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Dean Pomerleau

Cowspiracy - The Shocking Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture

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I just watched the documentary Cowspiracy, now available on Netflix. It's a great film about how animal agriculture on land and fishing/farming in our oceans are the #1 cause of nearly all forms of environmental degradation, including greenhouse gas emissions, climate change, deforestation, water depletion, topsoil erosion & species extinction. Up to 51% of greenhouse gas emissions are a direct or indirect result of animal agriculture, for example, by some credible analyses.

 

The filmmakers interview quite a number of experts who recognize how big a problem these practices are, including the recognition that "sustainable fishing and aquaculture" are a joke (sorry Saul). Nearly all the species of fish in our ocean are seriously depleted, and the bycatch on even those fish species considered "sustainable" is 5-to-1, meaning for every pound of wild fish that are caught, there are 5 pounds of other fish species that are destroyed in the process.

 

But the most shocking thing is how the major environmental advocacy groups (Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Oceana, etc.) refuse to focus on or even acknowledge that raising and harvesting animals / animal products for human consumption are the major problem when it comes to environmental devastation. 

 

Going into the film, I figured the reason these organization are ignoring the "cow in the room" would be that they were being paid off by the big agribusinesses who benefit from their silence. But the filmmakers suggest it is something else, namely they are afraid to alienate their constituents and major source of funding, average environmentally-concerned citizens. These constituents are concerned enough about the environment to turn the faucet off when brushing their teeth, and give $20 to the Sierra Club in order to feel good about helping the environment. But the environmental organizations figure that asking these supporters to consider doing something that could have a real impact, changing their eating habits to reduce or eliminate animal products, will strike a nerve - the cognitive dissonance would be too great and they'll lose members & contributions. So instead they focus on relatively minor contributors to our environmental problems.

 

Pretty sad if you ask me...

 

I highly recommend the movie to anyone concerned about the future of the planet.

 

--Dean

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I'm sorry to hear, Dean, that you're so exercised by cow farts. It's well known that more people worldwide die from the cold than from heat, so maybe, to warm things up, farmers should feed their cows more cabbage and baked beans.

 

It's important not to confuse philosophical arguments for veganism, with science. Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant; it's what makes plant life possible. No CO2, no vegans (or anyone else)! More CO2, up to about four times present levels, increases agricultural productivity. That's more food, for less cost, for the world's hungry as well as the rest of us.

 

Global warming hysteria is a project of "progressive" politicians to increase their power by securing top-down control of energy use. That constitutes most of the economy. "Progressive" politicians want to control what you do and how much of it you use because they know what's best for you, including what food you eat, what tests you have, what drugs you get, and when it is time to take you off life support.

 

To achieve this, the U.S. and European Union governments -- a far wealthier, more powerful, more coercive interest group than Exxon -- have massively corrupted much of the climate science community through selective funding. In return, scientists on the government dole have been active in falsifying climate data and in blocking and even criminalizing dissenting scientists' research and publications. Lysenkoism has come to the U.S.

 

Hundreds of billions of tax dollars that could be more usefully spent on longevity research and combating underdeveloped sector diseases are instead being wasted on subsidies to uneconomic alternate-energy boondoggles. Despite this huge expenditure, even its supporters concede that the effect of these efforts will be a small fraction of one degree centigrade per decade. A completely useless expenditure that makes Egyptian pyramid building look productive by comparison!

 

It's not clear either that, from a health standpoint, veganism is the way to go, rather than a plant-centered diet with modest inputs of animal protein. The traditional health-field warnings against red meat consumption may be misplaced. See the article "Red meats: Time for a paradigm shift in dietary advice" at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0309174014001922#.

 

- Richard Schulman

Edited by ras

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Hi Richard,

 

I disagree with virtually everything you say, except:

 

It's not clear either that, from a health standpoint, veganism is the way to go, rather than a plant-centered diet with modest inputs of animal protein.

 

From a purely health perspective, a diet of mostly plants with a small amount of animal products may be as healthy (perhaps slightly more healthy), and especially, require less supplementation, that a strictly vegan diet. But from the perspective of suffering and the health of the planet, I think the evidence is pretty clear that a strictly plant-based diet is superior.

 

But I sense that getting into a debate with you on this points is unlikely to be fruitful, so I'll just correct one statement you made, which is unequivocally mistaken:

 

I'm sorry to hear, Dean, that you're so exercised by cow farts.

