Dietary Impacts on the Climate: An Interview with Journalist Geoff Russell
Welcome to Planet Earth: Our Loving Home. Today we will present an interview with Geoff Russell, an Australian journalist committed to helping save our planet from effects of global warming by advocating an animal-free, vegan lifestyle.
Mr. Russell is an honorary committee member and spokesperson for the Australian non-profit organization Animal Liberation, which works to protect all animals and the planet.
In his work as a journalist, Mr. Russell raises public and governmental awareness about the alarming impact of animal agriculture on our climate.
Russell:Animal agriculture creates greenhouse emissions in all sorts of ways. Animal agriculture is the driver of land clearing around the world, particularly in Australia.
Of the hundred million hectares of Australia that’s been deforested, about 70 million of that has been down to animal agriculture. About 25, 26 million is what we crop. We only live on about 2 million hectares. Proportion of GHG emissions from different parts of livestock production
The other way that animal agriculture creates a lot of greenhouse emissions is by methane and nitrous oxide. Methane in particular, is produced by ruminates when they digest their food.
And we have 90 million sheep and 28 million cattle in this country. They are 24/7 methane-producing machines. And the amount of warming that that methane creates in Australia is more warming that all of our coal-fired power stations.
It’s absolutely staggering. The way that methane is measured is very confusing because the standard that was set by the Kyoto Protocol defines a measure called a “carbon dioxide equivalent.”
Now that is not the warming due to methane. It’s talked about all the time, it’s talked about in official documents, but it is not the warming due to methane.
The warming due to methane is much higher than the carbon dioxide equivalent. And that’s why we can say quite categorically and quite authoritatively that the methane that our sheep and cattle produce has more warming than all of our coal-fired power stations.
SUPREME MASTER TV: Why is methane being left out of our most important reviews and submissions?
Russell: The meat industry in Australia has a stranglehold on official processes that is quite astonishing and quite deplorable.
When you look at the Australian greenhouse office figures on our greenhouse emissions, you’ll notice that we have an agriculture sector section, and we have a land use change section.
The land use change is almost entirely the cattle industry. So a lot of the emissions of the agriculture business.
And we’re only talking about livestock here, the rest of agriculture creates very little emissions. A lot of the emissions of that industry are split into another category, which allows the livestock people to say, “Oh, agriculture only creates 16% of our emissions.”
The sector they leave out, the land use change, the deforestation in Australia is worth about 60 million tons of carbon dioxide. So that’s more than all the passenger vehicles in Australia.
And the meat industry, they manage to understate their emissions and two, they have the stranglehold on nutritional advice in this country.
SUPREME MASTER TV: And what about water? I understand that the animal agriculture actually uses a lot of water.
Russell: Yes, the beef industry uses a lot, but particularly, the dairy industry.
People think that it's washing down abattoir walls or dairy factories or something.
The main water use is in growing the feed. Livestock in this country eat about 12 million tons of grain each year. The dairy cattle in addition consume a lot of loosened pasture, dairy pasture often is loosened and it is flood irrigated.
You don’t drip irrigate a loosened paddock like you would drip irrigate an almond tree or a peach tree or something.
You flood it and you flood it with millions and billions of liters of water.
So the dairy industry single-handedly as a category, uses far more water than any other industry in Australia.
HOST: Shortly after its election in November 2007, the new Australian Labor government led by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd signed the Kyoto Protocol.
It has plans for a carbon trading agreement to begin in 2010. However, the plan excludes agriculture.
SUPREME MASTER TV: Do you think agriculture should have been included in the recent Emissions Trading Scheme that was released here in Australia?
Russell: I'm not entirely convinced that an Emissions Trading System is the best way to do things. We put in a submission, Peter Singer, Barry Brook and myself, to the Garnaut Review.
And we argued that one, you should put agriculture in and two, you should cost methane at its full warming potential; that is, 72 times the impact of CO2.
