By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi
From Monsanto’s cancerous GMOs to the fashion industry’s dumping of toxic dyes into waterways, we’re all used to reading about how huge, profit-greedy corporations are destroying the planet. But now, the spotlight is on the NGOs that are meant to be saving it.
Specifically, Greenpeace, Oceana and other large environmental groups present themselves as champions of the earth, doing their best to protect animals, stop climate change and end planetary destruction. And yet, as one recent documentary points out, they are silent about one of the greatest threats facing the planet right now–animal agriculture.
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental film following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he reveals the most destructive industry on the planet and investigates why leading environmental organisations won’t even talk about it. In fact, Andersen implies that by maintaining their silence, NGOs are complicit in the earth’s ruin, and behave no better than any other large company.
The movie that Leonardo DiCaprio helped bring to Netflix for global release opens a Pandora’s box that’s full of farm animals. Hard statistics and data clearly show that animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption pollution–more than cars, oil, or the transportation industry combined. It’s also a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean dead zones, and virtually every environmental ill.
The first alert came with an article from the UN News Center that explained how “Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars” due to the methane that comes out of their digestive process, according to the 2006 senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld. But the scenario is even worse than the UN proposed: in 2009 two advisers from the World Bank released an analysis showing that animal agriculture was responsible for a whopping 51% of all greenhouse gas emissions, as opposed to the mere 18% the UN claimed.
But it’s not only the air animal farming hurts–it’s soil and water, too. There are many NGO campaigns against palm oil plantations in Indonesia which cut down rainforests in order to grow palms for palm oil . But if you look at the data, palm oil is responsible for 26 million acres of Indonesian deforestation, which is pretty bad in itself–but cattle ranching is behind more than 136 million acres being cut down. According to the WWF and Amazon Watch, mega projects like oil drilling, dams, mining and gas pipelines are a major causes of deforestation, but none of the NGOs even mentions animal husbandry, which is clearly behind far more acres of rainforest destruction than any of these projects.
Moving away from the soil and forests, meat and dairy products also pollute water for various reasons: animal waste often goes straight into waterways, creating diseases that kill tonnes of fish and ocean creatures and pollutes our own drinking water, too. The animals eat water-intensive grains, which themselves could feed far more people per acre than animals could. To give you an idea of how much water farm animals use, domestic water is responsible for about 5% of all water used every day–animal agriculture uses 55%! When you think that every year, we kill 70 billion farm animals—that’s TEN TIMES the number of humans on the planet–it’s no big shock that these animals drink more water than we do; in fact, animals take up 1/3 of all fresh drinking water on the planet, even while humans are dying of thirst.
But it’s not just farm animals that are killing the planet–there is a whole other ecosystem under the water being destroyed by the fishing industry. Oceans are under siege like never before, and scientists predict fish-less oceans by 2048 if we don’t do something about it now. When commercial fishing nets are cast, they take in not only the fish we eat, but also dolphins, whales, sea turtles and sharks. These animals are NOT ‘thrown back’. They die. The only NGO to speak out about this is Sea Shepherd, as activist Omar Todd once told us in an exclusive interview with Eluxe. The bottom line is that there is no such thing as “sustainable fishing” and there is definitely something fishy going on when environmental organisations deny this.
Why the Silence?
But the big question is why aren’t the largest environmental organisations addressing these issues? There are two main reasons: It turns out Greenpeace, NRDC, The Climate Reality Project, Sierra Club, Amazon Watch, WWF and many others are businesses and want to make sure they have a reliable source of funding. They are membership organisations and are looking to maximise the number of people making contributions, and if they challenge people’s beloved everyday habits (like eating hamburgers, for example), it will hurt their fundraisers.
Secondly, the pro-meat lobby is strong. Very strong. Not only does it cover all raisers of pigs, chickens, sheep, and cows, but also the GMO lobby (led by Monsanto) that provides feed for these animals. In short, this lobby group embraces pretty much all non-organic companies in agriculture–the biggest industry in the world. Mess with them, and life can be painful.
How painful? It seems like in Brazil you could actually risk your life if you dared to speak about the causes connected to cattle ranching. Over 1,100 activists have been killed in the course of 20 years in Brazil. The death of Sister Dorothy Stang shed a light on the hired killings of human rights advocates, environmentalists, and farmers that account for one-third of the deaths in the region each year, because they encourage sustainable farming techniques that are seen as a threat to loggers, land speculators, and agribusiness.
Cowspiracy director Kip Anderson himself got a call from a film backer who pulled out from his film because it was ‘getting too controversial’. Back in 1996, former rancher Howard Lyman was sued by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association for simply speaking the truth about animal agriculture during an appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show–in fact, Oprah herself was sued simply for saying she would ‘never eat another burger’ after hearing what Lyman told her. And here’s a nightmarish fact: in America, if you cause a disruption in the profits of the animal industry, you’re considered a ‘terrorist’ under the Patriot Act! Journalist Will Potter explains this point more in his book Green Is The New Red, where he says the FBI puts animal rights groups and environmental activists above Islamic fundamentalists as being a greater domestic ‘terrorist’ threat because in their quest to make the planet and humans healthier, they could disrupt corporate profits. No wonder even former United States Vice President Al Gore failed to mention animal husbandry in his documentary An Inconvenient Truth, despite his intention to fully educate citizens about global warming.
It’s Up to US to Change
If we ponder on the fact that nowadays 216,000 babies are born every day, it’s alarming to think that 34,000 acres of farmable land are required every single day to feed the entire planet’s meat-eating population. In addition, data shows that a person eating an omnivorous diet produces double the amount of CO2 than a vegan diet.
Movements like Meatless Mondays aim to get people to stop eating so much meat, and we certainly should–many studies demonstrate that meat is linked to obesity and a recent Harvard study shows that meat increases the risk of early death by 13%. So meat, besides killing the planet, is killing us, too. A shift in diet is the key to have an immediate impact on the planet and its ecosystems. Whilst it would take decades for CO2 in the atmosphere to shift even if we all started driving electric cars tomorrow, if everybody in North America went vegetarian right now, we would see immediate changes, and within ten to fifteen years the planet would start to heal: forests would grow back, water would be less polluted and ocean dead zones would be filled with more life.
By choosing to eat more plant-based foods you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. In these regards the words of Nil Zacharias, co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of One Green Planet say it all:“The real war against climate is being fought on our plates, multiple times a day with every food choice we make, one of the biggest challenges facing our planet, and our species is that we are knowingly eating ourselves into extinction, and doing very little about it.”
A plant based diet is clearly the only way forward–not only will this protect our own health and save billions of animals from suffering, but it could also save the entire planet, too.