 

Its a myth that cow farts are the real source of methane from animal agriculture. As pointed out in this article from Scientific American, 95% of the methane produced by ruminant animals (cows, goats, sheep) comes from their burps, not their farts. And these animal sources account for 28% of global methane emissions. Methane has 86x the impact of carbon dioxide on the atmosphere. Our livestock is also responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.

 

For anyone interested in facts like these about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, there is a great list here (with references) including this amazing one:

 

Ten thousand years ago, before the agricultural revolution, humans and domesticated animals accounted for less than 1% of the global megafauna (large animal) biomass. Today, humans and the animals that we raise as food make up 98% of the the megafauna biomass.

 

Most of which, I'll add, live lives of unbelievable suffering.

 

While human well-being has increased tremendously over the last few thousand years as a result of culture and technology, the net result of the rise of the human species has been to greatly increase the amount of suffering endured by sentient beings on this planet. 

 

I predict 50 years hence, the suffering we now inflict on animals and the planet through our practice of animal agriculture will be viewed as both appalling and baffling, the same way we look back on slavery and the subjugation of women.

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Global warming hysteria is a project of "progressive" politicians to increase their power by securing top-down control of energy use. That constitutes most of the economy. "Progressive" politicians want to control what you do and how much of it you use because they know what's best for you, including what food you eat, what tests you have, what drugs you get, and when it is time to take you off life support.

 

To achieve this, the U.S. and European Union governments -- a far wealthier, more powerful, more coercive interest group than Exxon -- have massively corrupted much of the climate science community through selective funding. In return, scientists on the government dole have been active in falsifying climate data and in blocking and even criminalizing dissenting scientists' research and publications.

 

This reminded me of this great Berlin sculpture, titled "Politicians discussing global warming" by Isaac Cordal:

 

Global-warming-issac-cordal.jpg

 

--Dean

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Hi Richard!

 

It's so nice to see you posting to the CR Society again!

 

I'm so very glad that you've made the transition to the Forums.

 

Concerning your post:  I agree with most of what you've said.

 

And, I enjoyed your presence at a recent CR Society Conference; I hope to see you at the next one!

 

:)

 

  -- Saul

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Dean, You might like to give your arguments substance with:

 

http://www.pnas.org/content/105/Supplement_1/11543.full.pdf

 

Thanks Al!

 

That is a fascinating paper [1] on the huge impact the rise of humans has had on the distribution of large animals on the planet. Here was the graph I found most interesting which was actually derived from data from [1] - see this article for details (click to enlarge):

 

post-7043-0-00883400-1442781596_thumb.jpg

 

It shows how the biomass of large wild animals crashed prior to 10,000 years ago, as a result of human predation exasperated by (natural) climate change. The biomass of large wild animals have remained low while humans and especially our livestock have increased tremendously over the last 10,000 years, but especially in the last 100 years.

 

Given that nearly all livestock animals suffer tremendously for nearly their entire lives, whereas humans and wild animals suffer for only a small fraction of their lifetimes, the dominance of the "livestock" line in the above graph relative to humans and wild animals nevertheless still vastly underestimates the magnitude of the increase in total suffering of sentient beings that has occurred on Earth since prehistoric times, and especially in the last 100 years due to the rise in factory farming, human population, and meat consumption per capita.

 

It is sad that the rise of humanity, particularly in the last century, has come at such a high (and unnecessary) cost from a utilitarian perspective.

 

--Dean

 

 

----------------

[1] Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2008 Aug 12;105 Suppl 1:11543-8. doi:

10.1073/pnas.0801918105. Epub 2008 Aug 11.

 

Colloquium paper: Megafauna biomass tradeoff as a driver of Quaternary and future

extinctions.

 

Barnosky AD(1).

 

Author information:

(1)Department of Integrative Biology and Museums of Paleontology, University of

California, Berkeley, CA 94720, USA. barnosky@berkeley.edu

 

Earth's most recent major extinction episode, the Quaternary Megafauna

Extinction, claimed two-thirds of mammal genera and one-half of species that

weighed >44 kg between approximately 50,000 and 3,000 years ago. Estimates of

megafauna biomass (including humans as a megafauna species) for before, during,

and after the extinction episode suggest that growth of human biomass largely

matched the loss of non-human megafauna biomass until approximately 12,000 years

ago. Then, total megafauna biomass crashed, because many non-human megafauna

species suddenly disappeared, whereas human biomass continued to rise. After the

crash, the global ecosystem gradually recovered into a new state where megafauna

biomass was concentrated around one species, humans, instead of being distributed

across many species. 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. Implications include (i) an increase in human biomass (with attendant

hunting and other impacts) intersected with climate change to cause the

Quaternary Megafauna Extinction and an ecological threshold event, after which

humans became dominant in the global ecosystem; (ii) with continued growth of

human biomass and today's unprecedented global warming, only extraordinary and

stepped-up conservation efforts will prevent a new round of extinctions in most

body-size and taxonomic spectra; and (iii) a near-future biomass crash that will

unfavorably impact humans and their domesticates and other species is unavoidable

unless alternative energy sources are developed to replace dwindling supplies of

fossil fuels.

