Get a FREE Issue of Earth Island Journal
Sign up for our no-risk offer today.

Go Back: Home > Earth Island Journal > Latest News > Post and Comments

Latest News

FAO Underplays Impact of Livestock Industry Emissions

New report undercounts both risks and opportunities in food and forest

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) published a report yesterday that says the world should expect a 70 percent increase in livestock production by 2050. According to the report, “Tackling climate change through livestock: A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities,” greenhouse gas emissions from the livestock sector is set to increase from the current 7.1 gigatons per year. Emissions would top out at 8.5 gigatons per year only if farmers cut emissions from livestock by 30 percent, through adoption of more efficient breeding and feeding practices.

CowsPhoto by Ian MannionOur research shows that the entire life cycle and supply chain of livestock products accounts for at least 51 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.

The FAO’s numbers don’t add up. According to a widely-cited assessment by the World Bank Group’s Jeff Anhang and me, the entire life cycle and supply chain of livestock products accounts for at least 51 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. We notably assess carbon dioxide in livestock respiration and its reflection in carbon absorption forgone on land set aside for livestock and feed production, estimated by the International Livestock Research Institute to occupy 45 percent of all land on earth, which the FAO neglects to count.

Also, unlike the FAO, we note that the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have both projected that the concentration of greenhouse gas in our atmosphere may rise to irreversibly catastrophic levels by 2017 if nothing is done to change course. To stop climate change through 2017 and beyond, governments have called on all industries worldwide to eliminate 80 to 95 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990).

As a result, we conclude that the only pragmatic way to reverse climate change by 2017 as needed is to replace at least 25 percent of today's livestock products with better alternatives. Such alternatives can range from whole grains and legumes to an array of fancy vegan meat and egg substitutes made from such items as peas, sorghum, and beans.

The FAO report fails to recognize the urgent need to reduce global emissions and stop climate change. It more generally fails to use basic principles of environmental assessment. Notably, it examines risks involved in such areas as air and water pollution, and claims that those risks must be balanced with benefits available from raising livestock. Such an assessment fails to separate livestock’s lesser risks and impacts from their greater ones – a basic task of environmental assessment. The greatest environmental risks are normally defined as those that are diverse, irreversible, and unprecedented – which, in this case, aren’t associated with air and water pollution but with climate change.

Also, the FAO report assesses only livestock products and fails to perform any analysis of alternatives, another basic element of environmental assessment.

Conversely, our analysis identifies a unique dual benefit of replacing a substantial amount of today’s livestock products with alternatives. That is, such replacement can both significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and free up land to permit reforestation that would provide large-scale greenhouse gas sequestration. Most land used for livestock and feed production was once forested, and could be forested again.

The FAO’s analysis also omits counting carbon dioxide from livestock respiration. Yet reality no longer reflects the old model of the carbon cycle, in which photosynthesis (carbon intake) balanced respiration (carbon emission). That model was valid as long as there were roughly constant levels of respiration and photosynthesis on Earth. But in recent decades, respiration has increased exponentially as livestock production has intensified (now totaling more than 60 billion animals raised on land every year). This has been accompanied by large-scale deforestation and forest-burning, in large part to graze livestock and grow crops for them, leading to huge increases in carbon emissions and a dramatic decline in Earth's photosynthetic capacity, and therefore in its capacity to sequester greenhouse gas. As a result, either carbon dioxide released via livestock respiration – or carbon absorption forgone on land set aside for livestock and feed production – should be counted as emissions.

The only way for most industries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on a large scale is by using renewable energy. But studies show that sufficient renewable energy infrastructure to stop climate change would take at least 20 years and cost $18 trillion to develop.

The livestock sector is a notable exception among industries, as the bulk of its greenhouse gas emissions are not from energy usage, but from biological processes. So it’s easier, and therefore, especially important to achieve a large and rapid reduction in greenhouse gas from the livestock sector.

The objective of recent international climate treaty negotiations has been to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 13 percent by 2017.  If, as our research shows, at least 51 percent of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to livestock, then we could meet the treaty target by replacing about 25 percent of today's livestock products with alternatives.

