Animal Agriculture: A Neglected Agent of Global Warming?
The co-producers of the documentary film “Cowspiracy” discuss the environmental impacts of animal agriculture – and why mainstream organizations have been silent about it
ANTON WORONCZUK, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Anton Woronczuk in Baltimore.
A recent study published in the scientific journal Nature argues that current global dietary trends are set to have a massive impact on global greenhouse gas emissions. The authors of the study, titled “Global diets link environmental sustainability and human health”, say the contribution of agriculture to global greenhouse gas emissions will increase by 80 percent over the next four decades, along with its associated health problems of diabetes and coronary heart disease. However, they also write, quote, “there would be no net increase in food production emissions if, by 2050, the global diet had become the average of the Mediterranean, pescatarian and vegetarian diets.”
Our next guests say, however, if you ask the nation’s leading environmental organizations about the link between climate change and animal agriculture, well, their answers are conspicuously absent.
Joining us from San Francisco to discuss the impacts of animal agriculture on the global environment are Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. Kip and Keegan are the coproducers of the documentary film Cowspiracy, which came out this summer, is being released on DVD this month, and is currently available for streaming on their website. Kip is an award-winning designer, documentary filmmaker, and entrepreneur who’s built more than a dozen businesses. And Keegan is an award-winning documentary filmmaker, videographer, and professional musician.
Thank you both for joining us.
KIP ANDERSEN, COWSPIRACY CODIRECTOR: Thank you.
KEEGAN KUHN, COWSPIRACY CODIRECTOR: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: So, Kip, let’s start with you. What inspired you to make a film about animal agriculture and its contributions to greenhouse gas emissions?
ANDERSEN: Well, I thought I was doing everything I could to help the environment–driving less, riding a bike, taking short showers. And then I found out a UN report study that our diet and raising animals for food livestock creates more human-caused greenhouse gases than all the transportation put together. And then that led me on a journey of discovering that not only that, but this one industry is the leading cause of rainforest destruction, water consumption, water pollution, ocean dead zones, and species extinction, and basically across the board, and then to find out that our world’s leading environmental organizations–Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Oceana, all these groups, they don’t mention this anywhere. And it seemed, if anything, they might have been covering it up.
WORONCZUK: Well, let’s get some statistics about some of this stuff. Like, Keegan, how do the greenhouse gas emissions of animal agriculture compare to other issues that are often a target of environmental campaigns, such as transportation and fracking?
KUHN: Yeah. So transportation makes up globally about 13 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions versus animal agriculture–as Kip just mentioned, in the UN report from 2006 it makes up 18 percent. But there are statistics that go all the way up to 51 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions actually come from animal agriculture. Depending on where that figure is, it is still an unacceptable level in our atmosphere.
You know, fracking is an issue that gets a lot of attention because of water use and methane emissions, but fracking makes up about one-third of all methane emissions into the atmosphere versus animal agriculture, which makes up over one third just for methane. And methane is 86 times more potent of a greenhouse gas emission than carbon dioxides formed, for example, in the burning of fossil fuels.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And as I just mentioned, both of you, the coproducers of the new documentary film Cowspiracy, let’s take a look at an interview you did in the film, where you ask the conservation director of the Sierra Club about this issue of animal agriculture and its contributions to climate change. Let’s take a look.
INTERVIEWER: And what about livestock and animal agriculture?
BRUCE HAMILTON, CONSERVATION DIRECTOR, SIERRA CLUB: Well, what about it? I mean, do you want to–.
INTERVIEWER: We, doing just research, a couple of the UN reports says it’s more, livestock accounts for more than all transportation put together; a recent 2009 Worldwatch report: 51 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions.
HAMILTON: Yeah. Well, it is a big issue, and we need to address that as well. But there’s just so many different potential sources of methane and carbon emissions [snip]
INTERVIEWER: If the number-one leading cause is animal agriculture and meat consumption, then doesn’t that need to be the number-one focus, if not the number-two?
HAMILTON: Well, that’s your assessment. Our assessment is different.
WORONCZUK: Kip, what do you think is the significance of this moment in your film?
ANDERSEN: Well, it just shows the–it’s a combination of ignorance and evasiveness. And it’s really funny that, if it wasn’t so serious, the different interviews, how the entire interview changes once we mention animal agriculture. And we give them a huge opportunity to mention this, because it’s a film about sustainability. But once this gets brought up, because they never bring it up, then their story kind of changes, their body language, the way they talk. Everything just alters. And it ranges from ignorance to straight up covering it up, to not wanting to talk about it, across the board. And every interview’s very different, but quite entertaining, but quite disturbing as well.
WORONCZUK: Well, explain that. Why is there ignorance about this issue within these major environmental organizations? And why is there also this attempt to cover it up?