 

PMCID: PMC2556404

PMID: 18695222

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Hi Dean and Richard!

 

Dean, what you say about humans and their domesticated large mammals bringing other large mammals to extinction is undoubedtly true.  However:

 

The most successful branch of mammalia are neither primates nor ungulates -- it's rodentia.

 

And the mass of the world's ants is far greater than that of the world's humans:

 

arthropoda is the most successful branch of animalia -- not mammalia

 

insectae is the most successful branch of the land-based arthropods.

 

Also, interestingly:  large cepholopods -- e.g. the octopus and large squid -- show evidence of intelligence rivalling that of chimpanzees.

 

  -- Saul 

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Saul,

 

Pointing out that there are other, mostly non-sentient species on the planet which remain quite successful despite and sometimes because of human presence, does not change the fact that our net impact on the well-being of sentient creatures on the planet has been overwhelmingly negative, resulting in a huge increase in total suffering.

 

Dean

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Saul,

 

So I guess the best idea is to exterminate humanity?

 

Perhaps it's because you are a professional mathematician, but once again your logic and method of inference escapes me. Nowhere did I imply or suggest we should exterminate humanity. On the contrary. I'd love to see us increase the carrying capacity of the planet, for people and for animals.

 

The way to increase the carrying capacity, as well as eliminate the tremendous suffering we've created among highly sentient creatures and maximize the flourishing of humans and animals alike is straightforward. By now I don't think I have to spell it out for you. If you're still unsure, read my signature below for a helpful clue.  :)

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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:)

 

Actually, all the extinctions could be halted -- and the planet would be saved from the evils of global warming.

I think my logic is absolutely correct.

 

Malthus was wrong -- he thought that all we have to do is to get rid of the surplus population -- the only solution is to get rid of all of the  population.  Whatever lofty ideals that you, or anyone else might expunge, there are too many people who don't care.  So the only way to accomplish your goals for all the exploited megafauna is to eliminate the entire human race.

 

  -- Saul

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:)

 

Whatever lofty ideals that you, or anyone else might expunge, there are too many people who don't care. So the only way to accomplish your goals for all the exploited megafauna is to eliminate the entire human race.

 

-- Saul

Saul,

 

I think you mean "expound" rather than "expunge".

 

You may not agree that it is worth the human cost to reduce suffering of all highly sentient beings on the planet. But if one does take total suffering seriously, suggesting that the only solution is to kill all humans because there are now too many people who don't care is simply illogical.

 

By analogy, would this argument have made sense to you as the only solution to end the suffering caused by human slavery? Wasn't a better and more viable solution to eliminate the suffering of slaves simply to abolish slavery?

 

Similarly, wouldn't a more rational and viable solution for preventing the majority of suffering of megafauna on Earth be to stop or drastically curtail / reform animal agriculture, rather than killing all humans?

 

Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Hi Dean!

 

I expected a response.

 

First, let me note that my post started with a smiley face to indicate that I was not totally serious.

 

Second, let me express my pleasure over your many posts, many of which are usually either relevant, interesting or at least thought provoking.

 

Actually, I am pretty sympathetic to your views on animal rights -- although you limit it to "sentient beings".  IMO, it's possible to extend it, e.g., to plants as well.

 

Animals are actually a parasite on plants; plants are quite complicated living things, as well.

 

But, I think one should consider the words of that greatest of poets, William Shakespeare, from his play MacBeth:

 

She should havedied hereafter;
There would have been a time for such a word.
To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time.
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more: it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

 

I would especially note the last sentence:

 

"[Life] is a tale told by an idiot ... signifying nothing".

 

From the Psalms of David:

"Man is like to vanity: His days are as a shadow that passeth away."

 

More to the point, the  thoughts expressed by Solomon, in his terminal work, Ecclesiastes:

 

The words of the Teacher,son of David, king in Jerusalem:

“Meaningless! Meaningless!”
    says the Teacher.
“Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.”

