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How much does animal agriculture and eating meat contribute to global warming?

Posted on 30 November 2015 by dana1981

This is the new rebuttal to the myth 'animal agriculture and eating meat are the biggest causes of global warming.'  It's available at the short URL

The burning of fossil fuels for energy and animal agriculture are two of the biggest contributors to global warming, along with deforestation.  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 InstituteUN Food and Agriculture Organization, and Pitesky et al. 2009).

WRI global GHG emissions flowchart

Global human greenhouse gas emissions flowchart, from the World Resources Institute.

So, animal agriculture and meat consumption are significant contributors to global warming, but far less so than fossil fuel combustion.  Moreover, fossil fuels are an even bigger contributor to the problem in developed countries, which use more energy and have increased livestock production efficiency (Pitesky et al. 2009).  For example, in the United States, fossil fuel-based energy is responsible for about 80% of total greenhouse gasemissions as compared to about 6% from animal agriculture (estimates from the World Resources Institute and Pitesky et al. 2009).

US GHG emissions flowchart

US human greenhouse gas emissions flowchart, from the World Resources Institute.

How does animal agriculture cause global warming?

On of the main ways in which the livestock sector contributes to global warming is throughdeforestation caused by expansion of pasture land and arable land used to grow feedcrops.  Overall, animal agriculture is responsible for about 9% of human-caused carbon dioxideemissions globally (UN FAO).

Animal agriculture is also a significant source of other greenhouse gases.  For example, ruminant animals like cattle produce methane, which is a greenhouse gas about 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide.  The livestock sector is responsible for about 37% of human-caused methane emissions, and about 65% of human nitrous oxide emissions (mainly from manure), globally (UN FAO).

Beef is a bigger problem than other sources of meat

Producing beef requires significantly more resources (e.g. land, fertilizer, and water) than other sources of meat.  As ruminant animals, cattle also produce methane that othersources (e.g. pigs and chickens) don't.

Eschel et al. 2014 estimated that producing beef requires 28 times more land, 6 times more fertilizer and 11 times more water than producing pork or chicken.  As a result, the study estimated that producing beef releases 4 times more greenhouse gases than a calorie-equivalent amount of pork, and 5 times as much as an equivalent amount of poultry.

Eating vegetables produces lower greenhouse gas emissions yet.  For example, potatoes, rice, and broccoli produce approximately 3–5 times lower emissions than an equivalent mass of poultry and pork (Environmental Working Group 2011).  The reason is simple – it's more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it builds up muscle mass, then eat the animal.

Environmental Working Group GHG Lifecycle Assessment of foods


Greenhouse gas lifecycle assessment for common proteins and vegetables (EWG 2011).

How do the numbers get misrepresented?

There are often suggestions that going vegan is the most important step people can take to solve the global warming problem.  While reducing meat consumption (particularly beef and lamb) reduces greenhouse gas emissions, this claim is an exaggeration.

An oft-used comparison is that globally, animal agriculture is responsible for a larger proportion of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions (14-18%) than transportation (13.5%).  While this is true, transportation is just one of the many sources of human fossil fuel combustion.  Electricity and heat generation account for about 25% of global humangreenhouse gas emissions alone.

Moreover, in developed countries where the 'veganism will solve the problem' argument is most frequently made, animal agriculture is responsible for an even smaller share of the global warming problem than fossil fuels.  For example, in the USA, fossil fuels are responsible for over 10 times more human-caused greenhouse gas emissions than animal agriculture.

That's not to minimize the significant global warming impact of animal agriculture (as well as its other adverse environmental impacts), especially from beef and lamb, but it's also important not to exaggerate its contribution or minimize the much larger contribution of fossil fuels.

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Comments 101 to 150 out of 174:

  1. @wideEyedPupil

    Absolutely I agree with you observation that spacial relationships matter. Now go from 8" to 8' to 80 miles and you see the problem with the feedlot production model and why what was a methane sink turned into a methane source. One can understand the enteric methane emissions mixing with the atmosphere near the soil surface, but remove those animals from close contact with the soil and you break the link. For the grazer/grassland biome as a whole to be viewed as a sink, those grazers absolutely must be in direct contact with the grassland. What does escape due to being lighter than many other gasses in the atmosphere and diffusing upwards, subject to abiotic oxidation. But in a feedlot the majority of emissions do count as a source. So I am not disputing the IPCCs view currently, only adding the refinement that shows how this can be changed.

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  2. Hmm, well firstly, the soil doesnt actually remove much of the airborne methane anyway according del Grosso.  Secondly, methane becomes very quickly well mixed gas so soil around the feedlot would do it's bit. I am not convinced that grasslands with ruminants were ever net sinks for methane. CO2 equivalents, yes, thanks to increase in SOC from plant material, but not for just methane.

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  3. @scaddenp

    OK I will walk you through it. From the previous review I gave you: ROLE OF MICROORGANISMS AS CONTROLLERS OF TRACE GAS FLUXES.

    "In most upland soils, CH4 production is usually absent or marginal and the CH4 flux is dominated by CH4 oxidation." 

    Then a discussion about why and exceptions. Then:

    "The subsurface location of methanotrophs means that energy
    requirements for maintenance and growth are obtained from
    CH4 concentrations that are lower than atmospheric."

    By Fick's laws of diffusion methane from a higher concentration will move to the lower concentration. There it will be used by the methanotrophs for energy requirements, keeping the concentration low. So there is a steady flow unless blocked in some way. Upland soils are generally well aerated. Of course management can effect this, but generally where there is a healthy population of earthworms, arthropods, insects etc.... the soil will be well aerated. So in those healthy soils you have a flow from higher methane concentration to lower methane concentration. As long as the other environmental factors don't restrict it, the methanotroph population will grow rapidly as the flow of methane increases, increasing biotic oxidation proportionately.

    But as wideEyedPupil observed, spacial relationships do matter. You can get a flow from the cow to the soil if the cow is right there. Even easier to get a flow from the manure since it is even closer. But you cant get much of a flow from many miles down the road at the feedlot. Also locally at the feedlot, the large concentration of animals constantly there overwhelms the ability for those soils to keep up.

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  4. Okay, I agree that you get more methane oxidation from soils closer to the animal. That still doesnt deal with issue that amount of oxidation/absorption is small compared to emissions. Assuming no methane capture at all in feedlots, that would increase net methane by 1% cf to same animal in grasslands. (Actually more complex than that because feed is different).

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  5. OK great. Now for an even bigger factor, pore space in the soil. This is the habitat the actual methanotrophs colonize. As that surface area increases it both increases the habitat for the methanotrophs and increases the flow of methane from the atmosphere to them by increasing the aeration of the soil. The entire soil food web including all the animals, worms, plants, fungi, other soil biota etc can either positively effect that pore space or negatively effect it. As a general rule the more living biomass, the more improvement in soil pore space. Every bit of that living biomass has it's role to play from the predator to the herbivore to the plant to the soil biota. The role of the ruminant is to rapidly start the break down of plant material that is resistant to decay. By rapidly starting that process, which is finished by other trophic levels, it increases that cycle rate, increasing the growth rate of all. A ruminant can do in a day what would take at least a month or more to happen without the cellulolytic microbes found in a rumen, and they leave plenty of food available for everything else. This is why they are superior at soil building to other types of herbivores. The emergent property is that even though the emissions increases, so does sequestration, compared to the biome without a ruminant to start that process of decay. Now it doesn't actually need to be a ruminant, but the advantage a ruminant that makes them even better is that they actually extract comparatively  little from that forage. When they start the process, there is an abundance of energy still available for the other trophic levels by compareson. That filters all the way down through the entire soil food web, including those parts responsible creating pore space.

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  6. This is why they are superior at soil building to other types of herbivores.

