Of brains, biceps and baloney

Guest Post by Geoff RussellGeoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.

NASA climate scientist James Hansen’s recent book Storms of my Grandchildren makes accessible the evidence behind the judgement of many climate scientists that we need to get atmospheric carbon dioxide back to 350 ppm (or perhaps 300-325 to be really safe) to avoid dangerous climate tipping points. But he also makes it clear that merely redesigning the global energy infrastructure isn’t enough, other important climate forcings like methane, nitrous oxide and black carbon must also be reduced.

What do we need to do?

Here’s Hansen’s todo list. Stick it on the fridge.

  1. Phase out all coal fired power stations by 2030. Of course, you can still use coal if you sequester all the emissions, … good luck with that.
  2. Undo 200 years of deforestation. We need to start this now, but it will take over 100 years and contribute a reduction of about 50ppm by 2150.
  3. Reduce non-carbon dioxide forcings. Hansen is a little vague here, but the argument implies that pre-industrial levels are required.

Now, if the next sentence doesn’t hit like a shattering ice-shelf, then reread until it does. All three items are mandatory. This isn’t a smorgasbord where you pick what you want and ignore the rest. With countries around the world still building new coal power plants, the first todo is looking shaky. Fortunately the second and third are technically easier. We don’t need any new science or technologies but the politics are diabolical.

You can’t tackle reforestation without a global food system rethink. People who’ve read my previous posts on BNC understand this, but be patient while I race through a little background for new readers.

As with reforestation, steep reductions of methane, black carbon and nitrous oxide forcings also require a rethink of the global food system. This is because 96 megatonnes of the 350 mega tonnes of anthropogenic methane emitted annually are due to livestock. It’s also livestock production which is responsible for the bulk of the annual global conflagrations responsible for preventing plenty of natural reforestation while also contributing rather a lot of black carbon. This is covered in Boverty I. The good news is that 38 megatonnes of methane emissions will go when we stop mining coal and another 73 megatonnes are tied up with oil and gas production and can be relatively easily dealt with when there is a will to do so.

The livestock reforestation impediment

Currently, a major sticking point on reforestation is the attitude to animal product consumption of the UN FAO which is summed up in the just released report on the greenhouse gases associated with the dairy sector: Without concerted action, emissions [from livestock] are unlikely to fall. On the contrary, they are rising, as global demand for meat, milk and eggs continues to grow rapidly. Projected population growth and rising incomes are expected to drive total consumption higher–with meat and milk consumption doubling by 2050 compared to 2000 (FAO, 2006b).

The cognitive dissonance at the UN FAO in understanding that livestock is currently the largest driver of deforestation, but also planning for a doubling of meat and milk consumption by 2050 while trying to reform a frontier cowboy culture is extreme. Any growth in the global livestock industry will make ending deforestation difficult and the required massive global reforestation impossible.

A huge part of the problem is that decades of meat and dairy industry propaganda has left people with the a cult-like certainty that they are some kind of wonder food. This sentiment is echoed in a recent special edition of Science onFood Security in a paper by H. Charles Godfray et al:

… in developing countries, meat represents the most concentrated source of some vitamins and minerals, which is important for some individuals such as young children.

Note that Godfray felt no need to justify his claim. Henry Thoreau wrote about a similar prejudice in 1852:

One farmer says to me, You cannot live on vegetable food solely, for it furnishes nothing to make bones with; and so he religiously devotes a part of his day to supplying his system with the raw material of bones; walking all the while he talks behind his oxen, which, with vegetable-made bones, jerk him and his lumbering plow along in spite of every obstacle.

How can you argue with the likes of Godfray when Science, one of the world’s top peer reviewed science journals allows him to get away with unsubstantiated assertions? There is not even any science to debate if you don’t justify your claims. Thankfully, the 2006 UN Livestock’s Long Shadow (LLS) report provides a hint of science in its justification for pushing livestock products in the developing world:

Children in particular have been shown to benefit greatly in terms of physical and mental health when modest amounts of milk, meat, or eggs are added to their diets, as shown by long-term research carried out in Kenya (Neumann 2003)

The above two quotes go to the heart of the international stranglehold of the livestock industry on the only organisations with enough political clout to have a chance of driving a major global reforestation effort. The players like the UN, the EU and major national Governments.

This post examines the second of these quotes in detail.

But what about all the starving children?

The LLS quote is some serious blackmail. It implies that nobody who cares about starving children could possibly suggest any reductions in global meat production, particularly in the developing world. There have been plenty of calls for a decrease in global meat production via a transfer of meat to the developing world. The most important of these was back in 2007 from an Australian team writing in one of the world’s top medical journals, The Lancet. They proposed the world’s average 100 gram per day meat intake be reduced to 90 grams per day with a hefty redistribution to even out global consumption. High income countries would drop from 200-250 grams per day to 90 grams per day and low income countries would increase their meat from 25-50 grams per day to 90 grams per day. Such a move might halt deforestation, depending on if and when the global population levels off, but it will clearly not be enough to allow the necessary massive reforestation.

The Lancet paper also contains a nice little qualitative table claiming that the proposed increase in meat in the developing world would heavily decrease childhood stunting. Such a claim is in line with the LLS quote, but no reference was given. Again as with Godfray, it seems nobody thought any evidence was needed.

LLS had 6 authors with the lead being the coordinator of the UN FAO’s Livestock Environment and Development Initiative (LEAD) … Henning Steinfeld. Is the quote just a demonstration that LEAD is a livestock industry pawn, or is it simply good science? Let’s look at the Neumann studies.

Show me the data!

The Neumann paper cited by LLS is part of a set that appeared in a 2003 supplement in the Journal of Nutrition.

