Does animal agriculture account for 51% of GHG emissions?

(Originally published May 2, 2016 on

Does animal agriculture account for 51% of green house gas emissions? As Twain’s quote suggests, this is only true if you manipulate the math, that is the statistics, to get that desired result. Or, in other words, “figures will not lie but liars will figure” so no this statistic is completely false.

 This figure originated in the 2009 World Watch Report and has more recently been promulgated by the vegan pseudo-documentary Cowspiracy. One of the authors of that 2009 report, Robert Goodland, late in his life became a vegan. This 2009 report, that he co-wrote with Jeff Anhang, consequently reflects his vegan advocacy. Thus the math done in the paper is contrived to inflate the numbers attributed to the Animal Ag sector to further Goodland’s vegan beliefs. Despite vegan claims to the contrary, the World Watch paper was NOT submitted for peer review. The peer review process is a rigorous review process where a paper is submitted to experts in the field (in this case climate scientists) for a critical assessment. This didn’t occur before publication. Neither Goodland or Anhang were climate scientists. Passing a paper around the office doesn’t constitute peer review.

Now further noting the math, this blog entry “Climate Chicanery” which notes the higher CO2 equivalencies used for CH4 (methane) in the World Watch Report are NOT applied to any other source of CH4. As noted, “…Then the authors [Goodland and Anhang] have the nerve to avoid recalibrating methane emissions from non-livestock sources as they did for livestock, saying it requires “further work.”…” Those higher equivalencies used in World Watch of CH4 being 73 times the amount of CO2 also aren’t broadly accepted. Most CO2 equivalencies for CH4 are still determined at 25 times as noted on the Climate Change Connection website.

This blog entry also cites Stephen Walsh’s critique of the World Watch Report, The impact of use of animals as livestock on global warming. In this critique, Walsh notes that World Watch’s report “overall reflects very poor science.” Who is Stephen Walsh? He’s been vegan since 1993, and is also vice chair of the UK Vegan Society , and science adviser to the International Vegetarian Society. Plus he’s the author ofPlant Based Nutrition and Health.Walsh discusses the time frame used for equivalencies to get the higher numbers used by World Watch, and again notes though that these time frames, if used, ALSO have to be applied to other sources of methane.

Additionally Walsh confronted the whole bogus premise of counting livestock respiration (breathing), in GHG calculations (note too that World Watch excluded the respiration numbers of seven billion humans while again only accounting for livestock). Walsh noted, “If the mass of plants remains the same from year to year and soil carbon content remains the same then there is no net flow of CO2 into the atmosphere and no driver for increased CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere. Whether this non-flow is anthropogenic (driven by human activity) or not is irrelevant as a non-flow does not matter whatever its origin.”

The World Watch paper was further critiqued when experts in the field did review it. As previously noted the World Watch report was published without peer review. Here’s the peer reviewed analysis of World Watch by experts in the field, Livestock and greenhouse gas emissions: The importance of getting the numbers right. Here again the math for World Watch is again pointed out as being specious in numerous ways. World Watch’s authors did issue a retort to this peer review, but in their retort they again failed to accept that they way over counted contributing factors and didn’t account at all for mitigating ones like carbon sequestration.

So, in short, World Watch’s 51% figure is completely fabricated by a vegan advocate to further a vegan agenda. Even simple commonsense details how absurd the whole premise is when you consider China accounts for 23% of global GHG’s while Brazil accounts for only 3.96% of GHG’s (and these stats from the World Resources Institute do account for land use change that is deforestation rates). Brazil (214 mill head) has well over twice the number of head of cattle as China (100 mill head). Most of China’s emissions are from thermal energy and industry NOT animal agriculture.

Author Nicolette Hahn Niman sums up the fallacy of World Watch’s number in this brief video clip: Regarding 2009 World Watch numbers . Or simply click the video at the top of the page.

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