    Until the arrival of cattle in 1814, New Zealand was devoid of ruminants. Would you expect our soils to be low in carbon? Do you think that the arrival of cattle would have improved the carbon content of our soils? Bear in mind that our cattle are almost all pasture fed and always have been.

    The measured amount of enteric methane release from 26 month old steers in New Zealand averages 222g per head per day. Could you give me a percentage of this methane that you think is being consumed by the methanotrophs and converted into soil carbon. I know my stock numbers so if it is all being captured at source I should be able to get a handle on how much my soil carbon mass will increase by. 

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  7. Redbaron, your conjectures are not supported by the actual measured methane oxidation rates, nor  (so far) by actual measurements of SOC increase. No SOC increase, no sequestration.  Now the results I had were from survey of NZ soils. Prairie soils are a different beast so if you can find comparable multi-decade survey showing SOC rates big enough to offset the number of ruminants, then I would be delighted to see it. The best I could find was Follet et al 2001

    This notes the issue with intensity

    " light stocking intensities (1.2 AUM/ha) did not have any effect on the SOC content after 44 years of grazing; however, heavy (2.4 AUM/ha) and very heavy (4.8 AUM/ha) grazing significantly reduced the SOC in the foothills of southwestern Alberta. They believe the heavy grazing intensities “jeopardized the sustainability of the ecosystemby reducing the fertility and water holding capacity."

    However, the study mostly considers the potential for increasing SOC and its recommendations for practise look truly excellent. Overall,

    "We estimated ... that 10.2Mha of U.S. pastures use improved grazing management systems, with sequestration rates of 300 to 1300 kg C/ha/yr and total sequestration of 3.1 to 13.3 MMTC/yr. "

    While this is good news, a dry-cattle low-end emission is 170g CH4/day, = 62kg/year or =1737 kg Co2e/year. So the stocking rate is vital. 0.29 head per ha is 500kg CO2e/ha/yr. At that rate, SOC can keep ahead. No way if stocking rate is even 1/ha. Increased SOC seemed to come from better grazing management, fertilizer and water inputs which I would also associate with higher stocking.

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  8. foolonthehill. I dont have NZ no.s but grazing/farmland in US takes up CH4 at <1.5kg/ha/yr (the del Grosso reference). 226g/head/day is 82.5kg/head so you should be able to work out from your stocking rate /ha. (which is what by the way? I found it very hard to get info on US stock rates which seem to be 0.2-0.3 on rangeland. NZ intensive dairy goes to 3.5-4 I think.)

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  9. @scaddenp

    I slept on it and I think I figured our why we are at odds. I believe it is a failure to communicate and I am willing to take the blame. I really failed to express to you what I mean by "net sink". Obviously there is always going to be some methane entering the atmosphere. But we are talking about AGW. In other words how humans have effected that cycle. So when I say net with regards to methane it means something different than when I say net with regards to carbon dioxide.

    Methane from animals is the short cycle. There always was and always will be emissions of methane from the short cycle, just replacing what gets oxidized abiotically. So because methane has such a short 1/2 life in the atmosphere, to actually be a cause of AGW, the emissions rate would have to exceed pre industrial emissions rates. Anything with a lower emissions rate than that can be seen as a net reduction. That doesn't mean no emissions, just less emissions. For that reason methane from ruminants contribute nothing to the current AGW, but rather the factory farm production model that removed those ruminants from the land.

    This is different than CO2, because CO2 is stable in the atmosphere. It basically does not oxidize abiotically.

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  10. Everything is AGW is really compared to pre-industrial. Methane concentration in the atmosphere has more than doubled since pre-industrial (0.8 to 1.85) with increase in ruminants taking the lion share. As you point out, CH4 is short-lived so this represented substantial, sustained change of flux. The GWP for methane used to calculate CO2e takes into account the lifespan of CH4 in atmosphere.

    Just looking at US rangeland, you think that change from 30M bison (emitting 72g/d CH4) to 90M cattle (emitting 170-240g/d CH4) really supports "methane from ruminants contribute nothing to the current AGW,"? The Follet et al 2001 reference above also notes overall loss of SOC since settlement. This report puts cattle in feedlots at 14%

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  11. No no no it is not the lions share.  It's not even the cow. Rather in so much as the little bit that did increase is related to animal husbandry, it is the methods by which those cows are raised. AGW methane increases are mostly from mining, natural gas, fracking, melting methane clathrates, melting permafrost etc... Even in agriculture, the haber process nitrogen we spread on fields killing over 70% of the methanotrophs (the only biotic methane sink) has a larger effect than the cow.

    I guess you  are going to have to trust me on this, because I can't find a scientific study that explicitly states it, but even before mankind existed as a species, animals were belching, farting, breathing and rotting after they died. All of which is "emissions" by that AGW denialist rhetoric. 

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  12. @scaddenp

    Not just bison also elk deer moose bighorn sheep antelope over 40 extinct species of megafauna, prairie dogs, extinct species of grasshoppers and on and on. You are reading Vegan "exterminate the evil cow" unholy alliance with AGW deniers propaganda again.

    But at least you did say at the end "cattle in feedlots". Feedlots being the key component that actually at least is part of AGW.

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  13. Sorry, but you are making assertions that not at all supported by the literature. (Ch6 of IPCC AR5 WG1 is index into this).

    "AGW methane increases are mostly from mining, natural gas, fracking, melting methane clathrates, melting permafrost etc..." -

    Um, no they are not. Those account for <30%.  Expansion of paddy and ruminant no.s are the main contributors. Globally megafauna skyrocketed after industrial revolution from 0.2E12 kg to 1.4E12kg (here, fig 5). 

    Of course methane was produced from animals pre-human even, but it is the vast increase in no.s post industrial rev that is the anthropogenic part of emissions.

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  14. Not just bison, but they were the dominant ruminant by far in pre-industrial praire. deer and sheep are ruminants, but praire dogs and grasshoppers arent. I am certainly not reading vegan literature. I am meat eater and all for better agricultural management. I also believe we need food and that you cant grow protein groups on soils that we graze sheep on. What I am reading is IPCC reports and associated literature. No problem is solved by pretending it doesnt exist.

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  15. @Scaddenp 

    Total emissions from agricultural ruminants went from a little less than 2GT CO2e in 1970 to a little more than 2.3GT CO2e in 2010: less than 20% in 40 years. Meanwhile there are no hard numbers, but wildlife ruminants actually decreased over that same time period and species after species runs precariously close to extinction. But even ignoring that, it is an increase easily offset by simply putting those animals back on pasture where they belong and managing it properly.

    Meanwhile what do you suppose the emissions from other things actually causing AGW were during that same time period? Tripled. 300%

    More importantly 1970s is when Nixon's Agriculture Secretary Earl Butz favored increased agricultural exports of grain and basically started the whole new business model of over production of grain as an international political tool/weapon. Any country with a differing political view? Just dump cheap grain on them and drive their idigenous farmers out of business. He went all over the country telling farmers to "get big or get out" and to plow up their fallow fields and start planting "fence row to fence row" That destructive business model then exported to other countries as well. Of course with all the fields plowed up, that meant we had to start feeding all that glut of excess grain to cattle and the even more destructive CAFO business model was developed and also exported around the world. All that extra land that before then was capable of mitigating AGW, now in a production model that contributes to AGW. I already gave you the links showing over 70% reduction in methanotrophs, but equally bad was similar reductions of Mycorrhizal fungi and other soil biota which also helps mitigate AGW.

    If you are insistent on blaming agriculture, don't blame the cow, blame Earl Butz.

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  16. That would be called moving the goalposts. Pre-1970 doesnt count? Paddy coverage has also be fairly stable. It is good that until recently Ch4 emissions have been relatively stable since early 1990s. Noone is blaming AGW on agriculture. CO2 from FF is unquestionably the main problem, but you cant ignore CH4 either.