The papers describe a study involving 554 children in Kenya provided supplemental food on a daily basis for 12 months. This is solid, careful, painstaking clinical research involving a supervised team of over 100 locals taking blood samples, preparing food, measuring biceps, administering IQ tests, freezing and transferring blood samples to the US for processing and dealing with a maze of logistical difficulties. All the meat was shipped into the rural area from Nairobi. Many of the children involved came from families with cattle, but they rarely eat or milk them. A Control group got no extra food at all. Why did they agree to take part? They were given a milking goat at the end of the research. Great PR for the dairy biz.

Randomisation

The randomisation to different extra-food groups was done by school. All the children of the selected age group in one school got more meat, those in another school got more milk and another got just plain food. So 12 schools were allocated to one of 4 groups … 3 schools per group. It’s easy to understand why this randomisation procedure was used, but equally easy to see how something unusual in even a single school might cause problems.

Hang in there while I describe accurately the extra food the children got. This kind of detail is unusual in a blog, but BNC is different and the details matter.

Who got fed what

The children had a median age of 7.4 years old and food intake before the study was highly variable with a quarter of the children being stunted at the start of the study. In addition to a Control group getting no supplementary food, there were 3 types of daily supplement, denoted Meat, Milk and Energy by the study authors. I’ll call them Meat, Milk, and Plants. Calling the Plant food group Energy makes it sound like that’s the only thing Plants can provide … a revealingly silly choice of terminology.

The three supplementary food groups were built around a local stew made of maize, beans and greens and all balanced to contain about 240 Calories. So the children either got stew with meat (60 grams of beef mince), stew with milk (200 ml), stew only, or nothing.

Comparing the LLS quote with the actual research

Now, how does LLS’s description of the results compare with what actually happened? Note that all the key studies are publicly available thanks to the enlightened policies of the Journal of Nutrition. You can read them yourself.

First, there was no egg in any of the supplementary feeding. Oops, strike one for LLS. Second, is 60 grams per day for a 7 year old modest? It’s almost double the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council recommended meat intake for a 7 year old. It’s double the per capita daily production of beef in Kenya. It’s close to double the average red meat intake of Australian 7 year olds (subscription required for this link). After a few months in the study, the meat supplement was increased to 85 grams/day and the milk increased to 250 ml. To describe this intake as modest seems a poor choice of adjective.

The daily food supplement was called a snack by the researchers, and had about the same caloric value as a standard McDonald’s hamburger which has 90 grams of beef mince, similar to the 85 grams in the Meat snack. This is also close to the 90 grams of meat recommended by the Lancet authors (although they recommended more of that meat be chicken or pig meat). The beans and greens however would have made the Meat snack rather more nutritious than a hamburger.

Did the children benefit greatly in physical or mental health as LLS claimed?

The title of the paper describing the physical impacts seems clear: Food Supplements Have a Positive Impact on Weight Gain and the Addition of Animal Source Foods Increases Lean Body Mass of Kenyan School children. But as with everything else about this research, you have to actually read the damn papers, not just the titles and not just the abstracts to find out what actually happened.

All the intervention groups gained an average of 10% (0.4 kilograms) more weight than the Control group but there were essentially no changes in height for age … sorry about the jargon, what does this mean? No change in stunting.

There were no statistically significant differences in height gain, body fat (as measured by skin fold tests) and a few other measures, but the meat group (and not the milk group) got statistically significantly bigger biceps … how much bigger? … after all, this is where the Increases Lean Body Mass of the title comes from. So, are we talking little Kenyan Schwarzeneggers? Not quite. The biceps were bigger in circumference by less than 1 millimeter, the Meat group’s bicep increased by 7.1 mm compared with 6.5 mm in the Plants group. Also, as usual, the paper’s title is misleading because it wasn’t all animal source foods which achieved this mighty sub-millimeter muscular gain, only meat. Milk produced the same gains as Plants. The area of the biceps was also bigger in the meat (but not in the milk group) but whether either of these changes was due to nutrition or the possibility that one or more schools did more physical education wasn’t discussed.

The other aspect of physical health that could be construed as important is micronutrient status. We will deal with that below.

Oh yes, I almost forgot. The researchers were alert to all manner of possible confounding problems. They even measured the food given at home to see if it changed as a result of knowing that the children were getting extra at school. It did. The Control children and the Meat children both got an increase of food at home (about 150 Calories), while the Milk and Plants children received a similar sized decrease in home nutrition. The quantity of extra or reduced home feeding wasn’t uniform over time but the direction of the changes persisted throughout the study.

The researchers went to great lengths to measure physical activity, but didn’t report any details except to claim an improvement. The activity results were published in 2007. I could describe them, but this post will be quite long enough as it is. Suffice to say that, regardless of the supplementation, many of the children would still not have been getting enough food to support high activity. I base this claim on the variance in the reported energy intake of the children and the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) recommended energy intakes for children, suitably adjusted because Australian children are a little bigger at the same age. The reported extra 150 Calories per day over the 12 months for the meat group didn’t rate a mention in the 2007 paper which duly reported more high activity among the Meat group compared to any others.

That’s strike two for LLS, there were no great physical benefits for the meat children over and above the benefits of extra food.

Is taller better?

It’s worth noting here that while stunting is a definite indicator undernutrition, it doesn’t follow that maximising growth rates in children is good. There is a really good reason not to maximise growth rates. The big “C”. Your height as an adult is a good cancer predictor … greater height equals greater cancer risk. The 2007 World Cancer Research Fund report explains how it works and gives “adult attained height” the rare accolade of having been convincinglyshown to be a cause of bowel and breast cancers with a probable role in other cancers. So if additional animal source foods do maximise growth, then this is evidence against them, not for them.

Great improvements in mental health?

Now for the last of the LLS claims. Recall, LLS also told the world that animal foods, all of them, produce great benefits for mental health. I call this LLS’s meat head claim.