Paradoxically, if livestock emissions are actually at the lower level that the FAO says, then it would require replacing a greater amount of livestock products with alternatives to achieve the same treaty target; in fact, at least 85 percent of today's livestock products would need to be replaced with alternatives.

Alternatives to livestock products are generally responsible for minimal greenhouse gas emissions. There is documented potential for agricultural change to draw down atmospheric carbon to pre-industrial revolution levels within five years, by stopping deforestation and prioritizing reforestation. Doing so while simultaneously replacing a substantial amount of livestock products with better alternatives may be the only pragmatic way to halt climate change within the few years remaining before climate disruption becomes irreversible.

One of the advantages of replacing livestock products versus replacing fossil fuel infrastructure is that it is easy for any individual consumer to do the former on their own, unlike the latter. Still, to ensure that sufficient action is taken, governments should develop policies to provide incentives for replacing at least 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives by 2017. Finally, replacing at least 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives by 2017 may be the only available business case for industry leaders to act pragmatically to stop climate change before it is too late.

Email this post to a friend.

Write to the editor about this post.

Subscribe Today
cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJ cover thumbnail EIJFour issues of the award-winning
Earth Island Journal for only $10

 

Comments

Peregrin, in all of my feedback to you, I try to be constructive.  Anyway, in the case of your latest comment, I’m happy to say that I see in your call for authors to provide reasons for their choices of references—and to avoid using back-of-the-envelope calculations—some important standards to apply.

I think your standards are particularly important to apply in the case of food and climate change analysis, given how important food and climate change are to the world.  Given their importance, I’d agree that there should be a good reason to choose something like the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow as a reference over a back-of-the envelope calculation. 

So let’s look first at Livestock’s Long Shadow.  It’s 388 pages, suggesting that its authors were provided as much space by the FAO as they’d need.  Yet the source for Table 3.6 on livestock respiration is… another FAO report and “own calculations”, with no explanation of how those calculations were made.

As no breakdown is provided for Livestock’s Long Shadow’s Table 3.6 between the reference to another FAO report and “own calculations,” essentially it’s impossible to tell how any of the figures in Table 3.6 were calculated. 

As a result, the FAO’s figures on livestock respiration are even less reliable than a back-of-the-envelope calculation, where at least we know how the calculation was performed.  I don’t know whether that’s the whole reason for the authors of the Worldwatch article to make the choice that they did.  But they provided more reasoning for their choice than the FAO did for its choice.  That happened even though the authors of the Worldwatch article—which I see runs for only 10 pages vs. FAO’s 388 pages—were provided as much space as I’ve ever seen Worldwatch allow an article to take up.

In other words, the standards that you yourself have set appear to have been violated by the FAO, but not by the authors of the Worldwatch article. 

Yet you’ve taken a factual statement written by me and conflated it with something that you’ve subjectively considered unsatisfying in a Worldwatch article, and then concluded that my statement is rambling and confused.  Well, instead of making a similar comment about your writing, as it would be easy for me to make, I’ll just note that you could be more constructive.

By truthout on Thu, November 07, 2013 at 11:09 am

truthout writes:

“For example, I’ve noted that Calverd’s estimate appears to be—as the Worldwatch article says—the only one of its kind, insofar as it avoids the significant types of inaccuracy that are in the other available estimates.”

Thus statement seems generally reflective of truthout’s reasoning process. G&A never provide a reason for favoring the Calverd estimate over the FAO estimate of respiration. But according to truthout, an estimate based on the incorrect usage of a crude back-of-the-envelope calculation in a one-page editorial eliminates unspecified inaccuracies associated with other methods.

truthout’s ramblings about margins of error and the peer-review process are similarly confused.

By Peregrin on Wed, November 06, 2013 at 7:27 pm

Peregrin, again I don’t see you being responsive to feedback, which is the essence of peer review, whereas I’ll aim to respond to every point you’ll make.

When it comes to citations, the volume of them is not what’s relevant, and I’m surprised that you’d suggest so.  For example, you’ll find that many of the references to the FAO’s 2006 study that you’ve cited references that study’s comparison between livestock GHGs and transport GHGs—yet the FAO itself later retracted that comparison.