    If you want to show that say, MIRG, is benign, then need to show that:

    (CO2e emissions/ha/yr now - Co2e emission/ha/yr pre-industrial ) < SOC increase/ha/yr

    The CO2e emission pre-industrial is tied down pretty well by earlier reference. "CO2e emissions /ha/yr now" = emission/head/yr * stocking rate - oxidation/ha by methanotrophs/ha/yr (the latter tied by del Grosso). The main numbers I am missing is SOC change for MIRG - you got reference for that?  - and stocking rate which I cant seem to tie down.

    As to methanotrophs, I have already given you references to fact that methane oxidation is relatively insignificant to ruminant emissions, but by all means include it. To show grazing better than grain, then you need to show that SOC loss and methane oxidation loss is greater than previous grazing emission load. However, I notice plenty of papers showing increase in SOC under grain cropping by using no-tillage and/or better rotation farming.

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  17. Was discussing this with a landcare scientist and we would be really interested to hear about SOC accumulation rates under MIRG. If land is not under constant irrigation support then meaningful data must cover dry spell. Apparently there is interesting data (ie high SOC) coming in for some irrigated or high rainfall intensive grazing regimes here.

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  18. Nuts. On closer examination, the high SOC gains were only short term. On decadal scale SOC was either stable or reducing. but depends on soil type.

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  19. @scaddenp #117

    I gave you two studies already (one focusing on water holding capacity which is directly related to carbon in the soil and the other here[1]), as far as anything comprehensive that includes all the various forms of MIRG in all the various climatic and soil conditions, I haven't seen that quantified anywhere yet. It might be a good thing for someone to do. The closest to that I have found is this 

    "Rates of C sequestration by type of improvement ranged from 0.11 to 3.04 Mg C·ha−1 yr−1, with a mean of 0.54 Mg C·ha−1·yr−1, and were highly influenced by biome type and climate. We conclude that grasslands can act as a significant carbon sink with the implementation of improved management.[2]" And even that includes all sorts "improvement", and doesn't really simply compare MIRG to set stock rate continuous grazing.

    This isn't really a scientific study, but might be useful to you in helping show you the mechanics behind how to properly start. Then of course if you applied holistic management as described post #77 with the monitoring and adaptive management plan, it would help you personally optimise it for your own particulars:  "This bulletin covers the basic principles underlying all types of rotational grazing. Management intensive rotational grazing will be emphasized because it offers a number of advantages over both continuous grazing and less intensive rotational systems.
    These include
    ■ more stable production during
    poor growing conditions (especially
    ■ greater yield potential,
    ■ higher quality forage available,
    ■ decreased weed and erosion
    problems, and
    ■ more uniform soil fertility levels.
    There are many names for intensive rotational grazing: Voisin grazing, Hohenheim grazing, intensive grazing management, management intensive grazing, short duration grazing, Savory systems, strip grazing, controlled grazing, and high-intensity, low-frequency grazing. Although each term implies slight differences in management, they all refer to some sort of intensive rotational grazing system."..."Rotational grazing also can increase the amount of forage harvested per acre over continuous grazing by as much as 2 tons dry matter per acre.[3]" Keep in mind while this is harvested forage and no figures were given for carbon sequestration, An increase of 2 tons harvested means ~4 tons above ground increase in vegetation with and even larger increase below ground+an additional 30% in root exudates that feed the soil food web. As we discussed before that is active fraction, not stable, but the below ground is where the stable fraction forms. So at least in Minnisota that's big increases.

    Specifically for sequestered carbon I would send your soil scientist friend to contact Jay Furher. I know he did and is still doing some case studies for the USDA that are measuring carbon.

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  20. @scaddenp #118

    Yes, that has been seen before other places too. That is the specific thing Savory set to work figuring out and correcting, and what the big deal is over his holistic management. Knowing that is going to happen, proactively monitoring for it, and knowing how to adapt before it decreases ecosystem function, in every sort of complex situation is exactly what Savory has been working on for the last several decades. Which is why he is the top grazing scientist in the world.

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  21. @RedBaron I'm not sure if the way you talk around points made or recast them to your own misuse is motivated by your enthusiasm to be fpound correct or if it's wilful misspeech, but either way your claim that some methane is not going to travel vertically away from the soil and never see the inside of a soil biota's digestion mechanism.

    Your claim that the methane that isn't fixed in the soil meets abiotic oxidation is does not erase the problematic nature of methane for CC. Methane has a CO2-e co-efficient of 86 using 20 year GWP. That's what IPCC say, and methane's CO2-e co-efficent has been upwardly revised each and every Assessment Report. Perhaps you are refering to some process that reduces the CO2-e co-effcient of methane in the atmosphere that is not accounted for in the latest IPCC AR?

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  22. @RedBaron I'm not sure if the way you talk around points made or recast them to your own misuse is motivated by your enthusiasm to be fpound correct or if it's wilful misspeech, but either way your claim that some methane is not going to travel vertically away from the soil and never see the inside of a soil biota's digestion mechanism.

    Your claim that the methane that isn't fixed in the soil meets abiotic oxidation is does not erase the problematic nature of methane for CC. Methane has a CO2-e co-efficient of 86 using 20 year GWP. That's what IPCC say, and methane's CO2-e co-efficent has been upwardly revised each and every Assessment Report. Perhaps you are refering to some process that reduces the CO2-e co-effcient of methane in the atmosphere that is not accounted for in the latest IPCC AR?

    You're making a large assumption that the decrease of methane outflow from pasture ruminants is greater than the reduced methane outflows from ruminants in the lots have due to dietary interventions. Again, elegant rhetioric is not what's required here, ugly data will suffice.  

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  23. @RedBaron I'm not sure if the way you talk around points made or recast them to your own misuse is motivated by your enthusiasm to be fpound correct or if it's wilful misspeech, but either way your claim that some methane is not going to travel vertically away from the soil and never see the inside of a soil biota's digestion mechanism is somehow still a sink is extremely odd and unsubstanciated in science.

    Your claim that the methane that isn't fixed in the soil meets abiotic oxidation is does not erase the problematic nature of methane for CC. Methane has a CO2-e co-efficient of 86 using 20 year GWP. That's what IPCC say, and methane's CO2-e co-efficent has been upwardly revised each and every Assessment Report. Perhaps you are refering to some process that reduces the CO2-e co-effcient of methane in the atmosphere that is not accounted for in the latest IPCC AR?

    You're making a large assumption that the decrease of methane outflow from pasture ruminants is greater than the reduced methane outflows from ruminants in the lots have due to dietary interventions. Again, elegant rhetioric is not what's required here, ugly data will suffice.

    @SkepticalScience… get a 5 minute edit window functionality for god's sake, it's the mature thing to do.

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  24. @RedBaron I'm not sure if the way you talk around points made or recast them to your own misuse is motivated by your enthusiasm to be found correct or if it's wilful misspeech. Whatever, your claim that signifcant methane is not going to travel vertically away from the soil, never seeing the inside of a soil biota's digestion mechanism, and this methane you don't concede to is even so still a GHG sink is extremely odd and unsubstanciated in science.

    Your claim that the methane that isn't fixed in the soil meets abiotic oxidation is does not erase the problematic nature of methane for CC. Methane has a CO2-e co-efficient of 86 using 20 year GWP. That's what IPCC say in AR 5, and methane's CO2-e co-efficent has been upwardly revised each and every Assessment Report. Perhaps you are refering to some process that reduces the CO2-e co-effcient of methane in the atmosphere by pastures being hundreds of metres below the centre of the lower atmosphere that is not accounted for in the latest IPCC AR?

    You're making a large assumption that the decrease of methane outflow from pasture ruminants is greater than the reduced methane outflows from ruminants in the lots have due to dietary interventions. Again, elegant rhetioric is not what's required here, ugly data will suffice.

    @SkepticalScience… get a 5-10 minute edit window functionality for Dawkin's sake, it's the mature thing to do.

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  25. I'm concerned with the presentation of this page and the more recent version.