I’ll begin with a quote from the abstract of the relevant study before revealing the actual results. The abstract is beautifully crafted to mislead people who don’t read the entire study while being somewhat defensible in the face of a claim of fraudulent misrepresentation. First, comes the quotable quote, the take home message, the thing that will survive in the annals of meat industry propaganda:

Results suggest that supplementation with animal source food has positive effects on Kenyan children. …

There you have the guts of the LLS claim. But the LLS promoted “positive effects” into “benefitted greatly”. The abstract follows up on this general claim with a semblance of the truth expressed as abstractly and vaguely as possible:

However, these effects are not equivalent across all domains of cognitive functioning, nor did different forms of animal source foods produce the same beneficial effects.

Now let’s see what happened. The researchers measured 3 things: arithmetic, verbal skills and Raven’s Progressive Matrices (RPM). There were virtually no differences on the first two. Even the Control group, living on their normal diet and the promise of a goat made almost identical gains to the children with the burger-equivalent snacks.

But the Raven’s results showed a statistically significant impact. Keep in mind that the bicep increase (of less than 1mm) was also “statistically significant” … which is a rather different concept from “important”. An RPM test consists of a matrix of geometrical patterns with one missing, as in the example from Wikipedia on the left. Usually, the matrix is also accompanied by a set of possible candidate patterns.

The Meat group did statistically significantly better than the Plants and Control groups, while the Milk group statistically significantly worse. The size of the effect was similar. What we are talking about here is a relative change in the slope of the increase in RPM scores as the children aged.

Despite the lower RPM rise rate in the milk group, neither the study authors nor the LLS authors are recommending less milk to prevent a decline in mental health and there was no mention of rethinking the Control group’s free milking goat and perhaps delivering it in sliced and diced form.

By now, you will understand that research cited by LLS doesn’t show what it was supposed to. Not even close. It was funded by the USAID Global Livestock Nutrition Collaborative Research Support Program and was a substantial study carried out by well qualified people with a financial and professional interest in showing that animal foods are a god-send to poor children in developing countries. But apart from the occasional misrepresented and tiny result, they found nothing. This must have disappointed another of their funding sources: The National Cattleman’s Beef Association.

The sloppy, inaccurate and uncritical citation of these non-results by otherwise careful LLS authors just reflects what happens when people have been brainwashed by the tunnel vision of the dominant meat obsessed cuisine challenged culture.

Summing up

Remember that we began with a study cited by LLS which had UCLA Professor Charlotte Neumann as the lead author. Here is its full title.

Animal Source Foods Improve Dietary Quality, Micronutrient Status, Growth and Cognitive Function in Kenyan School Children: Background, Study Design and Baseline Findings

The title makes four claims and we can now summarise their accuracy:

  1. Animal source foods increase dietary quality. Vacuously true by Neumann’s definition of quality.
  2. Animal source foods increase growth … trivially true, but did it increase growth more than plant source foods? No.
  3. Cognitive functions … if the meat RPM increase is considered important, then the milk decrease should be similarly considered important … I’d judge both to be trivial and confounded.
  4. Micronutrient status … with the exception of B12, this is false. Again we need to read a subsidiary study. This paper says that none of the supplementary feeding had any impact on any biochemical nutrient measures except B12. Even with B12, the results will surprise some people. The rate of serious B12 deficiency dropped in the Meat and Milk supplemented groups, but the rate of moderate deficiency actually increased in the Meat group.The status paper has various results tables. Let me just cherry pick a few results, not because they prove anything, but just because they will surprise normal meat eaters. Serum zinc levels fell in all the groups, but fell most in the meat group. Oops, not good. Ditto copper. Plasma folate fell more in the Meat and Milk group than in the Plants group. Hemoglobin levels rose more in the Plants group than in the Meat and Milk groups. Serum iron increases in the Plants group were double what they were in the Milk group. The researchers defined anemia as having hemoglobin levels below 115 g/dl. The group which had the biggest fall in anemia rates was … wait for it … the Control group!There’s an old saying that when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. There are clearly some complex interactions happening between many factors in these children, some of which probably are not on anybody’s radar, let alone researchers who see animal foods as the ultimate hammer.

The issue of B12 is important and came up in the blog responses to Boverty II. The children given Meat or Milk in the Kenyan study didn’t all end up with good B12 blood levels. Judging by the rise in moderate deficiency, some went backwards. How could this happen? The B12 in animal foods is bound to protein and not well absorbed. The B12 in supplements is easier to absorb, doesn’t come with saturated fat, bowel cancer causing heme iron and other carcinogens, and can be supplied to 9 billion people without the deforestation that animal products on the required scale would entail. Older people (over 50) frequently have sub-optimal absorption anyway, which is why the US Institutes of Medicine advises all people over 50 to use B12 supplements … whether or not they eat meat. B12 fortified foods are common in developed countries, they need to become globally ubiquitous … much as iodine is in salt.

So you can stop reading now … if your only concern is the possible deleterious impact that reforestation and a consequent reduction in global livestock could have on global health, particularly to vulnerable children in developing countries. In my previous BNC post, Boverty Blues, I explained the mechanics of the livestock anchor chain depressing reforestation and agricultural productivity in many parts of Africa.

But the rest of the story about this research is fascinating and should be told.

RPM’s have risen in Kenya without animal foods!

Was the size of the RPM improvement as cognitively significant as the mighty increase in bicep circumference? The researchers don’t hazard an opinion. Most of them are also co-authors on another paper involving Kenyan children and RPM scores. This paper shows that there are ways of getting genuinely large increases in RPM scores without adding any animal source foods. The paper reports on a 1984 cohort of Kenyan children of similar age who also underwent RPM testing. The difference between the average RPM scores in the 1984 and 1998 cohorts was 4.5 points. This result held even when the 1984 cohort was carefully filtered to make it closely match the characteristics of the 1998 cohort. As we shall see, this isn’t a one off. RPM scores have been rising globally for decades and the increases are the subject of much research.

