by Kamya Sud
Last week, I had the truly life-changing experience of watching the critically acclaimed and widely controversial environmental documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. Although the title may immediately put off lovers of meat and exude repetitiveness to other food-centric documentaries out there, this evocative film strays far from the norm. Expertly shot and powerfully written, it’s no wonder that Cowspiracy has almost 5 of 5 stars on Netflix.
The film follows the path of environmental activist and filmmaker Kip Andersen as he delves into the true causes behind the countless environmental crises that face the world today. It opens with a description of the incredibly precarious environmental position Earth is in, with carbon dioxide emissions at a peak of 400 ppm – 50 ppm more than scientists have deemed safe as well as the rapidly approaching 2 degree Celsius rise in global temperatures. Andersen describes watching Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth as pivotal in turning him into an OCE – Obsessive Compulsive Environmentalist – someone who made most of the relatively minor behavioral changes in their everyday lives to help save the planet, from taking shorter showers, to switching to LED lightbulbs, to biking instead of driving fossil-fueling guzzling vehicles. This mildly inconvenienced lifestyle in favor of some sense of self-satisfaction and environmental altruism is likely familiar and easy to relate to for many.
But then Andersen delivers the blow, in the form of hard-hitting, hidden truths. While major influential environmental groups increasingly focus their efforts on encouraging people to change their personal habits and raising awareness of the pollution and damage caused by fossil fuels and the transport industry, the reality of the situation remains largely denied and suppressed. He describes something as seemingly trivial as a friend’s Facebook post as the eye-opener he didn’t realize he, and the rest of the world needed.
A UN report stated that raising livestock plays a major role in global warming, the leading cause of resource consumption and environmental degradation. The animal agriculture industry is far more damaging to the environment in terms of global greenhouse emissions as compared to the transportation industry, with the methane produced from meat and dairy production almost 86 times more destructive than the carbon dioxide emitted from cars. However, the true Cowspiracy is that almost every major environmental organization and government administration denied the incredible extent of the negative impacts of the animal agriculture industry, with almost half of the 1500 gallons of water the average Californian uses daily, being consumed to produce extremely water-intensive foods like meat and dairy.
This massive virtual water footprint was further explained by the 660 gallons of water required to produce just one quarter-pound hamburger, the same amount almost two whole months of showering requires.For the 55 percent of water that the meat and dairy industry uses – 477 gallons for eggs, 900 for cheese, and 2500 for beef, only 5 percent of water is used domestically. But this truth has been hidden from us – the cause of 51 percent of human-based climate change, 30 percent of water consumption, and 91 percent of Brazilian Amazon destruction, remains unknown to the majority of the world today. Occupying 45 percent of all available land of the planet, animal agriculture is also the leading cause of ocean dead zones, habitat destruction, and species extinction.
After ceaselessly prodding huge environmental organizations from 350 to Sierra Club to Rainforest Action Network and more, Andersen found that none of them were willing to admit to the leading cause of the climate crisis today. Being membership and donation-reliant organizations, they claimed that too many people would be put off by the idea of changing a much-loved habit – eating meat and dairy. Furthermore, the political power that most meat and dairy businesses have is far too extensive and are far too wealthy to allow change. These business owners often have the ability to dictate federal policies around food production, and furthermore, the food disparagement law makes it illegal to say something that would cause a disruption in the profits of perishable commodities like meat and dairy. If all of the external costs of the animal agriculture industry, equivalent to about $414 billion annually, were internalized, prices of animal products would skyrocket.
As discussed by Will Potter, author of Green is the new Red, in the film, “When we try to find out how factory farms and how animal agriculture is polluting the environment, they try to claim exemptions to that information, either under national security terms, public safety, trademark issues, or that ‘it’s a business secret’. We’ve seen all these attempts to keep people in the dark about what they’re actually doing. One of the largest industries on the planet, with the biggest environmental impact, trying to keep us in the dark about how it’s operating.”
Perhaps the most astonishing fact was that animals rights activists are the primary domestic terrorism threat according to the FBI, simply for threatening corporate profits. Cowspiracy even portrayed the acute denial of this conspiratorial business by depicting how the film’s primary provider of funds backed out due to concerns over “controversial subject matter”.
As warned by Richard Oppenlander, the world will reach 565 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, even with the exclusion of the use of fossil fuels. Furthermore, a reduction in the substantially more harmful than carbon dioxide, methane gas will visibly alter the atmosphere for the better in mere decades rather than centuries. All the thousands of tons of food we feed to farm animals, we could potentially be using to actually feed every person on this planet – for about 70 percent of all grains produced are fed to cattle and poultry, when we could be feeding ourselves. The 1.5 billion cows on the planet require 45 billion gallons of water and 21 billion pounds of food daily, and yet, millions of people starve every day just to feed a few at the top. And that, is the true Cowspiracy. If that isn’t convincing enough, here’s a few more unbelievable factoids:
- “We could feed every person on this planet an adequate diet, if we stop feeding the farm industry” – Howard Lyman
- We can produce 15 times more protein from plant-based sources than meat on any type of land
- 100 billion gallons of water used/year for US hydraulic fracturing (fracking); 4 trillion gallons of water used/year for US livestock production; and both industries have almost equal methane emissions
- Vegan diet requires one sixth of an acre of land to grow food for a year
Vegetarian diet requires three times that
Non-vegetarian diet requires 18 times that
- One and a half acres of land can produce 37000 pounds of vegetables, or 375 pounds of meat/dairy
- Opportunity to save at least 1100 pounds water, 45 pounds grain, 30 square feet of forest, 10 pounds of carbon dioxide, and one animal’s life simply by cutting out meat and dairy from your diet
- If there wasn’t a demand for meat, they wouldn’t need to be bred, and if they weren’t bred, they wouldn’t need to be fed, and if they weren’t fed, thousands of acres of land wouldn’t have to be devoted to growing feed.