ANDERSEN: Well, one of them is that it’s just not talked about. The major media sources, it’s not talked about. But for the heads of these organizations, that’s not really an excuse. A simple Google search can discover most of these facts that you see in the film.
A big reason of it is that they just don’t see sharing this information with the public as a quote-unquote win campaign. They don’t see it as generating more money for them, more donors for them. So just they just would rather, as we call it, profits over planet.
And another reason for it is their own habits, their own habits among the highest of these groups, what their eating habits are. You know, they are eating animal products.
And another one is the fear of ramifications from the government and laws that have been put in order to silence all of us to telling the truth of what’s happening with this huge, very, very powerful industry.
So it’s a combination of all of these things.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And in the film you talk about how you lost a portion of your funding. Keegan, talk about this and some of the challenge that you faced while producing this documentary.
KUHN: Yeah. So in the film we touch on the fact that one of our backers dropped out of the film because of fear of reprisal. There are–as Kip just mentioned, a number of laws have been created to criminalize dissent against animal agriculture. But in the film we focus on just the one, but there was actually a number of investors and individuals who were interested in supporting the film who all backed out because of the controversy surrounding it. So the film was entirely self produced, entirely self-funded from A.U.M. Films, which is a nonprofit organization that Kip Anderson created in order to get this film off the ground.
WORONCZUK: And how have some of those mainstream environmental organizations responded to your critiques of them in the film since it’s been released and screened?
KUHN: Yeah, there have been a number of organizations that have addressed the film. They oftentimes provide pseudo-solutions. Instead of advocating for a plant-based diet, which is really the most sustainable thing to do and the true solution, they advocate still for grass-fed beef and local /ˈboʊrɪzm/, which really isn’t a solution for 7.2 billion people.
There have been positive responses, though. Rainforest Action Network, which is featured in the film, they’ve actually–since the release of the film, have released a series of images on social media addressing animal agriculture. And we’re thrilled to see that, and we want to encourage them to continue that work and other organizations to continue to address the issue.
WORONCZUK: But, Kip, earlier you said that part of your inspiration for doing this film was that you yourself were trying to do all that you could to try and reduce, I guess, your own environmental footprint. But some of the common solutions that environmentalists put forward for dealing with this issue of animal agriculture is sustainable or organic farming. What do you think of these solutions?
ANDERSEN: The words sustainable and animal agriculture just is an oxymoron. They can’t go together. And this industry and people essentially are addicted to animal flesh and secretions. They’ll come up with these new things–grass-fed beef, which, ironically–and grass-fed beef, it’s actually more unsustainable in many reasons, due to land use, due to species extinction. The reason why the wolf population is at such decimated levels is because of grazing in public land. So it just takes way more land for grass-fed, pasture-raised beef to be raised, around 10 to 50 acres for just one cow, whereas in a factory farm that’s only around two acres. So you’re compensating the health, the well-being of the cow, but then you’re destroying all these other things, such as river pollution, water pollution, species extinction, wild horses, all wildlife, and then supposedly a lot of studies show that methane is actually worse for grass-fed beef than it is in factory farms. And it goes on. Organic dairy farms, the same thing–we address that in the film. It just doesn’t go together.
WORONCZUK: So what is the solution?
ANDERSEN: The solution is really simple. That’s the thing. It doesn’t take billions of dollars. It doesn’t even take necessarily widespread transformation with the legal system and our politics. It’s basically just switching our diet, switching our diet to a plant-based lifestyle, ’cause the most powerful–by far most powerful thing we can do and it really needs to be addressed is the number-one thing. It’s not the only thing; it’s just the very first thing that everything else needs to stem from. It’s the root.
WORONCZUK: Okay. And did you get all the answers that you sought in your film? Is there more that you two plan to investigate on this issue?
ANDERSEN: What’s investigating now is, as the film, is you see how the film ends is going on that note of how this transformation has already begun, the tipping point of this new step in evolution, where people are–the light has turned on, the new organizations that are coming along, the new conscious capitalism of these companies right here that are thriving Beyond Meat, Beyond Eggs, Hampton Creek. And Bill Gates and these billionaires, they see the future in this industry. So that’s where they’re putting a lot of their money, ’cause they see the future in plant-based foods. And so this whole shift is already happening. You see it everywhere we go. We’re traveling the world with this film, and everywhere you see it, the light turning on. So it’s just really encouraging to see this transformation already have taken place.
WORONCZUK: And, Keegan, your take on the next step to bringing this issue to light.
KUHN: Yeah, absolutely. We just need to get this information out in front of as many people as possible. We really feel people can’t make informed decisions unless they have the information. So that’s what Cowspiracy is. It’s a tool to get this information to as many people as possible.
WORONCZUK: Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn, coproducers of the new documentary film Cowspiracy.
Thank you both for joining us.
KUHN: Thank you.
ANDERSEN: Thank you.
WORONCZUK: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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