Don’t Blame Cows: Manipulation Of Climate Change Data

CNN reported not too long ago that Frank Mitloehner, an air quality specialist from the University of California at Davis, accused the authors of a 2006 report published by the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (“FAO”), titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow”, of skewing scientific data to grossly exaggerate the impact of livestock farming on climate change and, at the same time, underplaying the impact of climate change caused by transport.

As the debate over the legitimacy of certain climate change science continues to swirl in both scientific and academic as well as policy making circles, it is vitally important to avoid politicization of the science.  Politics may be unavoidable when policymakers’ decisions on climate change will have a likely impact over time of tens of billions, but every effort should be made to keep the science on the straight and narrow.  That is why this article and the underlying FAO report is disturbing. The 2006 report claims that meat production is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions  world-wide (greater than impact of transport). The report goes on to claim that livestock farming occupies a whooping 30 percent of the world’s surface and that its environmental impact will double by 2050 unless drastic action is taken now.  Who knew?  Frank Mitloehner contends the U.N. reached its conclusions for the livestock sector by adding up emissions from farm to table, including the gases produced by growing animal feed; animals’ digestive emissions; and processing meat and milk into foods.

The U.N. also downplayed climate change caused by transport by failing to add up emissions from well head to steering wheel, and only considered  emissions from fossil fuels burned while driving. In fact, leading authorities agree raising animals for food accounts for about 3 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., while transportation creates an estimated 26 percent.  Mitloehner’s clarification must have brought about sighs of relief from U.S. beef associations, who were no doubt concerned about their member companies being tagged with responsibility for Hurricane Katrina’s damage in Louisiana and Mississippi and the loss of sea ice in Kivaluna in the Northwest!  Meanwhile, environmentalists and campaigners including Paul McCartney, used the U.N.’s findings to urge consumers to eat less meat and save the planet with slogan:  “Less meat = less heat.”  Sadly, once an icon in children’s literature, Old McDonald’s Farm, is no longer the innocent “EIEIO” of toddler rhyme, but a potential malefactor with inadequate insurance coverage to boot.

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