    The Zero Carbon Australia Land Use Report found that a proper and full accounting of GHG emissions pegs Land Use at 55% of emissions using 20 year GWP. As you'd be aware 20 yr GWP is significant, given the perilous state of many climatic system and stocks of ice etc. Even using 100 year GWP which tends to obscure the effects in near term on climate systems of methane and black carbon it will soon be at 50% of national emissions.

    The major contributing factors were found to be land clearing (often cyclical), savannah burning (repeated) and centric fermentation. This would make it likely that GHG emissions in North and South America might be in that vicinity given the large amount of Amazonian and other old growth forest clearing going on to grow cattle and soy crops to feed north american cattle.

    90% of that 55% of national emissions using 20yr GWP is associated with livestock ruminants, mostly the large extended zone pastural operations in northern Australia, mostly for cattle.

    By presenting this argument using standard UNFCCC accounting which majorly obscures, re-assigns and ignores emissions and removal of sequestration sources associate with Land Use Sector you are in fact perpetuating a myth not debunking one.

    To my best knowledge the ZCA Land Use Report was peer reviewed and supervised within MSSI (University of Melbourne) and has not be refuted in the literature. Nor has it's conclusion that 55% of Australia's national GHG emissions using 20 yr PWG are from the Land Use Sector. I'd ask the you rename these pages to be less pejorative and more in line with the science and debate if you want to call it that.

    Given that much of the old growth forest clearing going on in the world to produce more ruminnent grazing pasture and crops to feed ruminents and animals in general, and that this OGF is the greatest CO2 sequester known to man, and that it's impossible to regain the sequestration levels once OGFs are logged, even after a century, it's doubly important that land use sector emissions be seen as the major problem, perhaps the greatest problem in the short term for GHGs reduction (ignoring the politics of livestock lobby vs ff lobby), then renaming this Page and the old version is required.

    Alastair Leith
    Climate Activist and Campaigner

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  26. @"As to methanotrophs, I have already given you references to fact that methane oxidation is relatively insignificant to ruminant emissions, but by all means include it." and several related points and posts 

    What you are missing is when that observation was measured, before or after ~70%+ of the methanotrophs were exterpated from agricultural soils. I actually agree 100% that biotic methane oxidation is relatively insignificant to ruminant emissions NOW. That's the whole point. It is disgraceful. I am stunned you proposal would actually fight against restoring that lost ecosystem function, by blaming the tool that can best restore biotic communities in the soil when managed properly, the ruminant herbivore.

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  27. addition and clarification to the above post

    I am comparing a ~70%+ reduction of methanotrophs (other soil biota too)  with a 20% atmospheric increase in animal husbandry CO2e over the same time period. With agriculture now ~40% of the terrestrial surface, it is no wonder that methane oxidation is relatively insignificant to ruminant emissions now. Not to mention all the other sources of methane. It is no wonder the rest of the terrestrial biosphere is incapable of keeping up and methane is rising.

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  28. @ wideEyedPupil #125

    OGF was long thought to be carbon neutral, recent studies showing that rather it can sequester roughly 2 tonnes C / hectare / yr [1] possibly the reason for the discrepency being the higher CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Giving you the benefit of the doubt.

    An improved grassland management system sequesters 0.11 to 3.04 tonnes C / hectare / yr and feeds a whole lot more human beings. [2] and that's on much dryer land, which is why it is grassland in the first place.

    Obviously it is counter productive to cut down OGF to raise grains to supply feedlots. However, from the start everyone here on this thread has agreed. There is no debate. The debate is the myth 'animal agriculture and eating meat are the biggest causes of global warming.' and associated rebuttal. 

    The rebuttal is correct, it is a myth. and also in so much as  animal husbandry does contribute slightly to AGW, it is only due to the models of production, not the cow itself, as explained on multiple posts above with multiple references. Most particularly:

    Environmental impacts on the diversity of methane-cycling microbes and their resultant function

    A feedlot uses grains. Those grains produced with haber process nitrogen. So look at what the study says about that. "In a temperate agricultural soil, long-term fertilization with ammonium nitrate reduced methanotroph abundance by >70%"

    Now compare with a cow raised on a properly managed pasture fertilised by the cow's own waste. "In contrast, organic fertilizer addition can increase methanotroph abundance and associated rates of methane oxidation"

    So you see? It has nothing to do with the cow, it is a flaw in the factory farming production model that needs fixed. You fix that by scrapping the flawed CAFO production model and replacing it with a different type of pasture based intensive system that doesn't have those same flaws. No cutting of OGF required. In fact that would be counter productive. Instead you would want to convert cropland to pasture and regenerate soil health.

    This also shows that the vegan idea of eliminating animal husbandry is flawed as well. Because without animal waste you are stuck with haber process nitrogen fertiliser. And what does that do? Reduce methanotroph populations by over 70%. No solution there either.

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  29. Redbaron. Thanks very much for that Conant et al reference. That is what I was looking for. That is truly impressive and also directly counter to NZ experience which means someone needs to figure out why. I have passed it to friends for comment.

    In NZ, dairy farmers pour masses of industrial nitrogen onto grassland. I would gratified to hear that MIRG in US doesnt? I would also love to know what the stocking rate is. Do you know?

    If I understand correctly, you believe the very best measured methane oxidation rates in grassland are also degraded and could be improved? Despite being same for unmanaged native grassland? Do have data to support the idea that MIRG increases methane oxidation rates?

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  30. I would also say that there is a big difference between what can be done and is being done. Across whole of US, grazing is not net Co2e sink at the moment and nor can you blame feedlots only. It appears with appropriate management, you can make grazing a net sink. However, it would also seem possible that can make grain production a net sink as well. Other considerations come into this.

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  31. @scaddenp #130,

    You said,"I would also say that there is a big difference between what can be done and is being done." 

    Agreed 95% of beef in the US is feedlot and 50% of the grasslands are overgrazed. Very little of the rest is actually MIRG, although there is a big push by the USDA to change that, even a demonstration here in central OK last week. Very convincing I might add. There are also large tracts undergrazed and slowly turning to desert because of this. USA is a big country. even with all that, there are plenty of inovative farmers developing models for the next revolution in agriculture, leaps and bounds ahead of the rest.

    The only reason I even started that line of discussion in the thread was to point out the false dichotomy logic flaw. You have an industry contributing to AGW. The false dichotomy being that the only choice to change that is end agriculture/animal husbandry or accept the climate impact. There is a third option of improving the production model. I actually know dozens of ways farmers have made improvements crop farmers, ranchers and integrated combination farms. I am developing one myself as of yet unproven. But all that specifics is off topic and only serves to aide AGW denialists by diverting the attention away from the real problems we have existing right now.

    You do understand why AGW denialists are using that false dichotomy right? Since we have to eat, the false dichotomy becomes only 1 choice, ignore the whole thing. And the reason the Vegans like the false dichotomy is they change it to "convert the whole world to veganism or ignore AGW" and hope to gain recruits.

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  32. Um, 14% of beef is feedlot, not 95%.

    "There are also large tracts undergrazed and slowly turning to desert because of this". I am intrigued. How does undergrazing lead to desert? I would have thought desert was a water thing. Fence anything off from grazing here and it rapidly turns into woodland, even in dry areas.

    I agree about the false dichotomy. There is more than one way to fix most problems. You get the same thing from hard-line socialists. "AGW cant be solved without ending capitalism". Yeah, right. Or, the "we must go back horse and cart pre-industrial world". Vegans are a varied lot in my experience. Their evangelization efforts (those that do) often sound to me more like justifying to themselves their choices. Like many things we do, (including climate-change denial) the choice is often value-based with post-hoc rationalization. Making choices based on data is not a natural human activity even for scientists.

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  33. @scaddenp

    You said, " I am intrigued. How does undergrazing lead to desert?"