If you don’t do that, you could actually make things worse. Investment could go out of some carbon-producing industries and into beef and cattle and that would make things worse because the beef and cattle emissions would be undervalued if they’re in the Emissions Trading
Scheme, which they’re not. So it's a giant loophole.
Methane concentrations at the Mauna Loa observatory. The grey data points are preliminary. Graphic:NOAA.
Australian journalist Geoff Russell and dedicated vegan speaks of dietary impacts on the climate. In November 2007, the popular science magazine, Australasian Science, featured a three page report co-written by Geoff Russell entitled, “Meat’s Carbon Hoofprint.”
The report detailed the startling effects methane has on short-term global warming compared with CO2.
SUPREME MASTER TV: Professor Barry Brook and you wrote an article called “Meat’s Carbon Hoofprint.” Can you tell us about that?
Russell: That was with Professor Peter Singer. It was designed for a general audience. This is to meet that need of getting scientists from other fields aware of the impact of methane, so we talk in there about the lifetime of methane, about the warming impact of methane and we talk particularly about methane produced by our livestock industries, particularly by red meat production.
SUPREME MASTER TV: There was a part in there about methane being calculated over a 20 year period, whereas it had been calculated over a 100 year period.
Could you tell us about that?
Russell: Methane has a fairly short lifetime. Most of it is gone in 15 or 20 years when you pump it up into the air.
But during that time it has a very potent effect, very potent effect, 72 times more warming than CO2.
But when they average it, they average it over 100 years.
So, over 100 years, it doesn't sound quite so hot, it’s only 21 times hotter.
SUPREME MASTER TV: We now have a current world food shortage. Can you tell us how the vegan diet would assist with helping our world food shortages at the moment?
Russell: Australia last year imported 2 million tons of grain, animal feed to feed our livestock.
That's more than our 21 million people eat. It’s a huge import. We imported 2 million tons last year and this year there's a global food shortage.
I wouldn't say that Australia's import caused that food shortage, but you can see what’s happening. There is now a huge competition between poor people and the animals of rich people for food.
So when Australia's livestock producers want more grain, they will go and buy it on the international market and that will make it harder for poor countries to get that grain.
So if the World Food Program can’t buy grain because livestock producers have bought it all and can pay higher prices for it, that will be reflected in world food shortages.
We have an aquaculture industry producing fish. This is often hailed by people who don't know any better and sometimes by people who are just misleading as being an answer to the world’s food shortages.
The oceans are in serious trouble in any event and fish have never produced substantial quantities of food. They produce small quantities of food for rich people. Fifty-five percent of the fish eaten in Australia come out of other people’s oceans.
It is not going to assist the world food problem. And what’s happening now with aquaculture, aquaculture is getting hard up to find fish to feed the fish that it is growing because predominantly the aquaculture industry runs on carnivorous fish.
So in Australia, the main things would be tuna and salmon and they eat a lot of other fish. So because they can’t find the feed to feed the carnivorous fish, they're mixing up diets with grains and where do you get the grains?
You take them out of the bellies of poor people. We've now got three other industries that compete with poor people for food.
We have the animals of rich people, we have the fish of rich people and we have the bio-fuels that rich people also want.
There's been a lot of talk during this food crisis about bio-fuels. But bio-fuels is only about 100 million tons.
Sounds like a lot doesn't it, but the meat industry consumed over 700 million tons of cereals last year, so the bulk of the problem was livestock for rich people.
SUPREME MASTER TV: What do you think each individual can do to help save our planet?
Russell: The most important thing you can do is elect the right government, that's number one. Elect a government who cares, that's the most important.
But what we still can do as individuals is to change your own lifestyle and the biggest impact that people have on the planet in terms of the environmental impact is by what they eat.
It’s more impact than what they drive, more impact than where they live. It’s what they eat, so change your diet.
Learn how to cook vegetarian, learn how to cook vegan.
HOST: Thank you, Mr. Geoff Russell, for your research and articles in helping to raise awareness of the detrimental effects of a meat diet on our environment.
May we all heed this advice to save our planet through a healthy, compassionate vegan lifestyle.