What do we know about the possible causes of this particular RPM increase over time? We know with a fair degree of certainty that it wasn’t caused by any increase in animal source foods … because while the 1998 children were better fed than the 1984 group, all of the additional food was plant food. Interestingly, I didn’t find any articles by this group with a title like: Increase in plant foods drives large IQ increase in Kenyan children.

But wait … there’s still more.

In search of the vanishing cohort

The Kenyan research actually involved not one but two different groups of children. My account above only described one. But there is mention of two cohorts in the main Neumann paper. The second cohort had 500 children and was enrolled 12 months after the project start. This cohort was enrolled after a drought and a teacher’s strike caused local food and logistic problems. These extra cohort could be used, they said, either as a replication or to increase the statistical power of the research.

But something happened to Cohort II. The cognitive functions paper just ignores it as does the micronutrient/dietary quality paper and the physical growth response to supplementation paper.

But Cohort II springs to life in a 2007 paper by Neumann et al … but it has shrunk from 500 to 375 without explanation. Cohort II appears in some end of term school test scores where Meat did best, followed by Plants, then Milk with the un-supplemented Control group bringing up the rear. It also appears in a figure describing bicep size changes.

I have emailed Professor Neumann asking what happened to Cohort II, but have so far not had a response.

RPM increases

Last but not least, RPM is a very interesting type of test. We have already noted the Kenyan increase over time without any animal food increments. RPM is a component of most IQ test batteries and children have been getting steep improvements on it (as well as some other IQ tests) for decades, prompting some to speculate that just as improved nutrition is responsible for height increases over the last 80 or so years, it is also responsible for IQ increases. Except that it isn’t.

A recent paper by one of the people (James Flynn) who discovered the effect which now bears his name, The Flynn Effect, demolishes the theory. The paper is called: Requiem for nutrition as the cause of IQ gains: Raven’s gains in Britain 1938-2008. The name nearly says it all, except that it also considers data far beyond Britain. The point that concerns us is that you can train for RPM and improve. This is fine, except that it doesn’t necessarily bringing arithmetic improvements.

The Flynn paper shows that once above some basic threshold level, it isn’t nutrition that drives performance on RPM nor improvements on RPM. It’s easy to dream up simplistic theories about what is driving these increases, but a paper by John Raven (a son of the RPM designer), demolishes more than a few such one-factor theories. Flynn’s own hypothesis about the cause of the increase, presented in his book “What is intelligence?”, is considerably more subtle.

Concluding Remarks

This post began with climate change.

Dealing with climate change requires a global reforestation effort, but that can’t happen without a dietary change and a dietary change won’t happen while people in positions of authority in developed countries sincerely believe that their own meat based diet should be the goal of developing countries. The chain is clear.

The false nutritional beliefs are based on decades of advertising lies and plenty of sloppy reporting of scientific results. This has been a longish post to untangling a tiny part of the tangled web of nutritional misinformation that has to be dispelled as part of our efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.

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47 Comments

  1. Some of the product on the site was good and some not so much.

    This one by an ‘animal rights’ type ripped it. I have just desubscribed from everything.

    I have no wish to be associated in any way with such a fruitcake!

    Like

  2. “The big “C”. Your height as an adult is a good cancer predictor … greater height equals greater cancer risk. ”
    I read ,with interest , your article , and would suggest you refrain from making nonsense didactic statements , outside your expertise.

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  3. You have to love the earnest protestations of Hansen and now Geoff Russell. I got as far as the “Boverty” bit when mirth got the better of me. Rib tickling stuff, worthy material for John John Stewart on Comedy Central.

    Bovines are today’s “Mega-fauna”. Remember the woolly mammoths that were producing all that methane 20,000 years ago. Then along came the Clovis people with their advanced weapons and hunting methods, essentially wiping out the poor mammoths.

    Then the mammoths struck back (posthumously) by causing the sudden global cooling known as the Younger Dryas (12,500 to 9,500 B.C.). Curtains for the Clovis culture!

    Of course this kind of fairy tale overlooks the existence of hordes of buffalos and other fauna that survived, prospered, belched and f**ted back then.

    Any government that takes this sort of nonsense seriously would set about dismantling our carbon based economy. In theory, a very simple thing to do by shutting down access to coal and other fossil fuels. In practice, impossible as such an activist government would be out of office in short order.

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  4. Among the fauna that survived, prospered, belched and f**ted ( is this the US Puritan legacy again? no “naughty words”?) were Galloping Camels.

    As the US Bible Belt does not allow animals to have “private parts”, Camels do not break wind either. Of course.

    In other words, thanks for an interesting article, Geoff.

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  5. Another tub thumping performance by Mr Russell who must lie awake nights worrying about all the farting cows, pigs,sheep and goats.Meanwhile, his olfactory apparatus is not tuned to his own emissions.

    No doubt domestic livestock production accounts for a significant portion of GHG but not all land clearance is for feeding animals.A lot is for the growing of crops,either for food for humans and their animals or for fuel or timber.The important issue is land clearance in itself and what we can do about it,including reforestation

    But the one animal which the author chooses to ignore is the seemingly invisible elephant in the room – human population overshoot.This animal is well and truly liberated.In fact it is running rampant.

    It is excessive human population which is the fundamental driver of our environmental disaster.Until humans take the fundamental step of reducing their fecundity to less than replacement levels we are just digging ourselves deeper into the hole – first rule in this situation : Stop Digging. This rule does also apply to Australia which is already in population overshoot because of crazy immigration levels and latterly the Howard/Costello baby bonus.