In fact, what’s relevant about citations to the Worldwatch article that you keep on bashing is that the citations show that a significant number of experts take the Worldwatch article seriously, contrary to your view.  It’s also worthwhile noting that when I’ve looked up Robert Goodland record of publications, I’ve found that it dates back more than 40 years, which means that it’s quite improper for you to keep on conflating his Worldwatch article with his entire record of publications, by using your term “G&A” over and over. 

Indeed, Goodland himself has not stated in his article above that the issue is whether there are net emissions from livestock.  Rather, he’s proposed that either respiration or carbon absorption forgone on land used for livestock and feed production should be counted;  and as mentioned, it’s obvious that the latter counts for much more than the former.

Finally, it’s good to hear you opine that the FAO study many not be the last word on the matter—as it seems a rare moment when you seem willing to focus on the validity of the FAO’s analysis, which is the actually the point of the article above.

By truthout on Mon, November 04, 2013 at 10:43 am

Since truthout believes that citation counts matter, I went to Google Scholar (GS) and dug up the following:

GS shows 7 citation for Calverd (2005),4 of which are by Robert Goodland.

G&A (2009)has been sited 115 times, of which “about 40” have occurred since the beginning of 2012.

The FAO (2006) study shows up as five separate entries. The second entry notes 1151 citations, of which “about 387” have occurred since the beginning of 2012.

truthout misrepresents me, noting, “Indeed, you’ve already cited other studies that count annual net CO2 emissions from livestock, so it seems dubious to suggest that no evidence has been provided to the contrary.”

The issue is not whether there are net emissions from livestock, but whether respiration counts as such. Globally, the balance between photosynthesis and respiration can be out of balance for a variety of reasons (forest die-off due to climate change or beetle infestations, droughts, etc.). The FAO estimates already explicitly allow for a kind of imbalance by attributing some forest lost to the livestock sector. However, the claim that there is additional imbalance approximately equal to respiration is currently pure speculation.

Finally, I’m not suggesting that the FAO study is the last word on the matter. However, I see no reason to take the 51 percent number claimed by G&A seriously based on the evidence that they present.

By Peregrin on Mon, November 04, 2013 at 9:59 am

Peregrin, with all due respect, I’m surprised that you more or less repeat a number of your assertions and ignore commentary on your assertions.  Such commentary is the essence of peer review, which you’ve touted, and as a result, your ignoring it reflects poorly on you.   

For example, I’ve noted that Calverd’s estimate appears to be—as the Worldwatch article says—the only one of its kind, insofar as it avoids the significant types of inaccuracy that are in the other available estimates.  More important, as mentioned, the volume of that carbon absorption forgone on land used for livestock and feed production – which you’ve conceded merits counting—is obviously much higher than the volume of livestock respiration that you keep on trying to minimize. Indeed, the Worldwatch article points out that such forgone carbon absorption may account on its own for as much as half of all anthropogenic GHG emissions.

I agree that very little of what you’ve written relies on Gavin Schmidt.  In fact, I made my commentary on Gavin Schmidt brief precisely to reflect that.

Your claim that the FAO estimates a range of between 14 and 22 percent for livestock’s share of emissions appears to be contradicted by the FAO report that’s reviewed in the above article, estimating livestock’s share of emissions at an unbelievably precise 14.5 percent.

I found that the above article includes a link to Robert Goodland’s website, where you can see that his analysis has been published by Nature, among other prime journals.  I found that another journal article by him has appeared in Animal Feed Science and Technology, in which he rebutted a critique that was published in the same journal, and whose authors included Henning Steinfeld, the lead author of the FAO’s livestock GHG analysis.  I also found an article by Goodland published in Global Change Biology, which says that the article “has undergone full peer review”, at http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.12454/abstract.  Such evidence appears to contradict some of your remarkable claims.

By truthout on Sun, November 03, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I tracked down the one-page article by Alan Calverd that G&A use to estimate respiration. Calverd uses five figures, none for which any sources are referenced, and all of which are described as “about.” In particular, he notes that average fossil fuel usage is about 1500W and that metabolism is about 2W/kg. Using a human mass of 75 kg, the assumption that people eat about their mass in meat, and that this requires 3 times this mass in standing livestock, Calvard concludes that human metabolism is about 150 W and livestock metabolism is about 450 W, so that total power per person is about 2100W. Assuming that emissions form combustion (fossil fuels, glucose in respiration) yield emissions proportional to their power flow, Calverd concludes “Farm animals, in other words, generate about 21% of all the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity.”

