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Climate change: the livestock connection

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The human-caused (anthropogenic) rate of species extinction is already 1,000 times more rapid than the ‘natural’ rate of extinction typical of Earth’s long-term history, with the result that we are currently living through one of the very few mass extinctions to date. It is clear that climate change represents the greatest threat to life on Earth for many millennia.

Given the urgency with which we must reduce the size of our collective ecological footprint, it is remarkable that so little attention has been afforded to livestock production. The inconvenient truth is that the emissions resulting from clearing land to graze livestock and grow feed, from the livestock themselves, and from processing and transporting livestock products, are greater than those resulting from any other sector. These factors are explored, as are the profound impacts of climate change on global food security.

Strategies for mitigating the environmental damage created by livestock production are reviewed. It is clear that replacing livestock products with alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change, and would have far more rapid effects on green house gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations, than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

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Climate change: the livestock connection

  1. 1. Climate Change: the Livestock Connection ANDREW KNIGHT
  2. 2. My (very) lucky day!!!
  3. 3. Strange sightings in the mountains…
  4. 4. The very next day…
  5. 5. Hurricane Irma, 2017
  6. 6. ‘The US appears to be getting hit with major storms with unusual frequency. From August 2015 to August 2016, there were eight 500-year flood events recorded by the National Weather Service.’
  7. 7. The Maldives
  8. 8. Climate change: the livestock connection  Mass extinction events  6th mass extinction - primary causes  Climate change: impacts  Climate change: causes - livestock sector  Mitigation strategies
  9. 9. Sixth mass extinction  ‘Evidence from the fossil record demonstrates five mass extinctions in which over 50 percent of animal species died within the past 540 million years. Prior to this time animals with hard body parts—and hence, significant fossilization— had not evolved.’
  10. 10. Previous mass extinctions 1. End-Ordovician, 443 million years ago  ‘… very rapid glaciation; sea level fell by more than 100 metres, devastating shallow marine ecosystems; less than a million years later, … second wave of extinctions as ice melted, sea level rose rapidly, and oceans became oxygen-depleted.’ 2. Late Devonian, c 360 million years ago  ‘A messy prolonged event, again hitting life in shallow seas very hard, … probably due to climate change.’
  11. 11. 3. Permian-Triassic mass extinction, c 250 million years ago  ‘The greatest of all, ‘The Great Dying’ of more than 95% of species, is strongly linked with massive volcanic eruptions in Siberia that caused, among other effects, a brief savage episode of global warming.’ 4. Triassic-Jurassic mass extinction, c 200 million years ago  ‘… linked with another huge outburst of volcanism.’ 5. Cretaceous-Tertiary mass extinction 65 million years ago  ‘This killed off the dinosaurs and much else; an asteroid impact on Mexico probably did the damage, but the world’s ecosystem may have been weakened by volcanic outbursts in what is now India.’
  12. 12. Ceballos et al. (2015) Science Advances http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/1/5/e1400253/tab-article-info Conservative study of vertebrate extinctions • Background extinction rate determined via fossil record examination in rock strata
  13. 13.  ‘Rather than the nine extinctions among vertebrates that would be expected to have occurred in normal geological circumstances since 1900 … conservative estimate adds in another 468 extinctions, spread among mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish.’  ‘Depending on the group, extinction rates are 10 times to more than 100 times higher than normal. A sixth mass extinction, therefore, is beginning. … would grow to rival the last great catastrophe of the past, when the dinosaurs and much else died out 65m years ago, in as little as three human lifetimes.’
  14. 14.  ‘… simply considers the kill mechanisms operating today, of habitat loss, predation, pollution and so on. … does not try to factor in, for instance, the effects of global warming, or of ocean acidification.’  ‘…we are now living through one of those brief, rare episodes in Earth history when the biological framework of life is dismantled.’
  15. 15. Primary causes  Habitat destruction/deforestation  ‘Livestock production occupies 30% of the Earth’s land surface, and ever-increasing production is a key driver of deforestation, particularly in Latin America. Seventy per cent of previously-forested Amazonian land is now occupied by pastures, with feed crops covering a large part of the remainder. ‘  Urban sprawl  Pollution  Fishing – fisheries collapse  Climate change
  16. 16. Primary causes  Habitat destruction/deforestation  ‘Livestock production occupies 30% of the Earth’s land surface, and ever-increasing production is a key driver of deforestation, particularly in Latin America. Seventy per cent of previously-forested Amazonian land is now occupied by pastures, with feed crops covering a large part of the remainder. ‘  Urban sprawl  Pollution  Fishing – fisheries collapse  Climate change
  17. 17.  ‘… the networks of ecosystems and meta-systems that comprise life on Earth are deteriorating rapidly and as a consequence, climate change, coupled with the fragmentation of habitats and the rapid extinction of species, are, together, creating a spiral of feedbacks that are more likely to exacerbate and accelerate the problem.’  Anthropocene: ‘… the current geological age … the period during which human activity has been the dominant influence on climate and the environment.’