    In a way Geoff Russell reminds me of David Suzuki with his 5 kids – he just doesn’t GET IT.

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  6. To gallopingcamel and others who don’t understand that both the biomass of
    livestock exceed that of humans and that the total biomass associated with out
    way of life (trying to pretend we are at the top of the food chain) is unprecedented:

    A new study has just calculated that we now use about 6 times
    more NPP than was utilised by the extinct Pleistocene mega-herbivores:

    http://iopscience.iop.org/1748-9326/5/4/044001

    Of course reducing the human population would be a great thing for the
    planet … that’s a no-brainer … not even worthy of a blog post. That reducing
    livestock populations would be a great thing for planet earth is also a
    no-brainer, but worthy of a post because clearly more than a few people
    feel threatened by the sheer terror of facing a plate without meat, or of
    learning to actually cook instead of just BBQ. Still,
    reducing livestock is much easier than reducing the human population. Happily the latter should happen naturally if we can educate women … as
    shown by a wonderful little section in David Attenborough’s recent
    Population documentary.

    Podargus: Interestingly only about half of the human population produce
    methane … but we all fart … methane is odorless.

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  7. Geoff,
    Thankyou for this well written article and I know you can’t cover all aspects of the issue in one piece.

    Please Podargus cut him a bit of slack. He hasn’t covered population control nor town planning nor transport nor any one of a zillion other factors leading to GHG emissions.

    It doesn’t mean he doesn’t think these are equally important – its not a sin of omission.
    Human nutrition is very important as is the way we grow and source food.
    In the Kenyan study we don’t know the source of the meat and this is important. I have noted in one reference (www.health-boundaries-bite.com) that the B12 content of foods can vary anywhere from 84ug per serving in the case of mollusks to 2.4ug in the case of beef to 0.3ug in the case of chicken breast.
    I have absolutely no idea what is actually required and know nothing of the relative absorption efficiencies of different foods.
    There’s a lot to check out in comparative nutrition – its worth many websites as a topic in itself

    What Geoff is doing is to challenge some of our paradyms and thats good. It helps us to uncover the “low hanging fruit” in the war on climate change. Sometimes simple behavioural changes can make massive inroads into the problem.
    Keep going Geoff – Love the stuff

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  8. Some of the product on the site was good and some not so much. This one by an ‘animal rights’ type ripped it. I have just desubscribed from everything.

    Russ, if everything on BNC was carefully chosen to avoid offending the ‘sensibilities’ of anyone, nothing would ever get published. Besides, this is a fact-based blog. If you have an issue with Geoff’s figures, you are quite within your rights to dispute them. But if you are complaining simply because you don’t like the article or don’t agree with it, then fine, you’re welcome to your opinion, but that’s not a reason not to have it published here.

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  9. Thanks greatly Geoff for a data-rich and pertinent contribution.

    Given that the anomaly began when atmospheric cioncentrations exceeded 280ppmv, it seems to me that 280ppmv must be our safety benchmark.

    In broader terms it seems very clear that apart from reconfiguring our land usage, re-establishing something like the patterns of terrestrial vegetation that existed about 150 years ago, we are going to struggle to avert the most serious consequences of the post-industrial anomanly. It’s also going to be very hard to approach that without taking the pressure off land usage for meat production.

    As repositioning food demand away from land, water and fertiliser-intensive food raising has the spin-off benefit of improved food quality and quantity per unit of land, this means that in addition to the positive contribution to CH4/CO2 production and to biodiversity more generally, we get a whole range of health benefits as well.

    I’m always amused by those who think they can score cheap points deriding concern over CO2/CH4 in agriculture as being about “cattle farts”. A ruminant animal produces about 19 times as much CO2/CH4 from its mouth as from its anus. Of course, for those whose “intellectual” culture is still in the schoolyard, saying the word “fart” is an instant win. For me, it simply says their claim stinks.

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  10. Great post, thanks for your efforts and attention to detail, Geoff.

    It’s unfortunate that some of the earlier commentators have chosen to ignore the evidence purely due to their own predjudices. Food really is one of those issues which results in a polarised debate, perhaps even moreso than climate change. Food plus climate change? Oh dear.

    It seems to me that there is very good evidence for a rethink on global food production in order to meet climate, food security, health and equity objectives. So how do we go about communicating this?

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  11. Russ: Plenty of BNC readers specialise in demolishing dodgy data and arguments … see the recent posts on the Beyond Zero Emissions report. I can
    and will eventually post this piece to animal protection blogs where it will face a nice friendly audience. But that’s about as much use as abuse. If you have substantive criticsms, then by all means air them. All the Neumann work from Kenya is
    freely available … except for the stuff on the missing cohort … who knows
    what that showed. It’s kind of suspicious when people spend a small fortune
    doing research and then don’t publish the full results. There can be innocent
    explanations, but I haven’t got a response from Neumann.

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  12. There is no doubt that we are going to need a full rethink on a protein production from animal sources, and that includes how we are exploiting the seas by strip mining it with trawlers.

    In my opinion we have to develop more efficient ways of producing it, and processing it than growing animal tissue. From a purely industrial standpoint we are not converting enough input materials into product using livestock.

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  13. Fran the sarcastic references to ruminant exhalations are more of an attack on dodgy carbon accounting than appeals to schoolboy humour. The related issues are
    1) measurement difficulty
    2) an excuse for rural pork barrelling
    3) offsets instead of primary emission cuts.
    By the second issue I see parallels with corn ethanol tax credits and blending quotas in the US, really an excuse to put farmers on welfare. I fear that ‘carbon farming’ that over-rewards supposedly lower methane emissions will fill a similar role in Australia.

    The questionable carbon credits earned from ‘carbon farming’ will be sold cheaply to coal burners as a get out of jail card. The language conveys that annoyance. Moss from the IT Crowd would know what to say.