    You are right, it is a water thing, but once again you need to take that reductionism and put it back together as part of a whole. It is water, but water in the soil. Water infiltration rates and holding capacity of the soil is dependant on SOM and cover. The brush and scrub that succeeds after undergrazing in dry brittle environments leads to bare soil and losses of SOM, which starts a downward spiral of increased runoff and erosion, more rapid evaporation, ultimately to desertification just like overgrazing does.

    The important part to this thread being SOM is carbon and we have far too much in the atmosphere and worldwide far too little in the soil.

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  34. OnceJolly @61:

    The accumulated biomass of the animals is already accounted for in the block diagram. The net input is 7.27 Gt, the net output is 2.58 Gt leaving the rest as 4.69 Gt metabolized.

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  35. Jim Eager@62:

    As humans, we are all biased. I am an unabashed advocate of Ahimsa (nonviolence) and prefer that my biases stem from that position.

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  36. Foolonthehill @73:

    With regard to the use of the term "rabid vegan" in this forum, it falls under the "ad hominem" variety of scientific denial. Unfortunately, the scientific community is in denial on the leading role of Animal Agriculture in causing our environmental ills because most scientists consume animal foods.

    In Rio 1992, there were 3 conventions that were originated as UN conventions:
    1. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity,
    2. The UN Convention to Combat Desertification, and
    3. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

    The first two conventions are not receiving much attention and indeed, their web sites ( & still look like their 90s version, because Animal Agriculture is indisputably the leading cause of these environmental devastations. But even with respect to climate change, it is only through accounting chicanery that we are pretending that Animal Agriculture is not a leading cause of climate change. As our AGU paper shows, the foregone carbon sequestration alone through Animal Agriculture exceeds the 240 GtC that humans have added to the atmosphere since 1750!

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  37. saileshrao:

    First, while the phrase "rabid vegan" is certainly ad hominen, and inappropriate, there is no doubt that you are pursuing a vegan agenda.

    Second, I find your cooption of the principle of ahimsa to veganism dubious at best.  For those who do not know, ahimsa is the principle of non-violence espoused by Ghandi, and which has deep roots in Indian religious tradition.  I do not think there is any doubt that Ghandi was its most prominent, and foremost proponent in the modern era yet he was a lacto-vegetarian.  Granted he aspired to veganism, but drank goats milk for health reasons.  In doing so he made a clear moral distinction between eating dairy products, and eating meat (which he said he would not do, even at risk of his life - see second link in the previous sentence).

    On a side note, despite my very great respect for Ghandi, I do not accept ahimsa as a moral principle on the basis that a moral code should not be a suicide pact.  While ahimsa worked for Ghandi in India, it would not have worked in South Africa, and would certainly not have worked for the jews against Hitler.

    Third, and more directly on topic, the cooption of Net Primary Production (NPP) by humans is significantly overstated by the XKCD cartoon shown on your website (and by Andy Skuce above).  While the 110 MtC in domestic animals and 40 MtC in humans is massively more than the vertebrates, it pales in comparison to the 400 MtC in marine invertebrates, 700 MtC in land invertebrates, 4500 MtC in fungi, and multiple tens of thousands of MtC in prokaryotes. (Sourced from the same source used by XKCD, see apendix F.)

    Fourth, turning to your poster at the AGU, you postulate that restoring 19.6 million Km^2 of land to forest would sequester 265.2 GtC.  Given that the cumulative emissions from LUC since 1850 amounts to 170 GtC, that is dubious.  You appear to require the reforestation to sequester >55% more carbon then the deforestation emitted.  Poster's not being papers, and hence not self explanatory, I cannot see your justification for that assumption.  It may be premised on the CO2 fertization effect which show prominently.  However, the global CO2 fertilization effect amounts to 30 GtC, 32% of the shortfall.  So, in the first instance it is unreasonable to expect the CO2 fertilization effect to make up the discrepancy from 15% of the land; and in the second instance, if the reversion of the land has a sufficient sequestration effect as to reduce the atmospheric CO2, it will also reverse the CO2 fertilization effect - turning the biosphere (and ocean) into net sources rather than net sinks.

    Your refuge from these inconsistentcies appears to be that the IPCC got it wrong because the world's scientists are biased by their meat eating habit.  This strikes me as far too similar to Monckton's similar charge of bias based on the world's scientists percieved authoritarian, internationalist and bureaucratic political views.  A conspiracy view of science is a conspiracy view of science no matter what the politics of the proponent.  However, even granting you are correct on this point, if biomes contain more carbon than previously estimated (as is required by your figures), then equally the airborne fraction of CO2 from combined FF&LUC emissions must be much smaller than IPCC estimates.  It follows that your 256 GtC will result in a reduction of significantly less than 50 ppmv of CO2.  That would make it a very minor player relative to industrial emissions with regard to future CO2 concentration history.

    Bringing in my meat eating bias, it would also make it a very economically and gastronomically expensive sequestration measure.   

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  38. @saileshrao 136,

    I cant see the paper to judge the acuracy, nor even exactly to what grasslands you are refering. Most the historical grasslands are gone. For example the tallgrass prairie of N America is somewhere around 95% extirpated, currently either in crop production or slowly turning to desert due to undergrazing. However, of special note, there is no other ecosystem in America that removes as much carbon[1]. Converting the remnant to forest, if you could, would only decrease sequestration long term not increase it. Although you might get a short term gain in some cases. The shortgrass prairie still has some remenant, but it is too dry to support a true forest for the most part. Undergrazing even more destructive to that ecosystem.

    Perhaps you mean deforested areas instead of grassland pastures? Most deforested areas were done so to harvest lumber, or plant crops, not to make pasture. Usually only going to pasture once the soil deteriorates so badly nothing of value but scrub or weeds will grow. The very reason pasture is used being that previously mentioned trait, no other ecosystem sequesters as much carbon in the soil, and hense no other ecosystem regenerates the soil faster. Now of course once the soil is regenerated, then letting it go to savanna, woods, forest is an option. Just keep in mind savanna and woods both still support grazing.

    Still without being able to actually see the paper, hard to review it. Did it even subtract the carbon sequestration from lost grassland before adding the carbon sequestered by forest? Is it counting actual long term sequestered carbon in the long or stable cycle? Or short - medium term sequestered carbon in above ground biomass? IE the active cycle? Active cycle carbon reaches a saturation point as forest matures.

    Extraordinary claims need extraordinary evidence. I am afraid that link you posted only makes a claim. Where is the evidence?

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  39. Tom Curtis @137:

    First, Indeed, I do pursue a nonviolent, vegan "agenda". I consider it inhuman to deliberately hurt innocent animals unnecessarily. So does Pope Francis, since he stated in the Laudato Si,
    "It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly."
    That is Ahimsa and that is Veganism. Veganism is not a diet, but a moral stance and it is precisely the modern implementation of Ahimsa.

    Second, Ahimsa is a Sanskrit word that first appeared in the Rig Veda. It is the negation of "Himsa", which means to cause deliberate suffering to innocent beings unnecessarily. Indeed, Gandhi said in his 1931 speech to the London Vegetarians Union that he tried to pursue a vegan diet several times (though the word was not coined until the 1950s) but failed, most likely because he did not have ready access to a sufficient variety of plant-based foods. Today, given the smorgasbord of nuts, grains, seeds, fruits and vegetables available to the affluent worldwide, the American Dietetic Association has stated that it is unnecessary to eat animal foods of any kind at any stage of the human lifecycle. Indeed, since animal foods accumulate environmental toxins by orders of magnitude up the food chain, and since humans are pumping billions of tons of freshly produced environmental toxins annually, it is increasingly more unhealthy to consume animal foods, than to go on a vegan diet.

    In addition, In India until the 1960s, the cow was generally treated very well and milk was drawn from the mother for human use only after her baby finished drinking her/his fill. While such treatment might have been consistent with Ahimsa, I'm truly disgusted by the treatment of the cow in India today almost as much as I have always been horrified by her enslavement, exploitation and oppression in Western countries.