Scrutiny of the numbers suggests that this a fairly crude calculation. The 150 W figure implies daily intake of about 3100 Calories, which would be on the high end of daily requirements for a 75kg individual. In addition, Walpole et. al. (BMC Public Health, 2012, pg. 3) estimate average ADULT mass at 62 kg, while the World Watch Institute estimates average annual meat consumption in 2010 at 42 kg (see link below). Contrary to truthout’s confident assertion, I see little reason to view Calverd’s estimate of respiration as superior to the FAO estimate. In fairness to Calverd, I don’t think his intention was to provide a careful estimate, and I think it reflects poorly on the G&A team that they use this estimate as the cornerstone of their analysis.

It also reflects poorly on the G&A team that they do not use the Calverd estimate correctly. As should be clear, in Calverd’s framework, livestock respiration is 21% of CO2 emissions from fossil fuel combustion, and human and livestock respiration. G&A apply this ratio to the figure from the WRI’s CAIT, which excludes respiration, but also includes methane, nitrous oxide and emissions from land use change.

I find truthout’s assertion that I rely on Gavin Schmidt as a final authority a bit rich. Very little of what I’ve written here relies on Dr. Schmidt’s views. In contrast, truthout is the one that seems incapable of even considering the possibility that the G&A analysis is deeply flawed, despite repeated evidence of choices made by G&A that skew (bias) the numbers towards a high share for livestock.

Truthout also makes the strange claim “I calculate the gap to have been within the margin of error of the overall calculations in a case like this one.”
When researchers make calculations using estimates involving some degree of imprecision or uncertainly, methods exist to provide estimates of the uncertainty of the final value. For example, the FAO estimates a range of between 14 and 22 percent for livestock’s share of emissions. G&A do no such thing, treating (without justification) the various values in their calculations as either exact values (curious, given how crude the Calverd estimation is, and given that they use the FAO’s estimtes) or lower bounds (for livestock additions), despite having explicitly left out a figure that works against their “minimal” value.

I don’t see much else here worth replying. G&A simply don’t provide adequate evidence to support their remarkable claim.

http://www.worldwatch.org/global-meat-production-and-consumption-continue-rise-1

By Peregrin on Sat, November 02, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Peregrin, since you don’t dispute that there are forgone sequestration opportunities, all one has to do is quantify them, and then one can realize that livestock are responsible for at least fifty-one percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.  Then, it seems to me, the Worldwatch article recognizes that quantifying foregone sequestration opportunities is such a huge task that the article diligently tries to transpose them into net emissions terms.  The article’s effort to do so is apparently scientifically rigorous enough that it has by now passed through hugely more peer review than anything on Gavin Schmidt’s blog.  After all, one can find the Worldwatch article cited in many dozens of peer reviewed articles. 

As for methane, it will never be economical to measure net emissions from a sector as vast as the livestock sector.  So pegging the share of methane attributable to livestock at precisely 37 percent and insisting that no other figure can possibly be valid is absurd.  Yet you keep on repeating it, as if repetition might make it true.  In fact, there are plenty of other estimates available, some of them considerably higher than 37 percent.  Your placement of so much emphasis on the 37 percent figure is part of what makes your claim to conceptual perfection dubious.

In the IPCC report statement that you’ve quoted, “annual net CO2 emissions are assumed to be zero,” as you’ve noted, it seems clear that this is a working assumption that’s open to debate.  Indeed, you’ve already cited other studies that count annual net CO2 emissions from livestock, so it seems dubious to suggest that no evidence has been provided to the contrary.