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  14. Fran/Megan: thanks for +ve remarks. I don’t know what the safe CO2 level
    is but Hansen has a stunning track record in these matters … in any event if
    it needs to be lower than 350, then reforestation will be even more important.
    DV82XL: Harry Aiking edited a slim but expensive volume in 2006: “Sustainable Protein Production and Consumption: pigs or peas?” Worth reading if you
    can find it. There is some information: http://www.profetas.nl/
    The Europeans are aware of the problems far more acutely than fronteir cultures like Australia/Brazil/USA. I need to follow up on developments since that
    book but the papers aren’t aren’t freely available to non-academics.

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  15. John Newlands said:

    Fran the sarcastic references to ruminant exhalations are more of an attack on dodgy carbon accounting than appeals to schoolboy humour. […]The language conveys that annoyance.

    Sorry but I don’t accept that. They always use the word “fart” and in any event they focus on the 5% part of the problem, because, presumably, it’s a hell of a lot funnier to repeat than the other less schoolboy-humour-making factors making anaimal protein so GHG-intensive. If ruminant flatus were the beginning and the end of the problem (she said nodding at the schoolboys out there) it wouldn’t be worth talking about at all.

    It’s everything else that makes it such an issue.

    By the second issue I see parallels with corn ethanol tax credits and blending quotas in the US, really an excuse to put farmers on welfare.

    Well yes. That was an attempt by the Repugs to buy votes in the mid-west and reflected their determination to protect the domestic sugar price and to keep out Brazilian ethanol. Interestingly, both the cruelty of feedlots and their resort to corn greatly accentuate the problem given the way they are processed in the rumen of cattle.

    The other bizarre thing of course is that even a sa welfare measure the corn regime started by Nixon was a failure, at least as far as corn farmers were concerned. All it did was to force more and more intensive corn production and less and less profit per acre tilled for corn farmers, though the end user so f corn — essentially the meat and livestock industry and junk food did very well out of it as corn was now dirt cheap. Corn-based ethanol was supposed to soak up some of the surplus product but of course it couldn’t, so in some places they tried mandating its use.

    These days, corn derivatives are in 27% of stuff in supermarkets — including even the packaging. High fructose corn syrup is an important ingredient in American obesity.

    Ironically, the pre-1972 system Roosevelt had was much kinder to corn farmers, as the state effectively became a broker taking a long position on corn prices, allowing the creation of a tradeable grain mountain which could be sold or relinquished by the farmer. This tended to stabilise prices over time but put no particular premium on producing more corn when prices were low.

    But I digress …

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  16. Fantastic article Geoff.

    Don’t worry about the handful of negative remarks up the top of the thread. This issue obviously represents to them the same thing nuclear power represents to much of the environment movement – an inconvenient truth.

    Climate change aside, the statement “livestock is currently the largest driver of deforestation” is basically irrefutable. It’s a no-brainer really. It has been known for decades that loss of range (i.e. habitat destruction) is the single largest driver of extinction, and deforestation (and prevention of reforestation) for livestock is a huge culprit.

    It amazes me this issue doesn’t get the same attention as climate change. It’s not like the consequences are lesser.

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  17. Fran: Yes, corn politics in the US are huge … and combine them with
    the factory farmers and soy producers and you have a force of gargantuan proportions which crushes everything in its path. I have no idea how to
    tackle that lot.

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  18. Hah,looks like my ironic comments on animal/humans farting have brought out the prigs.A lack of appreciation for irony is usually an indicator of a limited outlook in my experience.

    Geoff,your blase dismissal of the massive fundamental problems caused by the population explosion of Homo Saps is also typical of the limited outlook.Don’t worry,son,you’ve got a lot of company.

    Your recipe for solving it,namely,educating women,is quite amusing.As far as procreation is concerned I always thought it took two to tango – one male and one female, both educated or,more commonly,just plain dumb.

    No feminists in Animal Lib?

    Sorry,I should have put “IRONY WARNING” at the start of this post.Don’t get upset.That is unhealthy, even for vegies.

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  19. @Podargus
    And what’s your silver bullet solution to human population? Forced sterilisation? One child policy? Something other than what is accepted by practically every organisation across the globe working on human rights and development?
    I await your enlightened comments.

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  20. Podargus: what “… blase dismissal of the massive fundamental problems caused by the population explosion”? I never dismissed it … blase-ily or otherwise. It may take two to tango, but it’s more likely the woman who determines the birth rate. Check:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Human_population_control

    and find me a country with a well educated female population and a high birth rate. If I wanted to write about population, I’d pay attention to other important
    issues, but that wasn’t my choice. But if you want to detract
    attention from the issues I did deal with, then go your hardest.

    Do I “get it” about population? My partner Suzanne and I got it over 30 years
    ago when we decided not to have children.

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  21. Thanks Tom … I don’t worry about vacuous insults. I’ve been shot
    at in swamps in 3 states by duck shooters … had death threats,
    been jailed (for rescuing crippled ducks left in swamps
    by shooters!) , strip searched …

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  22. Actually, the very best way to reduce the birthrate in any region seems to be by increasing the standard of living. While providing for cheap clean energy is one of the factors, and clean water another, it is clear that an alternative to the flesh of livestock as a source of protein must be one of the pieces of the solution as well.

    This has nothing to do with an ethical stand on the treatment of animals, but a simple calculation of the carrying capacity of the word’s arable land, and oceans. In simple terms the whole word cannot consume meat the way the developed world does because meat cannot be produced in those quantities. This is true even if we factor out those cultures that are essentially vegetarian.