    Third, I don't understand your reference to Net Primary Productivity (NPP) cooption. I assume you mean that you disagree with the biomass estimates in the XKCD graphic?

    The XKCD graphic was specifically about land mammals and was based on Vaclav Smil's book. The estimate by Barnosky in the PNAS paper is for megafauna on land. But there is an independent line of evidence confirming these estimates - in the IPCC AR5.

    The IPCC AR5 Land Use block diagram in WG3/CH11/p.836 shows that the livestock system consume 7.27 GtC of dry matter biomass as food extracted from 45% of the ice-free land area of the planet, while humans consume 1.54 GtC. Subtracting out the meat/dairy/egg/waste output and considering the annual change in biomass to be negligible, we see that livestock metabolize 4.69 GtC while humans metabolize 0.93 GtC. Therefore, livestock metabolize 5X the dry matter biomass as all humans.

    The reason livestock metabolize 5X the biomass as all humans when livestock biomass is estimated to be around 3X the biomass of all humans is because the livestock mix is skewed towards a preponderance of babies and juveniles. Ultimately, it is the consumption that matters more than their physical mass.

    In addition, in the 2014 edition of its annual Living Planet Report, the World Wildlife Fund reported that the Living Planet Index (LPI), which measures the biomass of over 10,000 representative mammal, amphibian, bird, reptile and fish species, had declined by 52% between 1970 and 2010. During that same 40 year period, the human population of the world almost doubled from 3.7 billion to 7 billion and human per capita consumption also nearly doubled so that the net human impact on the planet nearly quadrupled. Unlike the standard predator-prey ecological model that predicts a reduction in predator intake as prey population declines, human beings have deployed technologies to continue the exponential increase in our consumption despite significant declines in the LPI. For instance, we now use remote sensors, satellite imagery and big data software technologies to track and catch fish stocks in the ocean even as they swim at depths of 2000m below sea level. If such exponential growth in the human impact on the planet continues apace into the future, it is easy to show that the remaining biodiversity of the planet will be extinguished by 2025. Therefore it appears inevitable that global lifestyle changes will be imposed upon humanity within the next 1-2 decades and it is incumbent upon us to ask what global lifestyle changes can be adopted voluntarily today so that they result in a softer transition towards a sustainable future.

    Fourth, I presume that you accept my statements on the deleterious effect of livestock production on 1) biodiversity loss and on 2) desertification. Otherwise, focusing on just my third point would fall under "Cherry Picking" in John Cook's list of denial types.

    Even in the third point, the CO2 fertilization factor varies across forest biomes as we show in the table in our poster here. The highest value is 1.76 for tropical evergreen forests and the lowest is 1.12 for boreal deciduous forests. We also started from 1800, not 1850. Unfortunately, the HYDE database has more uncertainty as we go back further, but as Bill Ruddiman has pointed out, deforestation has been happening for thousands of years, not just in the industrial era. 

    Please note that we also validated our results with 20 year regrowth measurements from Silver et al.

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  40. RedBaron @138:

    The answers to your questions are in the poster that you can download here. Specifically,

    Grasslands and Pasturelands (Grazing lands + Extensive grazing lands in IPCC parlance) constitute 47.3 MKm2 of land area worldwide in 2014 (it is 46 MKm2 in the IPCC AR5 Land use block diagram). In total, these lands contained 52.8 GtC in 2014.

    The 19.6 MKm2 of grasslands that used to be forests in 1800 contained 27.5 GtC. When reverted to their original forest biomes and upon forest maturity, this land sequestered 292.7 GtC so that the difference is 265.1 GtC, which is the stated result. We also assumed that the CO2 levels in the atmosphere didn't change during the forest regeneration as fossil fuels continue to get burned.

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  41. @sailesshrao,

    I downloaded the chart. Doesn't really answer all my questions about how the data was obtained. on #119 above, I show a source that measured changes similar to your source #139.

    Impacts were greater in woodland and grassland biomes than in forest, desert, rain forest, or shrubland  biomes

    Now of course that study was not the abandoned tropical (rain) forest land that your study post #139 was about. Also they are not exactly the same as silver et al measured biomass and included that, whereas Conant et al was soil carbon. But I do think comparing them can be useful in understanding a few things. Look at your source: "faster rates during the first 20 years" and

    "soil carbon accumulates faster on sites that were cleared but not developed, and on pasture sites."

    and think what is going on.  Planted trees into either of these means for the first several years, there are grasses/forbs between the young trees, and there is why the soil carbon was increasing faster. Later the new forest canopy matures, closes and the grassland dies. Then the main mode of soil carbon accumulation changes to litter on top of the soil and slows.

    Nevertheless in wet and moist tropical climates the above ground biomass accumulation is quite impressive, 6.2 Mg ha−1 yr−1 during the first 20 years of succession! However the soil sequestration potential of proper managed grassland, opposed to the abandoned pastures used in the study, is double to triple the rate of the best reforestation methods. 1.30 Mg carbon ha−1 yr−1 vs 3.04 Mg C·ha−1 yr−1

    This suggests that in areas where tropical forests were subject to slash and burn, a successional strategy can be employed. Starting with grassland pasture to stabilise the soil and then succeeding to the native tropical forest and/or a permiculture style multi species food forest for those communities that can't afford to reduce food production. 

    I know of tropical reforest projects that forgot the importance of keeping the grasses cycled with ruminants, and decades of wonderful work destroyed by wildfire. All that above ground biomass sequestered carbon released at once. But if they had known about the function of the ruminant in the biome, this likely would not have happened. A few more years and the canopy would have closed and the risk of wildfire significantly reduced.

    Temporate and dry tropical areas a bit different, but the basic strategy is the same. Large areas here are grassland/savanna in their top successional stage. obviously in those areas planting a forest is counter productive and to manage this land properly requires a ruminant herbivore to cycle large quantities of above ground biomass, feeding all the soil food web in the process. But in areas where forest is the top successional state, the same strategy can be employed as above. It just takes longer, going from grassland to savanna to woods to forest step by step, the first three steps requiring grazers to properly manage the transistion.

    The advantages are twofold. One you do produce food for human nutritional needs, and two by starting with a properly managed grassland first, soils are stabilised and if fire should impact, the soil sequestered carbon is still there allowing fast regrowth.

    However, the problem with using the 292.7 GtC number is firstly much of that is above ground biomass and not really sequestered in the long term stabile carbon cycle yet. Also it assumeS grassland sequestration is zero when actually under the right conditions even larger than forest sequestration already. In certain conditions that change from pasture to forest can actually be a net reduction in sequestration rate. Each has its advantages, but in differing locals and climatic conditions. So you don't need to do one or the other, but instead a blend of both. And it likely wont be anywhere near 292.7 GtC unless grassland restoration is also included. You do need livestock for that.

    I will link an interview with John D Liu because he is a research fellow specialising in ecosystem recovery and once he held a similar stance as you, but later after looking at the evidence changed his views.

    John D Liu talks about Allan Savory & Holistic Management


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  42. RedBaron #141:

    Our objective should be to restore biodiversity, reverse desertification and heal the climate, all simultaneously as our proposed solution aims to do. Holistic management doesn't aim to do that. Besides,

    1. Even if a hypothetical "holistically managed" grassland could sequester more carbon than grassland that is otherwise managed, the fact is that as of 2014, ALL grasslands and pasturelands on earth, put together, contained 52.8 GtC in soil + above ground biomass, according to the Integrated Science Assessment Model (ISAM).

    2. In holistically managed livestock production, the livestock biomass is periodically being removed from the land, eaten and flushed into the ocean, thereby constantly depleting nutrients from the land. Such one-way nutrient removal is unsustainable.