If you want to keep on citing Gavin Schmidt as if he were the highest authority on climate change, then readers who may not be aware of controversies about what appears on his blog can see a full set of views regarding his blog at http://climateaudit.org/2005/10/29/is-gavin-schmidt-honest/

And in case readers aren’t aware that Gavin Schmidt does not fully represent the IPCC on livestock GHGs, they can hear Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of IPCC, say in a speech: “I’ve received a number of e-mails from people that I respect, saying that the 18% figure is an underestimate; it’s a low estimate and in actual fact it’s much higher,” audible at 16:35 of the first mp3 file at http://www.ciwf.org.uk/resources/lecture/default.aspx

By truthout on Fri, October 04, 2013 at 10:24 am

@truthout - Regarding Gavin Schmidt’s blog comment - I think you’re also confused about what the phrase “peer-reviewed” means and why it’s important. In academic journals, peer-reviewed means that the article has been sent to experts in the field for appraisal and based on their recommendations (and possibly several rounds of revisions on the part of the author(s)), accepted for publication by the editor. The reviewers (referees) themselves are not subject to further peer-review, and their reports are generally protected by anonymity (though some journals will identify the referees after a specified time period, usually on the order of decades).

Dr. Schmidt may be posting on a blog, but he’s not making an original claim about a process or figure. Instead he’s offering an opinion of the work of another. Provided one accepts him as qualified to comment on the paper in question (I do), this is the very definition of peer-review.

That a paper has been cited in peer-reviewed articles is also not an indicator of the quality of a paper. It really depends on who and how the paper is being cited. Researchers working in other disciplines may not be suitability qualified to appraise works outside their discipline, and depending on how central a given citation is to the argument of a paper, reviewers may not bother to procure material that they are not familiar with.
Papers may also be cited with disapproval.

(BTW, I’ve been on both ends of the peer-review process. I’m certainly not qualified to claim to be a peer of G&A, but I’m familiar enough with similar kinds of accounting exercises to recognize when inconsistent practices are being used.)

By Peregrin on Thu, October 03, 2013 at 8:43 pm

I’m not sure what you mean by “reflection of livestock respiration.” I don’t dispute that there are foregone sequestration opportunities. I don’t think it makes sense to raze rain forests to grow feed for livestock. I’m not disputing that reducing or eliminating meat consumption is desirable for the purposes of reducing GHG emissions. What I am arguing is that the 51% figure that Goodland repeats here is not credible. Perhaps this is a harmless figure, but I worry that it will lead people to believe that all we have to do is eat tofu dogs, and everything will be alright. I fear the problem is much worse.

It’s obvious that all the decision that G&A make in their paper will skew their numbers towards a high figure for livestock. Each adjustment I’ve outlined (consistent GWP for CH4, removal of respiration, and removal of adjustments for livestock tonnage increases between 2002 and 2009) will pull down the estimate.  I’ll leave it to you to do the math, but a higher GWP for methane will tend to pull the estimate towards livestock’s share of methane (37 percent). Indeed if you took G&A’s figures, and made the remaining adjustment using the 20 year figure for the remaining methane, the figure would fall below 50 percent. Further increasing the GWP to reflect Shindell at. al.‘s revised estimate would further reduce the share (albeit never below 37 percent).

What is clear to me is that the accounting exercise that G&A are attempting is conceptually confused. The WRI are attempting to account for net emissions, expressed over a 100 year timeline, which the FAO then applies an attribution exercise to. So with qualifiers, one can think of the FAO figure as being 18 percent of the NET increase of GHGs in 2000 that are attributable to livestock.

G&A add livestock respiration, but do not subtract annual CO2 sequestration from photosynthesis of grazing land and feed crops, so they are no longer working with net emissions. Though it’s possible that due to the loss of CO2 sequestration (soil respiration,etc.) this figure could be lower than respiration (and possibly even a net increase in C02),  G&A do not establish this, or even make this argument in the paper itself. However, it is no longer possible to even compare their figures with those of the FAO, since this sum is net emissions plus livestock respiration (but not gross emissions, since at a minimum this would include human respiration). Furthermore, the possibility of a respiration imbalance also applies to crops grown for human consumption.

G&A further add various unrealized sequestration potentials which are associated specifically with livestock. (The biofuel is problematic, since the emissions to be displaced are already included in the tally, resulting in further double counting). So apparently the tally is not actual net emissions or even actual gross emissions attributable to humans, but rather the sum of net emissions, livestock respiration, and unrealized sequestration opportunities specific to livestock. Given the way this figure is defined, it shouldn’t be surprising that livestock takes a relatively large share of it. However, referring to this figure as emissions is deceiving (beyond the various omissions I’ve already identified).