    While there is broad general agreement on the need for more energy and more water, this last one seems to have become forgotten, or at least overshadowed by the actions of the animal rights movement, that has chosen to turn the argument into a fight for animal ‘rights’ thus alienating many who might be receptive to a more general argument based on economic/production reasons. I believe that the animal lib movement should take a hard look at its tactics and ask itself if continuing to project a tone of moral ascendancy is serving their long term goals, and the real need to engage in a serious discussion of the future of human nutrition.

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  23. most of the things in this article require the creation of a global government with a control over the population so total and deep that it would be able to dictate to people what to eat and how much of it.
    of course this would be enough to make it very unpalatable.
    overall, i still need to see an unquestionable correlation betweeh GHG and global warming, assuming the latter exists at all, to justify such draconian measures as to dictate everybody’s diet in order to “save the planet”
    for the rest this post from Willis Eschenbach explains it much better than i will ever be able to
    http://wattsupwiththat.com/2010/09/11/animal-vegetable-or-e-o-wilson/

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  24. DV8 said:

    this last one seems to have become forgotten, or at least overshadowed by the actions of the animal rights movement, that has chosen to turn the argument into a fight for animal ‘rights’ thus alienating many who might be receptive to a more general argument based on economic/production reasons. I believe that the animal lib movement should take a hard look at its tactics and ask itself if continuing to project a tone of moral ascendancy is serving their long term goals, and the real need to engage in a serious discussion of the future of human nutrition.

    It is very clear that the two concerns, while having cognate solutions arise on different bases. I certainly agree that we who support humane and dignified dealing with animals need to choose our words carefully.

    On the other hand, I don’t accept that by and large the animal rights movement has adopted the tone of “moral ascendancy” you claim.

    Yes, we have been insistent and meat means murder has been an edgy slogan, but this isn’t a substantive claim to ethical superiority. It’s an attempt to get people who are casual about the treatment of animals in practice to reflect on the ethical content of their acts.

    In my experience, those who carefully consider their treatment of animals in ethical terms think more carefully about the claims of their fellow human beings as well.

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  25. Fran, it’s not so much what you guys think, as much as how it is perceived. No one likes to be told that an activity which is both very widespread, and that they have done all their lives is wrong. This is human nature. We (my wife and I) severely restrict our consumption of flesh, because it is clear that too much in one’s diet is not healthy. On the other hand we both spent a significant amount of time on farms in our youth, (in fact we met while working in a dairy lab, as students) and don’t see anything unethical about it, and frankly I am not open to arguments that it is.

    I don’t know how it is in Australia, but certainly over here the antics of PETA is not winning them friends and converts from the Silent Majority. In fact they put many like myself on the defensive when it is found out I am avoiding meat because the antics of this groups have soured the debate to point that it arouses suspicion about one’s motives for doing so.

    Regardless of your feelings about animals, this issue must be debated on the grounds of public health, and ecological sustainability, because the ethical issues border on religious, and that is a very hard row to hoe.

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  26. DV8 said:

    No one likes to be told that an activity which is both very widespread, and that they have done all their lives is wrong.

    I think you could be conflating two issues here. While it is the case in practice that the great majority of activists around humane treatment of animals are vegetarians, favouring humane treatment doesn’t in practice entail vegetarianism. Polyface Farm (mentioned in another thread), for example, offers a model that most animals rights folk could I suspect live with. Speaking as someone who identifies strongly with the cause, I’d see it as a huge step forward on all the grounds you’ve mentioned if all or even most meat were raised this way.

    [My wife and I] … spent a significant amount of time on farms in our youth, (in fact we met while working in a dairy lab, as students) and don’t see anything unethical about it, and frankly I am not open to arguments that it is.

    I can’t of course comment on what you would have seen, but based on what I have seen personally here and read about there are ample grounds for concern. Most of the amelioration measures would have significant cost implicagtions, which is probably one dirver of the treatment, IMO.

    I know that PETA gets a bad rap, but it’s hard to work out how much is wrongdoing by them and how much is simple media beatup. Al gore is a hate figure in the US and yet when you unpick the stuff he’s at worst, no worse than most politicians. PETA corsses the boundaries of us cultural practice in much the way anti-gun activists do and it would be stunning if they were not prominent on every rightwinger’s list of whippingboys. Slow news day? What’s PETA been up to in the last five years or so?

    They are an in-your-face kind of group and while they seem to enjoy playing to the choir and take little account of the media context in which their events take place, they do strike me as well-intended. I must confess at times the mere fact that they are so reviled by the right does afford folks like me a warm inner glow, even if at times they’d have been better off in practice doing some things differently.

    Regardless of your feelings about animals, this issue must be debated on the grounds of public health, and ecological sustainability, because the ethical issues border on religious, and that is a very hard row to hoe.

    Certainly that is the line of least resistance — arguing that we should do stuff that leave us and our children better off is obviously a much easier sell, and for people like me, who are anti-religious, the argument from utility does have appeal. And yet I do like the idea of appealing to more intengible benefits — because in the end, one may ask: what is the point of being better off if one’s life is ethically impoverished? One can avoid pain by not living at all, surely? Isn’t part of being happy a sernse that one is at one with one’s fellows and that one is ethically robust ion one’s conduct? Can one really be indifferent to systematic suffering, even if it is visited on creatures with lesser cognition than we possess? Even if we think they are not suffering, is that not inevitably the result of a well-considered and evidence-based position? Will one really say that this is what most people have done? How many really know of the provenance which brings meat and dairy products to the table?

    I intend you no disrespect, but I regard these questions as germane.

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  27. No disrespect assumed Fran, however I will take umbrage your assumption that those that do not share your position on this matter ethically impoverished. Indeed that comes very, very close to looking like moral ascendancy from where I am sitting.

    There are many in this world that follow the Abramic faiths that would, accuse you of sacrilege, (or at least theological error, at a minimum) for suggesting that animals given the same deference as humans. Some cultures will think that approach is without logic, and some would think it beyond comprehension. Yet they are all indeed moral in their own and their culture’s eyes.

