Concern for the environment was woke before the term even existed.
Not only does environmental advocacy let people know that you are losing the shoreline of your oceanfront property, but it signals that you care for the planet and its inhabitants.
Moral posturing aside, it's the environmental impacts of animal agriculture that help films like The Game Changers convert viewers to vegans, but are the consequences of animal agriculture as bad as these films make them seem? Or can we use livestock to improve the Earth and feed impoverished nations?
Protein Comes from Plants
An early claim The Game Changers makes is that all protein originates from plants; livestock are simply the middle-men. They say that the average plant-eater gets 70% more protein than they need, implying that we can meet our protein needs through plants alone.
If this is true, it is not from the same plants that we feed to animals.
86% of a cow's diet is inedible to humans and includes the by-products of monocropping like corn stalks and soy cakes. Cattle convert these by-products to edible, nutrient-dense beef, which is something to consider when vegan advocates say, "Cow's, pigs, and chickens it turns out are just the middle-men, consuming six times as much protein as they produce". Without these middle-men, most of the protein that they consume goes to waste, eroding soil and releasing carbon into the atmosphere.
Instead, we can use the waste from these animals to restore ecosystems.
Livestock Requires Too Much Land
Environmental advocates often argue that meat production is bad for the environment because 3/4 of all the agricultural land is used for livestock. This statement is true, but it's because more than half of this is grazing land which actually improves biodiversity
Allan Savory is an ecologist who noticed that global warming is accelerating due to desertification; grasslands turning into deserts.
Desertification is a problem because it releases carbon into the atmosphere and erodes soil so that new plants can't grow back and remove the carbon.
So, what causes desertification? People originally believed that it was caused by livestock overgrazing the plants, leaving the soil bare, and giving off methane.
Alan and his team tested this theory by removing humans and livestock from the land, but that only made the problem worse. Alan says he learned that "the soil and the vegetation developed with very large numbers of grazing animals." These animals eat the vegetation, fertilizing the soil, and preventing its erosion. Alan's new mission is use grazing livestock to improve the environment.
The reason that animal agriculture has a large geographic footprint is that farmers are using grazing livestock to keep the land alive.
Despite the environmental benefits that these animals provide, vegan advocates will argue that "Meat, dairy, egg, and fish farming use 83% of the world's farmland yet provide only 18% of calories." But, as third-grade geology reminds us, not all soil can grow crops.
60% of the land used to raise cattle is not suitable for plant agriculture. Without livestock, an even higher percentage of land would be unsuitable for plants. So yes, a large percentage of the land produces very few calories, but it's not possible to grow crops in these arid lands. Also, with more than 70% of the US population either overweight or obese, producing more calories available doesn't sound like a prescription that the country needs.
Another problem that vegan advocates claim is that growing animal feed requires vast amounts of land, making it one of the leading drivers of deforestation. They forget to mention that concentrating livestock waste in areas where they cannot fertilize the crops will only continue to degrade the environment while holistically managed livestock can be used to heal it.
The UN estimates we have just 60 years of topsoil left and without topsoil, our food system will collapse. Fortunately, holistically managed, regenerative farms can restore the soil.
Regenerative farming works by mimicking nature. In nature, wherever you find plants, you'll find animals eating those plants. Instead of using chemicals and growing monocrops which deplete the soil, grazing livestock will till and fertilize the land.
Without livestock, regenerative farming is not possible. Without meat-eaters, raising livestock is not profitable. Given the state of our soil, even vegans should be happy that humans are at the top of the food chain.
According to the WWF, adopting regenerative agriculture could deliver up to $1.4 trillion in increased crop production without using more land.
But can regenerative farming completely eliminate greenhouse gases?
Animals Cause Greenhouse Cause Emissions
Vegan advocates claim that the livestock sector is responsible for 15% of global, manmade emissions; about the same as the global emissions from all forms of transportation.
These numbers sound concerning, but the emissions from livestock include the entire cattle production supply chain. This means they include everything from growing the food, to butchering the animal, to delivering it to your plate, while transportation emissions only include what comes from your tailpipe.
A 2017 report from the environmental protection agency shows that in the US, transportation causes 29% of GHG emissions while ALL agriculture is only responsible for 9%. If all US animal agriculture was instantly converted to plants, it would only reduce GHG emissions by 2.6%.
Another thing that's excluded from these figures are the greenhouse gas emissions caused by desertification. Damaging soil releases carbon into the atmosphere while preventing plants from growing back and recycling it into oxygen. Animals prevent these carbon emissions by consuming plants before they decompose, eroding soil and releasing carbon.
Cows Drink All Our Clean Water
Implying that animal agriculture is a leading cause of global warming is almost as deceptive as saying that "One hamburger is 2400 litres of embedded water," a common argument that vegans make.
The one thing they forget to mention is that 94% of this water comes from rain, and a pound of beef requires less water from irrigation than a pound of avocados or walnuts.
According to the United States Geological Survey, all livestock combined accounts for only 0.6% of daily water usage.
Professor Johan Rockstrom says that "Meat plays a disproportionately large role in causing this overuse of freshwater. 25% of the rivers in the world no longer reach the ocean because we are taking out so much water. to produce animal feed."
But if we continue monocropping, we'll drain even more rivers and lakes because depleted soil cannot retain water from rainfall. Desertified land can flood one day and be bone dry the next while holistically managed land retains the water
Are Animals Bad for the Environment?
So, are animals bad for the environment? They certainly can be if they are not managed effectively, but most suggestions made by vegan advocates will only make the problem worse.
Eliminating animals from our diets will require more monoculture crops to feed the growing population, amplifying the rate of soil erosion and potentially causing a global food crisis.
We now have the knowledge and resources to raise livestock in a way that will actually improve the environment. Rather than protesting, environmentalists can prosper by recognizing these problems as opportunities in disguise. Start a holistically managed livestock operation, make a real environmental change, and profit from your efforts.