Obviously Gavin Schmidt’s opinion of the piece is just an opinion. However, I don’t think his observation about the role of animal respiration is controversial. The IPCC notes “CO2 emissions from livestock are not estimated because annual net CO2 emissions are assumed to be zero – the CO2 photosynthesized by plants is returned to the atmosphere as respired CO2. [1]” Perhaps this assumption is incorrect, but G&A provide no evidence to the contrary.

[1] http://www.ipcc-nggip.iges.or.jp/public/2006gl/pdf/4_Volume4/V4_10_Ch10_Livestock.pdf

By Peregrin on Thu, October 03, 2013 at 5:51 pm

Peregrin, I see the Worldwatch article that you keep on bashing has been widely cited in peer-reviewed journals.  I guess that may be in part because it specifically discusses—as does the Earth Island article here—how carbon absorption forgone on land used for livestock and feed production can be considered a reflection of livestock respiration. 

In fact, the volume of that carbon absorption forgone is obviously much higher than the volume of livestock respiration that you keep on trying to minimize.  Indeed, that volume of carbon absorption forgone is so high that James Hansen of NASA and others have explained how reversing deforestation, thereby allowing that carbon absorption to recur, could by itself reduce atmospheric carbon to a safe level.  As a result, your commentary on livestock respiration might have some technical validity, but it’s not really relevant in the whole scheme of things.

Finally, I’m surprised that you’d cite a comment under a blog posting, given your apparent belief that the benchmark for other statements in this field is peer-reviewed studies.  While that’s a reasonable benchmark to apply, it means that it’s unreasonable for you then to ask people to consider that comments under blog postings have a role in validating your arguments.

By truthout on Thu, October 03, 2013 at 2:24 pm

@truthout:

The FAO is producing a attribution of NET human contributions to GHGs. Goodland and Anhang (and for the matter, Calverd) don’t seem to understand that respiration is a GROSS emission (and as the FAO correctly points out, is included as part of the ongoing carbon cycle). The reason G&A initially give for including respiration is a naturalistic one (though they curiously ignore that Calverd also added human respiration in his analysis). In addition to (incorrectly) including these emissions, they also elect to use the highest available estimate.

Now if you wish to believe that G&A’s decision to include respiration (and just livestock respiration, using the highest possible estimate at that), not express all methane emissions using the 20 year time frame, and adding in adjustments for 2000 are just minor quibbles and have no bearing on the validity of their remarkable number (nearly 3x higher than the figure reported by the FAO in 2006), I suppose that’s your perogative.

These issues are relevant to the above article. We have competing “experts” (Goodland vs. the FAO analysts). Goodland’s reminder that he and his co-author think respiration is a net emission damages his credibility with anyone with an understanding of why it is incorrect to do so.

And speaking of experts, Gavin Schmidt of NASA’s Goddard Institute was one of the authors on the paper that provided the revised GWP for methane. Gavin has commented specifically about the Goodland and Anhang analysis at various places on the blog RealClimate. He specifically notes “Regardless, the reported numbers are nonsense - for instnace, they count respiration as emissions (which makes no sense at all), and make a lot of unsupported assumptions. (Gavin’s response to comment #164 to the article linked below).”

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2012/07/unforced-variations-july/

By Peregrin on Thu, October 03, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Peregrin, I appreciate your concession about summing, and your introduction of the idea of being pedantic.

It’s not pedantic to distinguish between calling something a false statement vs. calling someone a liar.  The former can refer to a few words, or even a single word, whereas the latter refers to a whole person and their character, and is often seen as a way to avoid dealing with specific claims.

Indeed, I think you made a second false claim when you wrote that using a 2009 figure seemed to serve no other purpose than inflation—since elsewhere, you fault the Worldwatch article for not using 2009 figures. 

Figures from 1964 and 1982 can be easily found in the 2006 FAO report simply by searching it.