    The numbers we obtain from ISAM comprise both above ground and soil carbon. Therefore, I don't understand your point:

    "However, the problem with using the 292.7 GtC number is firstly much of that is above ground biomass and not really sequestered in the long term stabile carbon cycle yet."

    Typically, at maturity, carbon sequesters in the soil and above ground in fixed ratios depending upon the forest biome. Are you suggesting that above ground carbon in a native forest is "not stable"? Is that because they could catch fire? If so, I refer you to Chad Hanson's work showing how fires are an integral part of certain native forest biomes and that they have negligible impact on the long-term and even short-term carbon sequestration. Please see, for e.g., here.

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  43. @saileshrao

    Preface false

    1 false the 52.8 GtC number does not even appear in your source. Even if it did, the way you phrased it shows ignorance of the fact 60-80% of the biomass of grasslands is below ground, and 30% of the total products of photosynthesis is root exudates that do not become part of the biomass either above or below, instead directly pumping these carbon compounds directly into the soil to feed the symbiotic soil food web.

    2 false

    You don't understand my point because you don't understand how the biosphere cycles carbon, making your recommendations, like most vegan recommendations, highly dangerous and potentially very harmfull. Yes fires are part of certain biomes, they are not normally part of a rainforest biome. Fires where part of the natural biome do not represent part of AGW due to the fact they recycle active cabon, not stable carbon. One reason the majority of biomass in a grassland subject to perioding fires is below ground, safe from fire unless too frequent. But your proposal identifies above ground biomass as sequestered carbon, it may in some cases, but actually it is active carbon, not stable carbon. It really isn't sequestered except temporarily. So this is why these biomes reach a "saturation" point upon maturity.


    Further, to gain a better understanding of the ruminant's function in a biome read your own source particularly this:

    "N is a limiting nutrient for plant growth in mid- and
    high-latitude regions (Vitousek & Howarth, 1991). In tropical
    regions, N is not considered a limiting nutrient,
    because the warmer and wetter tropical climate enhances
    N mineralization in soils (Vitousek & Howarth, 1991;
    Cleveland & Townsend, 2006) and biological N fixation is
    high (Yang et al., 2009)."

    The ecosystem function of that rumen is to provide the "warmer wetter" environment needed to increase mineralizaton. Without it external fossil fuel nitrogen is required to prevent nitrogen limiting. AND Haber process nitrogen besides being it's own missions source, also significantly negatively impacts soil total biota and diversity. That's why more is needed, not less. Of course there is a limit. You can overgraze too. But up to the limit of overgrazing, more, not less, is needed. Keeping in mind overgrazing is a function of time, not numbers of animals. I already explained previously how overgrazing actually forces a reduction of numbers.

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  44. saileshrao @139:

     1)  The pope, apparently, prefers "...frugal, healthy meals made up of fruit, skinless chicken, and salads, with the occasional glass of wine."  Ergo he is not even a vegetarian, let alone a vegan.  It follows that whatever constitutes making animals "suffer and die needlessly" in his opinion, it does not include killing them for meat.  To quote him to suggest otherwise is to misrepresent him.  Nor does it encourage me in believing yours is a "moral stance".  (Perhaps you should look up the meaning of satyagraha).

    2)  Whatever Ghandi's desires, the fact is that he was not a vegan.  It follows that veganism is not necessary for the practise of ahimsa.  Your insistence that it does merely speaks to your dogmatism, not to the meaning of the word, or the philosophy.  It suggest that because you are unable to argue for veganism on its own merits you need to coopt a well recognized moral philosophy and argue falsely that veganism is the only expression of that philosophy.

    As to actual dairy practises, I spent time on a dairy farm (in western Victoria) in my youth, and the practises were not cruel.  Certainly they could be developed to be so (and may have been), and I would be against that development - but there is no necessary connection between dairy products and animal cruelty as you yourself acknowledge.  Nor is there a necessary connection between meat products and animal cruelty although cruel slaughter practises may be more typical than not.

    3)  The point of the XKCD cartoon was to simply draw attention to some curious facts about mammals.  You and Andy Skuce, however, use it to suggest humans have coopted most of the natural capacity of the world to support animals, it, most of NPP.  So used, it is misleading in the extreme as it does not quantify all animal biomass, only land mammal biomass.  Specifically, you state:

    "After all, it is clear from the breakdown of the weight of land mammals on Earth that the livestock sector is a huge albatross around our necks today. The biomass of humans today, is already 1.8 times the biomass of wild megafauna that was sustained in native ecosystems for millions of years prior to human ascendance. Therefore, why would we continue supporting livestock megafauna whose biomass is additionally triple that of humans?"

    Andy Skuce was more succinct, stating:

    "XKCD has a cartoon that nicely illustrates the disproportionate mass of the world's cattle, with the implication that they have an outsize ecological hoofprint."

    However, looking just at megafauna is fundamentally misleading about the world's sustainable biomass for the simple reason that prior to human impact, and even now, megafauna are a very small percentage of total biomass.  A more informative comparison would be to note that human and human domestic animal biomass has raised megafauna biomass from 7 to 17% of land animal biomass.  Even more informative would be to note that over the 20th century, Human Appropriation of Net Primary Production doubled from 13 to 25%.  Of course, much of that human appropriation was in the form of increased cropping, which isn't on message for the vegan agenda.


    "I presume that you accept my statements on the deleterious effect of livestock production on 1) biodiversity loss and on 2) desertification. Otherwise, focusing on just my third point would fall under "Cherry Picking" in John Cook's list of denial types."

    It is foolish and insulting to make any such presumption and/or accusation.  I used to have a disease:

    I don't have it anymore.  You can make all sorts of egregious errors and I may well ignore them because there is simply not enough time.

    But as you raise the issue:

    • The various great plains, savannah and other grasslands of the world sustained very large herds of hoofed animals for hundreds of thousands of years before human industrialization.  The idea that replacing those herds with human controlled herds of hoofed animals will necessarilly lead to desertification is absurd.  Some management practises may lead to that, but that at most leads to an argument for improving management practises.
    • Large scale herding operations can lead to a loss of biodiversity, but on nowhere near the scale of large scale growing of grains.
    • In both instanses, specific measures to deal with the problems are far better than blanket measures which are only indirectly related.  Preventing deforestation of tropical rainforest is more effective than banning beaf.  Those measures may well (indeed, will pobably) change the proportion of meat and vegetable matter farmed, with consequent changes in diet - but that is not the purpose of the measures, and merely legislating or volunarilly making the changes in diet is a very indirect and poor mechanism to drive the specific measures needed.

    4b)  Silver et al report sequestration for reclaimed tropical forest.  You are not entitled to apply it to all lands confirm your estimate.

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  45. Ha anyone consumed this paper yet? It's claims seem rather surprising.

    It suggests that a greater percentage of fruit and veggies in diets is worse for the environment.

    "These perhaps counterintuitive results are primarily due to USDA recommendations for greater Caloric intake of fruits, vegetables, dairy, and fish/seafood, which have relatively high resource use and emissions per Calorie."

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  46. @Tristan #145,

    Thanks for the link. I will be bookmarking it for further use.

    I was not aware of the paper, but certainly am aware of the problem. In fact it is my own research field. Even though I work with vegetables and not livestock, I researched the newer methods of each crop and animal husbandry type to find which had suceeded in turning agriculture from an unsustainable emissions source to a carbon sink. Or at least made big improvements over conventional, without losing yields and scalable. There are several. Already mentioned above in several posts are SRI for rice[1], and multi-species MIRG for livestock[2][3], but also you can add pasture cropping [4][5][6] for small grains like wheat and intensive dairy, various no till multi species cover crops [7][8][9] for commodity grains and cotton, integrated MIRG and orchard/vineyards for fruits and nuts.[10]

    Then I looked for the underlying principles in common.[11] All of these improve yields and soil health, while reducung and/or eliminating fossil fuel derived inputs at the same time. But a glaring lack of a proven method also scalable both large or small for most vegetables. Even large scale organic hasn't solved this yet. Though a few small scale permaculture methods have, they are not really easily scalable, too labor intensive. A few people have gotten close.