  18. 18. Climate change
  19. 19. Climate change: impacts  Habitat loss/change  e.g. incr. CO2 concentrations, eucalyptus leaves become toxic to koalas  Changes to the geographic range and migratory habits of animals  Spp move 17 km toward poles or climb 11 m higher in mountains, every decade  Some spp benefit/spread e.g. bark beetles – damage forest habitats  The more adaptable a sp, greater survival chances
  20. 20. Sea turtle impacts  Damage to aquatic habitat and loss of prey  Lack of suitable nesting sites  Neonatal mortality  Sex ratio skew
  21. 21. 6 out of 7 species of marine turtles rated vulnerable to critically endangered
  22. 22.  Species/biodiversity loss  IPCC – 1/3 of all spp will become extinct dt climate change  ‘Contemporary climate change now poses the greatest threat to most animal species since the last mass extinction, some 65 million years ago.’  Disease vectors, emerging human diseases  e.g. malaria, zika virus, dengue fever, chikungunya, heartworm  ‘One health’
  23. 23.  Glacial melting
  24. 24. Mer de Glace, French Alps
  25. 25.  Human food security
  26. 26.  ‘Expected melting of the Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets, combined with thermal expansion of the oceans, could raise sea levels by up to six feet. Rises of half this level would devastate the rice-growing river deltas and floodplains of Asia, on which hundreds of millions of people depend for food.  Similarly, the Himalayan and Tibetan glaciers that sustain the major rivers of India and China during the dry season—and thus also sustain the grain irrigation systems that depend on the rivers—are rapidly melting. The vast populations dependent on these glaciers make this melting the greatest threat to food security ever faced by humanity.’
  27. 27.  ‘Crop-destroying climatic events such as droughts and floods are now increasing in frequency, with subsequent rises in global food prices, hunger, and malnutrition.’
  28. 28. Over 1,000,000,000 people now suffer from from hunger and malnutrition
  29. 29. All forms of transportation combined worldwide produce around 13.5% of global greenhouse gases (GHGs) Climate change: causes
  30. 30. 14.5% of worldwide GHGs when measured as CO2 equivalents (CO2e) are attributable to the production of cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, horses, pigs and poultry
  31. 31. contribution to worldwide GHGs, approx.: • CO2: 9% • Methane: 37% • nitrous oxide: 65% • Ammonia: 64%
  32. 32. Best current figures
  33. 33. • Reduce methane emissions from ruminants through dietary management • Reduce nitrous oxide emissions through manure management • Decrease deforestation and encourage carbon sequestration through improved pastoral management Mitigation strategies
  34. 34. Global meat and dairy consumption is expected to double by 2050
  35. 35. ‘The environmental impact per unit of livestock production must be cut by half, just to avoid increasing the level of damage beyond its present level.’ - Steinfeld and colleagues (2006) ‘Please eat less meat’ - Dr Rajendra Pachauri, 2007
  36. 36. “The solution to our problems could hardly be simpler; it is the wisdom required to implement it that appears beyond our collective reach.”
  37. 37. "The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non- competitive." • Anti-scientific denialism Barriers to cultural change
  38. 38. Strategising Effective altruism  Scale  Solvability  Neglectedness  Personal fit/skillset
  39. 39. 76
  40. 40. Health and nutrition
  41. 41. The relative sustainability of meat- and plant-based pet foods (for dogs and cats) 78 the number of additional humans who could be fed annually using energy saved by plant-based pet foods number of ‘food’ animals whose lives would be spared annually relative environmental impacts (land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate and biocides) greenhouse gases (GHGs) produced Environmental sustainability
  42. 42. “To have any hope of meeting the central goal of the Paris Agreement, which is to limit global warming to 2°C or less, our carbon emissions must be reduced considerably, including those coming from agriculture. … even if fossil fuel emissions were eliminated immediately, emissions from the global food system alone would make it impossible to limit warming to 1.5°C and difficult even to realize the 2°C target.”
  43. 43. Acknowledgement  Jodie Wells, University of Winchester

The human-caused (anthropogenic) rate of species extinction is already 1,000 times more rapid than the ‘natural’ rate of extinction typical of Earth’s long-term history, with the result that we are currently living through one of the very few mass extinctions to date. It is clear that climate change represents the greatest threat to life on Earth for many millennia. Given the urgency with which we must reduce the size of our collective ecological footprint, it is remarkable that so little attention has been afforded to livestock production. The inconvenient truth is that the emissions resulting from clearing land to graze livestock and grow feed, from the livestock themselves, and from processing and transporting livestock products, are greater than those resulting from any other sector. These factors are explored, as are the profound impacts of climate change on global food security. Strategies for mitigating the environmental damage created by livestock production are reviewed. It is clear that replacing livestock products with alternatives would be the best strategy for reversing climate change, and would have far more rapid effects on green house gas emissions and their atmospheric concentrations, than actions to replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources.

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