preservatives, and flesh contained in processed foods. Both are set to expand sharply by 2050. Global animal carcass production has quadrupled from 78 million tonnes (mt) (171 billion lb) in 1963, to 308 mt (678 billion lb) in 2012. For 2014, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) forecasts a further expansion to 311.6 mt (686.9 billion lb). Annually, the world produces 124 mt (273 billion lb) of chicken and 59 mt (130 billion lb) of cow carcass.(522)

In 2014, according to Eurostat data, Germany, Spain, France, and UK had the highest number of livestock. The largest number of pigs was in Germany and Spain (28.3 and 26.6 million heads respectively), the most cows in France (19.3 million heads) and sheep (23.0 million heads) in the UK.

Animal intake will rise 75% by 2050, and cow's milk by 65%, compared with 40% for cereals. By 2020, Chinese will consume an extra 20 million tonnes (mt) or 44 billion pounds of animal carcass and cow's milk a year.(523) From 1997 to 1999, global average consumption of animal carcass and cow's milk products was 36 kg (79.3 lb) per year. The average was 88 kg (194 lb) per year in industrialized countries and in South Asia, it was 5 kg (11 lb) per person per year.(524)

By 2012, on average, every person on Earth consumed 42.9 kg (94.4 lb) of animal flesh alone. In industrialized countries, average animal carcass consumption reached 76.2 kg (168 lb) per year. And in developing countries, the annual average animal flesh consumption was 33.4 kg (73.6 lb). People living in developed countries such as Australia eat roughly their own weight in animal carcass every year, consuming in excess of 80 kg (176 lb) each, or about 224 grams (8 oz) a day. That is the equivalent of almost two quarter-pound burgers every day. In Asia, the animal sector is expected to see an 80% growth by 2022.(525) 

And climate-altering gases from food production will go up 80% if animal flesh and cow's milk consumption continue to climb at its current rate.(526) From 1970 to 2000, chicken egg consumption has doubled worldwide, with a bigger increase in developing countries compared to industrial countries. During this same period, there was little variation in butter and cheese intake at the global level.(527)

Global animal carcass production is projected to double from 229 mt (504.8 billion lb) in 1999/2001, to 465 mt (1.024 trillion lb) in 2050. Almost half the additional carcass consumed will come from chicken carcass by 2022. Cow's milk output is projected to swell from 580 mt (1.278 trillion lb) to 1,043 mt (2.298 trillion lb) in the same period. The daily average in developing countries is 47 grams (1.6 oz). Based on this huge difference in consumption, one team of medical experts argue that "for the world's higher-income populations, greenhouse-gas emissions from meat eating warrants the same scrutiny as do those from driving and flying."(528)

Chapter 14, DIET OR POPULATION? pg. 139-140

Meat Society

Meat Society is a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions.

The articles are excerpts from  Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages ISBN: 0692641157

See also Pandemics Ahead, a series of articles from Meat Climate Change, that looks at the link between animal protein and global health disasters. See also our COVID-19 Meat Pandemic Bibliography with a categorized listing of Online News and Reports (March to June, 2020).

1. Dietary Transformation

2. Trends in Animal Production

3. Global Carnism

4. US Animal Production

5. Food's Footprint

6. Food Animals' GHGs 

7. Addressing Livestock GHGs

8. Animal Agribusiness Disorder

9. Factory Farming is Not a Solution

10. Structural Demand for Animal Flesh

11. Mitigating Demand for Animal Protein

12. GHGs: A Tale of Two Sources

13. Livestock's Emissions Denial?

14. Sounding the Alarm on Carnism

15. Urbanization and Carnism

16. Over-Consumption and GHGs

17. Global Substitution Diets

18. Class and Global Diet

19. Over-Consumption Curse

20. Diet or Over Population?

21. Hungry Masses

22. Hidden Population: Obesity

23. Livestock Triangle

24. Livestock Equals Food Insecurity

25. Meat and Colonialism

26. Climate Justice

27. Racism and Food Deserts

28. Meat the Patriarchy

29. Greenwashing Cruelty: Humane Meat

30. Diet and Social Justice

For more information, see

Commercial Fishing

Pandemics Ahead: Number 19 in a series looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters.

Excerpt from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

Overfishing's Carbon Footprint

Despite wide-ranging environmental impacts, fish is a relatively small source of protein. Fish accounts for 16.6% of the world population’s intake of animal protein, and 6.5% of all protein consumed.(959) The 2010 US Dietary Guidelines recommended augmenting seafood intake to 8 ounces (0.2 kg) per person, per week, and consuming a variety of seafood in place of some red meat and chicken. 

Achieving these dietary levels would require doubling the US seafood supply with serious consequences. Global fisheries add $270 billion a year to global GDP, but overfishing, the taking of fish beyond sustainable levels, is reducing fish stocks and employment in many of the world's regions.

While fish catches worldwide are expanding, fish stocks are rapidly being depleted by over-fishing. The loss of ocean biodiversity is accelerating, and 30 percent of the seafood species humans consume have already crashed. In fact, “sustainable” seafood may disappear by 2050.(960)

The greatest enlargement in seafood consumption has occurred in Oceania and Asia, especially China, with hikes from 11 g (0.4 oz) per capita per day in 1963, to 69 g (2.4 oz) per capita per day in 2003. Compared with industrial countries, developing countries have seen larger gains in freshwater fish consumption, with China having a 10-fold upsurge from 1963 to 2003. Globally, the main fishes consumed are white fish, oily fish and seafood invertebrates.(961)

Close to 90% of the world’s fishery catches come from depleted oceans and seas, as opposed to inland waters. On top of that, there are serious human rights concerns over enslaved and bonded labor on fishing vessels, diving operations and processing on land.