I’ve seen only a few articles other than Calverd’s bother to assess livestock respiration—and one’s conclusions are based on FAO data, which the Worldwatch article clearly assesses as untrustworthy, while the other one’s conclusions are based on the ideal of a “supercow”.  So Calverd’s, which is based on a formula that doesn’t depend on inevitably imprecise data, is indeed the only original estimate of its type.

Finally, the methane gap that you identify is indeed trivial, as last week’s new IPCC report says the global warming potential of methane is much higher than it was in 2009—and even then, I calculate the gap to have been within the margin of error of the overall calculations in a case like this one.

Yet all of this seems pedantic compared to the topic of the Earth Island article above—i.e., whether the FAO’s projection of a 30% GHG reduction from livestock can be considered reliable.  It seems a pity that you won’t comment on that.

By truthout on Tue, October 01, 2013 at 6:17 pm

@truthout - If you want to be pedantic about it, the numbers of the table in G&A sum correctly. However, given that a hodgepodge of periods and GWPs are being used, they don’t make any conceptual sense (which is how I was using the phrase “don’t add up”). In any case, I’m not letting you off the hook about calling me a liar…you explicitly indicated my claim about the base years used in G&A were false (and referred to “claims” i.e. the plural).

With regards to your remaining comments:

1. The issue about using figures from differ years only matters if the numbers have actually changed significantly between the years. I’m not sure what figures you are referring to from early years in the FAO study. However, the claimed purpose of the G&A analysis was to correct the biases of the FAO study, rather than introduce new biases. So it’s one thing to update figures to correctly reflect the state of the world in 2000, and another thing to start introducing numbers that only apply nine years into the future.

2. I’m not insisting the G&A use the FAO analysis’s figures for respiration. However, I would like a justification for why Calvard’s figures are to be preferred. G&A give the impression that Calvard’s are the only estimates available, stating, “Calvard’s estimate is in the only original estimate of its type…(pg.12)” I’m not sure about how the qualifier “original” is being used here, but it certainly wasn’t the only estimate available at the time.

3. The asymmetric treatment of methane is not trivial (and is certainly not justified on the grounds of any inconsistencies in the FAO study across periods, etc.). Using the 20 year time-frame consistently results in an additional 8.6 GTCO2e of emissions (more than 10 percent of the figure that G&A arrive at), which are only added to the denominator when establishing the share of GHGs attributable to livestock. Excluding this adjustment heavily biases the figure towards livestock.

By Peregrin on Tue, October 01, 2013 at 3:12 pm

Peregrin, you’re the one using the word “liar”.  I’m saying that you’ve made a false claim—and that’s because you’ve written that figures published by Worldwatch “don’t add up”.  They do add up. 

I think what you meant to write is that you’ve found some misaligned dates in a 2009 Worldwatch article—which I’ll address, while pointing out that it’s way off the topic of this Earth Island article.  The Worldwatch article seems clearly written to point out flaws in a 2006 FAO study—e.g., that it used data from 1964 and 1982, a far worse inconsistency than anything you’ve described. 

Yet you illogically suggest that the Worldwatch study should have simply accepted the FAO’s data
on respiration. Moreover, you suggest that peer reviewed articles on this topic are automatically superior to non-peer reviewed studies—yet neither the 2006 FAO report nor the one published last week contains any indication that it went through a formal peer review process.  Sorry, but your analysis doesn’t add up.

By truthout on Tue, October 01, 2013 at 11:00 am

@truthout

You have repeated called me a liar without once addressing the substance of any of my claims. Under those circumstances. I feel little obligation to waste any time with YOU specifically (note that while I have criticized the Goodland and Anhang paper, I haven’t affirmed either of the FAO studies).

All of my claims involve references to documents that are easily accessed online, and so it should be a trivial matter to expose any falsehoods I’m making. I will just add the following observations:

1. Goodland and Anhang (2009) acknowledge explicitly that they do not recalculate the remaining methane emissions using the 20 year GWP, noting, “Further work is needed to recalibrate methane emissions other than those attributable to livestock products using a 20-year timeframe. (pg. 13)” However, they already have all the numbers necessary to do so; the adjustment is 63/37 of the figure for livestock.

2. Following the links of sources at the WWI site (http://awellfedworld.org/globalwarming/worldwatch) results in a WRI document reporting emissions for 2005 as 44,153 MTCO2e. However, this is not the figure that Goodland and Anhang actually use. As noted previously, it is possible to confirm from the WRI site that the figure used applies to 2000.

