deforestation for agriculture is a leading cause of climate change

Livestock farming is responsible for up to 28% of greenhouse gas pollution.

Even at the lower estimates of how much livestock farming is responsible for greenhouse gases, it is still higher than the emissions from transport.

No one is cutting down trees for the sake of cutting down trees. There is a clear economic incentive to do so. 

This government should do more to encourage more conversations on a recalibration of the societal relationship between eating meat and the environment.

Abigail spoke in parliament about this need. 


Ms ABIGAIL BOYD (22:11): This week in New South Wales we had a small victory, with the Government pulling legislation that would have imperilled native forests by making it easier for farmers to cut down forests and vegetation. We know these areas of unlogged land provide vital habitats for countless animals and biodiversity, and must be protected. They also serve a crucial function in the carbon life cycle, acting as carbon sinks and soaking up emissions that would otherwise be pumped into the atmosphere to intensify the greenhouse effect. It is so patently obvious we should not be logging precious areas, and the broader public are rapidly catching up to where environmentalists have been on this issue for a long time now. But why do we keep having to have this same fight over and over? The answer to why this rampant logging and land clearing is occurring is actually quite simple.

The loggers are not evil, malevolent beings, seeking out destruction for the sheer hell of it. No-one is chopping down trees because they hate koalas—I hope. There is an economic imperative that motivates these decisions, a powerful profit motive that overrides all other considerations. It is the same force that we see acting in many spheres of our society and one that we on the left are far more comfortable calling out when it comes to fossil fuel companies. Big coal and gas giants do not poison our water catchments and choke us with their emissions for fun; they do it because it is making them rich. Our old growth forests are not felled and koalas displaced because people do not like the sound of the wind in the leaves; it is because farmers have made an economic calculation.

It is no accident that the hugely controversial native forestry bill that the Government scrapped last night was introduced by the Minister for Agriculture, because it is large-scale intensive animal agriculture that is driving much of the land clearing happening in this State, in this country and around the world. There are two key pillars necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. We must leave fossil fuels in the ground and we have to stop farming animals. But there is a powerful disconnect when we talk about preventing climate change and fail to acknowledge the cow in the room. There are too many people willing to jump down your throat for not using a reusable coffee cup, who are all too happy to eat meat every day—multiple times a day—and do not seem to recognise this hypocrisy. Livestock farming, according to a recent paper in the journalSustainability, is accountable for between 16½ per cent and 28 per cent of all greenhouse gas pollution.

Even at the lower end of that estimate, that means livestock farming is responsible for a greater share of greenhouse gas emissions every year than the world's transport emissions. In an even more horrifying statistic, one analysis shows that, even if we were to entirely eliminate all other greenhouse gas emissions from every other sector today, if food production is left on its current trajectory, by 2100 we will still blow past the global carbon budget two or three times over. There is growing awareness of the real danger of methane emissions. It is around 84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide at warming the atmosphere. There was a global methane pledge signed at last year's COP26 climate summit recognising that danger. Livestock farming is the number one contributor to human-generated methane emissions. Inexplicably, animal agriculture does not appear anywhere in that pledge.

The average Australian eats half a kilogram of meat every week. Meat production is responsible for almost 10 per cent of Australia's direct carbon emissions. Meat contributes only 18 per cent of global calorie consumption yet is responsible for 54 per cent of greenhouse emissions. Livestock farming requires huge amounts of land, which requires huge amounts of vegetation and forestry clearing. It requires grazing land, and the livestock also require an enormous number of calories to grow. This means further land clearing to make room for soya bean, corn and other feedstock for cattle. This means a huge intensification of the use of nitrogen fertilisers, the production of which is responsible for around 3 per cent of global emissions on its own. In addition to the greenhouse emissions contribution, excessive use of nitrogen fertilisers degrades soil and poisons waterways.

We can stick our heads in the sand and pretend that the issue does not exist, or we can take this issue as seriously as we take the rapid winding down of fossil fuel industries. The agro-industrial complex is just as pernicious, just as dangerous and just as willing to engage in the same misinformation tactics of the fossil fuel industry, which learnt its trade from the tobacco industry. The environmental movement has historically been fearless in standing up to orthodoxy, in describing and demanding a better, cleaner world, and also demanding that our actions and government regulations match the science. The science on animal agriculture emissions is incontrovertible. This is not to say everyone in the world needs to go vegan overnight—that is unrealistic and probably not necessary—but what it is time for is a drastic reimagining of what our food systems should look like and a recalibration of our relationship with meat and dairy.

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