And annihilate the #1 cause of global warming.
In 1978, Dr. Robert Goodland became the first full-time ecologist ever hired by the World Bank. For the next twenty-three years, he became known as the “environmental conscience” of that powerful organization.
This blogpost draws upon his last published work before his death on 12-28-13. (See first link below.)
From the UNEP website. Robert Goodland is best known for his assessment that at least 51 per cent of human-induced greenhouse gas is attributable to the life cycle and supply chain of livestock products. Goodland, who began his career as a professor of tropical ecology at the University of Brasilia, became the first full-time ecologist at the World Bank in 1978.
In February of 2014, I attended a memorial service for Robert at George Washington University. While there, I met Robert’s fellow researcher and co-author of numerous papers, Jeff Anhang. I also met Lester Brown, founder of the WorldWatch Institute and the Earth Policy Institute and author of over fifty environmental books. The first speaker was the head of the UNEP since 2006, Achim Steiner.
“We join Robert Goodland’s family and friends in mourning the loss of a true pioneer, outstanding environmentalist and exceptional human being”, said UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner, who worked closely with Goodland on the 1997 establishment of the World Commission on Dams.
He added: “Few among us have the courage, certitude and conviction to commit our life’s journey to the greater good in the way Robert did. His clarity of thinking alongside his compassion and generosity enabled him to ‘open the eyes’ of people and institutions in ways that profoundly changed their outlook, thinking and actions on environment and sustainability.”
His last published work was a paper entitled, A fresh look at livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe. It was a critique of an earlier article by Bellarby et al. entitled “Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe” (see reference below). In that paper, Robert states:
Bellarby et al. have overlooked a widely- cited assessment by Jeff Anhang and me (Goodland and Anhang, 2009). Our assessment suggests that Steinfeld et al. (Livestock’s Long Shadow researchers) have failed to develop a true whole life cycle estimate of GHG emissions attributable to livestock, and that livestock products actually account for at least 51% of annual worldwide anthropogenic GHG emissions.
While Robert applauded their recommendation to reduce the consumption of meat and dairy, he felt that they fell WAY short in providing the clarity needed to promote urgent global change. As Robert notes in his paper:
The International Energy Agency (2011) and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Spotts, 2011) have projected that climate change may become practically irreversible by 2017, which means that later GHG reductions could be ineffective.
Well, we’re now halfway through 2014, we’ve just gone over 400 ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere and STILL there is no significant, coordinated effort addressing the leading cause of global warming. In fact, it’s being totally ignored by ALL of the prominent environmental organizations, 350.org and the IPCC.
We’re running out of time and must get started immediately. This post draws upon Dr. Goodland’s work relative to the dual benefit of reducing the production of livestock and quickly reforesting the freed-up land. So here’s the thought process:
- In order to attack the #1 cause of global warming, we do our best to dramatically reduce it—and someday eliminate the human consumption of meat, dairy, eggs and fish (MDEF) completely.
- Win-Win. By replacing much of today’s MDEF with better alternatives, we enjoy the double benefit of lowering the animals’ GHG—AND, at the same time, freeing up large swaths of land that can be reforested, resulting in large-scale GHG sequestration.
- How much land? The International Livestock Research Institute estimates that 45% of all land on Earth is used for livestock grazing alone.
- By applying that “double benefit” to recent climate treaty goals aimed at reducing GHG emissions by 13% by 2017—it would theoretically only take a 25% reduction of their 51% of GHGs attributable to livestock. That’s if the livestock number is really 51%.
- But if the livestock number is really 18% of all GHGs, then we’d need to reduce livestock production by about 67% by 2017.
- The good news is that most land used for livestock was once forested and could be reforested—thereby allowing it to absorb GHG in the atmosphere.
- Unlike shifting to renewable energy—which the IEA estimates would cost at least $18 trillion and take more than 20 years, Goodland says that, “large-scale changes in food and forest could be available almost overnight.”
The Bottom Line. Assuming that the Goodland and Anhang number of 51% is correct, getting a total worldwide livestock reduction of 25% in three years is still an almost impossible task. Consider the following:
- Over 70% of the world’s meat is being eaten in China, Europe, USA, Russia and Brazil.
- China is by far the largest meat consumer and millions of their citizens are just beginning to “enjoy” meat, dairy and eggs for the first time. Getting even a slight net reduction of meat consumption there will be almost impossible to achieve in a three-year window.
- It’s time to aim as high as we can; if we tell everyone that we just need to lower meat consumption by 25%; at best, most people will just try to cut out meat at one of their three meals a day—whenever it’s convenient.
- And since we can’t prove that the livestock number is really “at least 51%,” it’s imperative that we URGENTLY encourage people everywhere to replace as many of their MDEF calories as possible ASAP. “No less than our future as a species hangs in the balance.” — T. Colin Campbell, PhD.
Without a doubt, our only chance is to amass a HUGE global awareness campaign promoting the health and environmental benefits of consuming as much plant-based alternates to meat, dairy, eggs and fish (MDEF) as possible.
EAT MORE PLANTS ASAP!!
Finally, this massive campaign must be privately funded, coordinated and executed. There’s not enough time to deal with governments, industries and institutions.
As for cost, it might be $100 billion or more. But so what? We casually spend enormous funds for far less significant endeavors: $50 Billion for the Sochi Games? $19 Billion for WhatsApp?
What is the future of our civilization worth? Certainly more than “winter games” and a cellphone app.
The world desperately needs one powerful leader and a few caring billionaires. My letter of 3-21-14 to Bill and Melinda Gates. We know that Bill Gates is a caring billionaire; that just leaves the need for one powerful leader. If I could pick just one leader, it would be Ted Turner.
Personal. Although I never met Robert Goodland, I was aware of his work and he was aware of mine. On 11-10-13, just six weeks before his death, he reached out to me and we had a brief email exchange. He wrote:
Dear Morris (if i may?), Many thanks. Keep up the great work. Very best to Colin C when you next see him. He helped get the World Bank out of financing industrial livestock. Warm congratulations on your blog, Robert.
- Global Change Biology Journal article. Goodland, R. (2014), A fresh look at livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe. Global Change Biology. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12454
- Scientists warn of rising oceans from polar melt. New York Times (5-12-14)
- Robert Goodland memorial page at UNEP.org
- Bellarby, J, Tirado, R, Reyes, T, Leip, A, Weiss, F, Lesschen, JP, Smith, P (2013) Livestock greenhouse gas emissions and mitigation potential in Europe. Global Change Biology, 19 (1), 3-18. Available at: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2486.2012.02786.x/pdf (accessed 25 September 2013).
- Livestock’s Long Shadow. Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M, de Haan, C (2006) FAO of the U.N., Rome, Italy.
- Livestock and Climate Change by Philip Thornton, Mario Herrero and Polly Ericksen, International Livestock Research Institute, November 2011.
- Global Action to Reverse Climate Change on World Environment Day from blog by Jeff Anhang, Environmental Specialist, IFC Environment and Social Development Department, World Bank Group, (6-5-14)
- Forest and Landscape Restoration, World Resources Institute.
- Food Choices. The primary cause of global warming? My blog dedicated to the memory of the great climate specialist Dr. Robert Goodland. 2-4-14.
- November 2009 Worldwatch Article by Goodland and Anhang. Livestock and Climate Change. What if the key actors in climate change are cows, pigs and chickens?
- Just ONE powerful leader and a few caring billionaires
- If I could pick just one leader, it would be Ted Turner.
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