3. The FAO (2006) study itself provides an estimate for livestock respiration of 3161 MTCO2e (pg. 96), though they also provide an explanation for why they do not include this in their tally. Goodland and Anhang apparently missed this estimate. They opt instead to use a non-peer reviewed back of the envelop calculation by Alan Calvard (2005) to arrive at they own estimate, which is nearly three times as high.

By Peregrin on Tue, October 01, 2013 at 10:28 am

Perhaps we can now get back to examining FAO’s new claim, and how well it stands up to scrutiny. Readers can now note that when I asked Peregrin to comment on this, the topic of the article above, Peregrin wrote that he has “little interest in wasting my time” on this.

By truthout on Mon, September 30, 2013 at 4:48 pm

@truthout: I’ll leave others to decide for themselves whether I’ve made any false claims. I have little interest in wasting my time with you.

By Peregrim on Mon, September 30, 2013 at 4:39 pm

I’d invite Peregrin to comment on the real issue at hand, rather than repeat his false claims.  Come on, Peregrin, what’s your take on the FAO’s claim of a 30% GHG mitigation potential from increasing efficiency in the livestock sector?  How do you review that claim, considering that livestock specialists have asserted over the years that such GHG mitigation potential is more like 7-8%?  C’mon Peregrin, let’s see if you’re up to the task at hand.

By truthout on Mon, September 30, 2013 at 3:58 pm

@Truthout: None of my claims are false…the emissions figures used in Goodland and Anhang are clearly from 2000. This can be confirmed by checking documents from the WRI, the source of their figure of 41755MCTOe (page 11). The linked paper indicates clearly that this number is for 2000 (as indicated by the source notes on page 5):

http://pdf.wri.org/navigating_numbers.pdf

Furthermore, they do not apply the GWP to the remaining 63 percent of methane (if this adjustment was made, it would show up in their table on page 11). The use of 2009 livestock figures seems to serve no other purpose than to inflate their overall figure.

I’m not sure what your comment about “red herrings” is about. According to G&A, respiration was the single largest “uncounted” source of GHGs. Surely the quality of this estimate matters, when Goodland and Anhang themselves note: “This is a strong claim that requires strong evidence, so we will thoroughly review the direct and indirect sources of GHG emissions from livestock. (pg.11)”

By Peregrin on Mon, September 30, 2013 at 3:46 pm

Peregrin’s claim about Worldwatch’s base figures is false, as Worldwatch’s effort to align dates is documented in “Sources and Resources” for the Worldwatch paper.  If Peregrin is truly concerned about aligning dates, then he should criticize even more strongly the use of 1964 and 1982 figures in the FAO’s 2006 study.  Finally, Peregrin’s reference to Smil is a red herring, as Goodland points out that if you don’t accept his figures, then the required action may become even more dire.

By truthout on Sun, September 29, 2013 at 7:48 pm

But the figures in the Worldwatch paper don’t add up either. The base figures for emissions are for 2000. Why are adjustments for livestock tonnage figures in 2009 being made, without rebasing all the numbers to reflect the different period? For that matter why aren’t the remaining 63 percent of man-made methane emissions being recalculated using the 20-year GWP, rather than just livestock’s share? And, ignoring the controversy over whether it should even be included, Vaclav Smil (2013) has argued that the respiration estimates from Calverd are three times higher than estimates based on other peer-reviewed studies.

By Peregrin on Sat, September 28, 2013 at 8:38 pm

“A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

“As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

“The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

“If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

“It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.”  ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist and new vegan

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” ~ Albert Einstein

21-Day Vegan Kickstart
http://www.pcrm.org/health/diets/kickstart/kickstart-programs

By jc on Sat, September 28, 2013 at 11:43 am

Leave a comment

Comments Policy

Remember my personal information?

Notify me of follow-up comments?

Please enter the word you see in the image below:

View Posts by Date View Posts by Author

Subscribe
Today

Four issues for just
$10 a year.

cover thumbnail EIJ

Join Now!

 
Go Solar with Earth Island Institute!

0.1674