"Livestock and Climate Change": critical comments and responses.

Author:Goodland, Robert

Editor's note: "Livestock and Climate Change," which ran in our November/December 2009 issue, generated the most comment, both pro and con, of any World Watch article in several years. Many commenters made the same arguments, so rather than printing all the letters and e-mails, we have consolidated the critiques into their main points and asked author Robert Goodland to respond.


My co-author, Jeff Anhang, and I enjoyed seeing our article garner much coverage and little criticism in media outlets and on Internet websites. It was also gratifying that although our article proposed gaps in analysis by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (cf. Livestock's Long Shadow, 2006), the FAO graciously invited us to participate in its consultations in Rome in December 2009 and Berlin in January 2010. The presentation that we prepared for Rome can be seen at www.wellfedworld.org.

We think some of the interest in our article derived from coincidence. Around the time of publication, besides the attention given to the approaching Copenhagen conference on climate change (known as COP15), Lord Nicholas Stern (author of the renowned U.K. government study of the economics of climate change) publicly recommended cuts in meat consumption. Also, reports began to emerge from one country after another--such as India, Argentina, Australia, Kenya, and the Philippines--on the harm to crops and livestock caused by disruptive climate events.

No major recommendations besides ours for reversing climate change emerged in the run-up to COP15. At the conference, disagreement remained on the next major steps for scaling up renewable energy and energy efficiency. So while such steps must still be made to keep emissions down over the long term, the wait goes on for new infrastructure to enable significant energy-related emissions reductions. In the meantime, however, better alternatives to livestock products can be scaled up and have a positive effect on climate quickly, through joint action by citizens/consumers, governments, industry, and investors.

Following are the main critical comments on our article along with our responses.

The justification is unclear for the article to count animal respiration as a net source of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while human respiration is not counted. If forest regenerated where livestock and feed production were removed, as recommended in the article, surely wild animals would reappear and emit GHGs. It is also unclear whether the authors are including carbon from livestock respiration among the 22 billion tons of emissions that they claim have not been previously counted, and how they think 22 billion tons of emissions could...

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