 

Basically, I would emphasize that life -- although precious to each of us -- is really meaningless.

 

More to the point:  As I've noted before, I believe that our consciousness is an illusion -- it is simply something crafted by evolution -- whatever persists and perpetuates itself is favored by evolution.  And human -- and also other animal -- consciousness -- is simply a special case of this.

 

I would strongly suggest that anyone who hasn't read Solomon's Ecclesiastes do so.  It's a thin, but very thought ("thought"?  Am I contradicting myself? :)) provoking book. 

 

  -- Saul

 

 

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Hi Saul,

 

I enjoy engaging with you too. I find it intriguing and stimulating to try to understand how other people think about issues I care about.

 

But once again I find it hard to follow you logic. In your latest post, you point the the meaninglessness of life and the illusory nature of consciousness. I tend to agree with you on both counts. Life has no intrinsic or absolute meaning, we give it (provisional and contextually-relative) meaning through our choices and attitudes. As for consciousness, I agree with you (and philosopher Dan Dennett) that consciousness is a much harder concept to pin down than is commonly conceived, and may very well be an illusion, although a very persistent and compelling one. 

 

But I don't see either of these philosophical points as particularly germane to the topic we were discussing, namely the suffering of sentient beings. I'm not sure which if any other animals possess the kind of reflective awareness that we consider the hallmark of true consciousness. Heck, I can't even be sure that you do, given the inherently subjective nature of what we call consciousness. As another concrete example - as a parent, it's very difficult to tell whether or not there is "someone home" (i.e. possessing of reflective consciousness) when you suspect your child may be sleepwalking but you aren't sure.

 

But unlike consciousness, it's quite apparent when other sentient beings are experiencing pain and suffering - either from their overt behavior or (more recently) from neuroscience measures of brain activity. And realizing pain and suffering are unpleasant for me, I can reasonably infer they are unpleasant for the other sentient being as well, be they human or animal.

 

It seems a short and reasonable step from there to the conclusion that if I prefer to avoid pain and suffering, I should avoid inflicting it on others, since there is no good reason to support the position that my preferences should take precedence over those of others, particularly when a relatively minor pain or inconvenience on my part can spare many others great pain and suffering.

 

As for life's meaning (or lackthereof) and its relationship to suffering. While there may be other paths to a meaningful life, it seems to me that one rational way we can endow our lives with provisional meaning (i.e. something to value and strive for), is to work towards reducing the suffering and increasing the overall well-being of sentient creatures, including people and animals.

 

Even if reducing total suffering isn't one's primary source for life's meaning, can it really be a bad thing to engage in as a secondary objective while you're focused on something else you consider more significant, particularly since relatively minor (and often personally beneficial) lifestyle changes can make a big difference in this regard?

 

--Dean

Edited by Dean Pomerleau

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Hi Dean!

 

You might like this quote from Ecclesiastes;  it's one of my favorites:

 

"Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"

 

  -- Saul

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Hmmmm. 

 

Hi Saul:

 

Would you care to explain why you particularly like that quote?

 

I am having difficulty understanding what the author is trying to communicate.  Let alone come to a conclusion as to whether I like it or not.

 

What was he referring to when he used the word "spirit", and what is the significance of it going up or down?

 

Rodney.

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Hi Rodney!

 

I may not have chosen the best quote from Ecclesiastes. I'm too lazy to look it up now (On Sunday I'm leaving for my favorite resort -- the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, in Stockbridge, Mass.)

 

The most relevant quotes impliy that man is not really superior to animals:  "Vanity of vanities, for all is vanity".

 

I strongly suggest reading Ecclesiastes; it's short and pithy; it's the last, and greatest, work of King Solomon (written by an ageing Solomon, fully aware of his mortality).

 

  -- Saul

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Hi Rodney!

 

The most relevant quotes impliy that man is not really superior to animals:  "Vanity of vanities, for all is vanity".

 

 

Hi Saul,

 

That is a sentiment I obviously agree with. But it seems natural to ask - how can someone with this perspective condone the torturing, killing and eating of animals, when humans aren't superior to animals and we wouldn't dream of doing the same things to other humans?

 

Have fun on your yoga retreat!

 

Dean

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In this post much earlier in this thread, I referred to the tremendous rise in the biomass of humans and our livestock relative to other land mammals over the last 10,000 years. I came across this xkcd cartoon that dramatically illustrates just how much we and our animals dominate the planet.

 

Its pretty shocking how few green squares (representing wild land mammals) there are in the diagram below :

 

 

land_mammals.png

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