In 55 years, humans have eliminated 90% of the ocean's top predators, including sharks, tuna, swordfish, marlin, and mackerel. Now, a small number of species support the majority of the world’s fisheries. Some of the popular species are herring, cod, anchovy, tuna, flounder, mullet, squid, shrimp, salmon, crab, lobster, oyster and scallops.

The UN's Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) fisheries data suggests that global marine catches increased to 86 million tonnes in 1996, then slightly declined. Even so, catch trajectories differ considerably from the national data submitted to the FAO. The exact amount is uncertain since the number of fish caught globally is underreported by about 30 percent.(962)

Health-wise, fish are viewed as a lean source of protein, as well as the omega-3 fatty acids that help the heart. All the same, fish contains mercury, a poison that accumulates up the food chain and can damage the brain and nervous system. And they can contain algae, plastics and other toxins that bio-accumulates up the food chain as well.

Despite mercury and other hazards, humans have depleted the oceans for marine protein. The world had 4.36 million fishing vessels in 2010, and almost all have engines or motors that operate on fossil fuels. Fishing activity is characterized by considerable fuel consumption and release of biocides from anti-fouling paint on the boats.

The depletion of fish stocks widens the distance that is necessary to travel in order to catch certain species of fish. In 2000, 80 million tons of fish required the burning of 13 billion gallons (50b l) of fuel, and released of 134 million tons of CO2. Thus, global fisheries used up to 12.5 times the mass of fuel energy that they provided as edible-protein energy.(963)

And while the 'global warming potential' (GWP) and acidification potential of 1 kg wild cod fish is lower compared to 1 kg chicken, the dry matter content is not equal. For example, the GWP of 1 kg fresh shrimp is similar to that of 1 kg fresh chicken, but three times higher for 1 kg peeled and frozen shrimps.(964)

For every ton of fish harvested, there are substantial amounts of GHGs generated and it varies depending on the location. For instance, for (a) Norwegian fish, it is 1,750 kg (3,858 lb) of CO2 equivalents; (b) for Chilean salmon it is 2,250 kg (4,960 lb); (c) for Canadian fish it is 2,500 kg (5,511 lb); and (d) for Scottish farmed stock it is 3,300 kg (7,275 lb).

There are 3 kg (6.6 lb) CO2 costs associated with each kg (2.2 lb) of frozen salmon brought to North America from Chile, and 5.5 times that GHG cost for fresh Chilean salmon flown into the Northern Hemisphere. In comparison, growing, marketing, peeling and boiling a kg of potatoes takes 280 grams (0.6 lbs) of CO2.(965)

Over 75 percent of major fisheries are fully exploited, over-exploited, or depleted, and upwards of 90% of large predatory fishes are gone. Of the 600 marine fish stocks monitored by FAO, 3 percent are underexploited, 20 percent are moderately exploited, 52 percent are fully exploited, 17 percent are over-exploited, 7 percent are depleted, and 1 percent are recovering from depletion.(966) Overfishing has disrupted the organic process of multiple oceanic ecosystems.(967)

For almost five decades, 1961 to 2009, the world's fish catch grew dramatically, with an average growth rate of 3.2 percent per year in the period, outpacing the expansion in the world’s population of 1.7 percent per year. The world per capita seafood fish consumption soared from an average of 9.9 kg (21.8 lb) in the 1960s up to 18.6 kg (41 lb) in 2010.

The peak rate of caught fish was 1988 at 130 million tonnes. Since 1989, the world capture of marine fish has declined by 500,000 tonnes per year despite mounting fishing effort. Each year, usually 90 million tonnes (200 billion pounds) of fish is pulled from the oceans, but in the last seven years (2004 to 2010), landings of all marine species have declined, except anchovy, by around 73.3 million tonnes (161b lbs).

Since 2007, both the Mediterranean–Black Sea and the Southwest Atlantic have seen declining catches, with a plunge of 15 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Over 25 percent of US fish stocks are over-fished, which has led to the collapse of numerous fisheries and fishing communities.

There have been sharp declines in the populations of tuna, cod, and marlins. During the 1960s and ’70s, shelf fisheries in the Atlantic started to collapse due to overfishing. Operations moved to the deep sea, and in turn, deepwater fishing has seriously affected the populations of deep-sea fish, such as the roundnose grenadier, onion-eye grenadier, spiny eel, spinytail skate, and blue hake. The populations of these deep-sea fishes have plummeted by over 87 percent in 17 years. It is expected that these fishes will be driven to the point of extinction, to the detriment of the ecosystems in which they live.(968)

“Suction harvesting” swallows up huge quantities of krill that are processed, frozen, and stored on specially outfitted ships. The krill are used as feed for fish-farms (aquaculture) or transformed into omega-3 oil and other health supplements. The upshot is that seals, whales, and penguins are losing one of their primary sources of food.(969)

Chapter 26: MISSING FISH, pages 248-9     Previous  |  Home  |  Next

For more information, see

Pandemics Ahead

Pandemics Ahead is a series of articles looking at the link between animal protein and global health disasters. The articles are excerpts from Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming by Moses Seenarine, (2016). Xpyr Press, 348 pages. ISBN: 0692641157.

See also Meat Society, a series exploring issues related to curbing demand for animal products, an important climate change solution for individuals and nations alike, especially in Western states where meat and diary consumption dwarfs other regions. See also our COVID-19 Meat Pandemic Bibliography with a categorized listing of Online News and Reports (March to June, 2020).

For more information, see

New Release

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