    So anyway I do believe I have a solution, but still as of yet unproven. I applied for a grant last year to have a case study done reviewed by a third party, but didn't get it. I will keep trying for the grant to document it properly, in the mean time still tweaking it. We will see. I mentioned this only to let you know you are absolutely correct about vegetables, but I personally see no fundamental reason that can't become a carbon sink as well... With a little more research and development. Not just me, but a lot of people are converging on that solution too.

    PS Sorry for the mixture of lay citations and scientific study citations, but some of these methods are so new, people don't even understand what I am talking about. All of these excepting my own research has already good evidence in case studies and/or published papers. And of course as soon as I am able, I will properly document my work as well.

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  47. Tom Curtis@144:

    1. Indeed, Pope Francis, being human, does not always do what he says. He consumed steak and lobster in NYC.

    2. I stand by my interpretation of Ahimsa, which is part of my cultural legacy. The Hindu Declaration on Climate Change has now explicitly called for the adoption of a plant-based vegan diet.

    3. Prof. Anthony Barnosky of UC Berkeley has stated that the excess human+livestock biomass of megafauna could only be supported with excess energy appropriated from fossil fuels in the industrial era.

    4. Silver et al. reported above ground regrowth measurements for tropical forests. The Integrated Science Assessment Model (ISAM) estimated both above ground and below ground carbon sequestration of all forest bomes at maturity.

    We stand by the results that we presented at the AGU Fall Meeting on Monday. For any clarifications on land carbon issues, please feel free to contact my co-author, Prof. Atul Jain, who is a contributor to the IPCC and a land carbon expert at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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  48. Tristan@145:

    Please see debunking here.

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  49. @saileshrao #147

    point #2) What you have there is a classic example of cherry picking and confirmation bias. You said "my interpretation of Ahimsa, which is part of my cultural legacy". Well your interpretation is not even close to your "cultural heritage". Veganism is an example of removing the individual religious dogma from the cultural heritage context. Nor does your link say what you think it says. From your link:"how we treat other animals" -nothing there about getting rid of the cow, rather about how the cow is treated. "Adopting a plant-based diet" - Plant based is not Vegan any more than "meat eater" is only meat. It mearly describes the bulk of the diet. In fact for those poor that can't afford enriched foods or supplements a Vegan diet is very harmful, or even fatal for the vast majority of people. Thus goes AGAINST the concept of ahimsa. Not to mention the harm to the environment. Also AGAINST the concept of ahimsa.

    If you are actually serious about your new religion, and want a true understanding of the cultural heritage behind it, look here. Explained very well.

    Point #3) Confirmation bias yet again. No where does that paper say getting rid of cows or other livestock, Rather it says, "efficient and sustainable food-production practices" are needed. And it says "means humans, can be sustained only by developing alternative energy resources to replace the dwindling supply of fossil fuels." 

    All of which means in agriculture, we need an efficient alternative to fossil fuel fertilizers. As explained to you multiple times, the most efficient alternative to that is the rumen, but other animals can help to a lessor degree. So efficient is the rumen in fact that it actually is far more efficient than the fossil fuels we typically use now in the Haber process. Managed properly of course.

    point #4) All good you stand behind your work. I also agree we need to reforest. We could do that far more likely by getting rid of the factory farming production model and instead use the livestock to help us in our efforts.

    Another couple quotes from someone who gets it, both the ethical and how livestock can be used for ecosystem regeneration.

    "In our culture we view the pigs as just so much inanimate protoplasmic structure to be manipulated however cleverly hubris can imagine to manipulate it. And I would suggest that a culture that views its plants and animals in that type of disrespectful, arrogant, manipulative standpoint will view its citizens the same way...and other cultures" Joel Salatin

    "The pigs do that work (by rooting in the forest and that creates the temporary disturbance on the ground that allows germination for higher successional species.) And so it allows for those pigs to be not just pork chops, bacon, and that. But now they then become co-conspirators and fellow laborers in this great land healing ministry ... by fully respecting the pigness of the pig." Joel Salatin

    PS Oh and by the way, it doesn't mean you must stop being vegan. Eat whatever you decide. What it means is you must stop blaming the domestic animals for how we mistreat them.

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  50. saileshrao @147:

    1)  Your attempt to avoid the consequences of your misinterpretation and misquotation of the pope by adopting the less parsimonious hypothesis of hypocrissy by the pope is noted.  For what it is worth, the pope (qua orthodox catholic) must believe that you can eat fish and lamb (at least) without sin, for Jesus was without sin according to Christian theology, and he certainly ate lamb at least once a year (passover) and is recorded as eating fish.  For the pope to be claiming what you say he claims, he must also be claiming that Jesus was not without sin.

    2)  Ahimsa is part of your cultural legacy, but your do not have an exclusive mandate for interpreting that legacy.  More importantly, that legacy has clearly been interpretted as permitting ovo/lacto- vegetariansim and even meat eating by a very large number of people sharing that heritage, including (for the former) Ghandi.  Further, the declaration you cite states:

    "Today we call on all Hindus to expand our conception of dharma. We must consider the effects of our actions not just on ourselves and those humans around us, but also on all beings. We have a dharmic duty for each of us to do our part in ensuring that we have a functioning, abundant, and bountiful planet."

    If Hindus are asked to expand their conception of dharma, then clearly the traditional recieved conception is not expanded.  That is, the declaration represents not an exposition of the tradition, but an attempt to reform it.  That in itself is evidence that the tradition does not contain unitary support for your interpretation of Ahimsa.

    The declaration also states:

    "Adopting a plant-based diet is one of the single most powerful acts that a person can take in reducing environmental impact."

    As an aside, I disagree with Red Baron's interpretation of "plant based diet", which need not imply veganism, but must at least imply vegeterianism.  It is, however, irrelevant unless you are of the opinion that a religious document can decide truth on matters of science.

    As a further aside, if it is morally wrong to kill cows for food on the basis that as Hindus you "... revere all life, human, non-human, plant, and animal", then it is equally wrong to kill insects that eat your crops so that you can have crops for food.  It follows that if veganism is a moral duty, it is equally a moral duty to not use insecticides nor even to drive off wild animals from your crops.  That rather calls into question the ability of the world to be fed on a vegan diet.  That is particularly the case as you ban one of the oldest forms of pest control - eating the pests (locusts are delicious by the way).

    3)  What Barnosky said was:

    "Precrash biomass levels were finally reached just before the Industrial Revolution began, then skyrocketed above the precrash baseline as humans augmented the energy available to the global ecosystem by mining fossil fuels."

    Except where plants are 'fed' by electric lighting to allow extended periods of photosynthesis, plants make no use of energy from fossil fuels.   Nor, as animals rely on plant food, does fossil fuel energy end up in plants.  The way fossil fuel energy is used is in supplying limiting factors (soil nitrogen, water), planting, harvesting and transport.  That allows the more efficient use of solar energy by the plants and the ecosystem as a whole.  Barnosky's inference that the large excess of biomass, indeed of food production of any sort is not possible without suitable power, that power can come from renewables or nuclear.

    This is not an issue unique to megafaunal biomass, and has no bearing whatsoever on the fact that domestic megafaunal biomass has increased by coopting food resources from the total range of animal biomass, not just megafauna.  Supression of locusts has contributed to the increase in domestic megafaunal biomass no less than has the reduction in bison numbers.  It follows that a biomass comparison that looks only at mammals is, as I indicated, misleading on the actual cooption of ecological resources.

    4)  You are welcome to stand by your results, but there is no consensus in favour of them, and the consensus possition as assessed by the IPCC shows your position to be an outlier.  Nor is your comment responsive to my point.

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