    I don’t think this is the venue for debating moral relativism, and I don’t want to start, but practical solutions, for practical reasons are more likely to appeal to a broader cross-section of the world’s population, than emotional ones. Especially emotional arguments with a lot of cultural baggage. And by that I mean Western white people telling the rest of the world what they should believe is right and wrong.

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  28. Dv8 said;

    I will take umbrage at your assumption that those that do not share your position on this matter are ethically impoverished.

    That would be a misreading of my claim. What I said was:

    And yet I do like the idea of appealing to more intangible benefits — because in the end, one may ask: what is the point of being better off if one’s life is ethically impoverished?

    This simply says that life is not reducible to mere questions of utility, and to do so would be to impoverish life. I doubt those of any faith or even that many like me who have no faith would dispute that claim.

    There are many in this world that follow the Abramic faiths that would, accuse you of sacrilege, (or at least theological error, at a minimum) for suggesting that animals given the same deference as humans.

    I don’t make such a claim. I am not, for example, warranting systematic raising of humans for consumption, but accept that this might be ethically warranted for the traditional lower order animals (ruminants, avians, fish etc). Whether this would be a theological error would not bother me of course as I am an atheist.

    by [emotional arguments} I mean Western white people telling the rest of the world what they should believe is right and wrong

    I do confess to being weary at this style of objection. On the one hand it appears to be an appeal to cultural diversity, but it is adduced precisely to defend dominant western cultural mores — the privileged posing as the poor. Last time I looked, the bulk of Buddhists weren’t privileged westerners. Indeed, the majority of religions that practice some form of dietary restriction aren’t composed of privileged westerners.

    In any event. isn’t it everyone’s tright to declare on what is right or wrong? People aren’t obligated to accept the advice of others on these matters but we are all entitled to have a view and to express it forcefully. I work opposite a fundametnalist christian and we tell each other what is right and wrong on a regular basis and then go back to work together in perfect harmony.

    I sit down to dinner with people who eat meat and make no remark unless specifically invited, and even then, I choose to be civil and simply put the matter as something to be reflected upon.

    It seems an especially North American attitude (increasingly taken up here and in the UK) to disappear the difference between having an opinion on some matter and coercing others to act according to one’s own ethics. I don’t know if this is what I’m hearing from you here, but it does sound similar.

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  29. gianmarko: I’m not convinced it requires measures any more draconian than
    the anti-smoking campaigns (which are working well in Australia) together
    with a shift of subsidies from animal products to their alternatives and a
    cessation of animal product advertising. I can’t speak for other countries
    but the meat industry here is allowed to lie regularly and frequently in its
    advertising campaigns … despite there being laws to prohibit this. I’ve had
    letter wars with the ACCC (the Australian Government authority supposed to
    police truth in advertising) and they are transparently protective of the
    meat industry … i.e., they will not do a proper investigation of whether what
    has been said in a TV ad is true or false … won’t read a journal paper, won’t
    call expert witnesses, won’t make any effort to evaluate scientifically
    the truth or falsity of claims … and yes, I have put in Freedom of Information requests to find out how they investigated claims only to find that they didn’t.

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  30. I honestly think this at the crux of the public face of this issue. You may believe that stating your own moral position on this topic is not proselytizing, but you are going to have a hard time convincing others given the ground you are standing on. And is as much as the more practical reasons will, if recognized and acted upon, have the same effect, your insistence on asserting a relative moral argument when we both know it will meet resistance makes me wonder as well.

    You might be tried with those invoking the West’s past in forcing its cultural mores on the peoples it dominated, but there is a world full of people with a racial memory of a White man with a whip, for whom it is still very fresh. To ignore this, when we are disusing the global impacts of this issue is not defensible.

    You may have a good working relationship with someone that allows you both to express your views to each other on some matters forcibly without causing conflict, but I am sure you know this is not the way things usually are. I am an atheist and I do not and will not speak with my own cousin who is an ordained priest, nor he with me. I think he is a deluded fool, and he is convinced I am going to Hell as an apostate. There is no common ground.

    And that’s the problem here, your moral position stand on no common ground, my arguments do.

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  31. oops … itlaics should have closed after “forcefully:”

    gianmarco said:

    overall, i still need to see an unquestionable correlation betweeh GHG and global warming, assuming the latter exists at all, to justify such draconian measures as to dictate everybody’s diet in order to “save the planet”

    I am going to pass on another iteration of the progressive barn dance over AGW and/or WUWT as a source. Stipulated: the basic science around AGW is sufficiently established to ground robust and ubiquitous GHG abatement policies.

    That said …

    Nobody, to the best of my knowledge on any side of this discussion is trying to save the planet. Some of us are trying to ensure that ecosystem services of value to human beings are preserved in approximately the quality and quantity that have underpinned our transformation from ape-like creatures into contemporary human beings. That’s an important distinction. I’m confident the planet will survive for a period of time longer than I can imagine. Borrowing from the language of computing, I am sure the humans on it will not live as well as they are now if action isn’t taken to restore the system settings of the biosphere to their last known good configuration.

    I also hear nobody close to power suggesting “draconian measures to dictate everybody’s diet”. Some of us think that the premium on the protection of ecosystem services will work out in ways that would make meat consumption a lot less common and more expensive in practice. That is hardly disctating anyone’s diet. It is predisposing the outcome that they don’t eat at the expense of the interests of everyone else now and into the future.

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  32. DV8 said:

    You might be tried with those invoking the West’s past in forcing its cultural mores on the peoples it dominated, but there is a world full of people with a racial memory of a White man with a whip, for whom it is still very fresh. To ignore this, when we are discussing the global impacts of this issue is not defensible.

    I can scarcely agree that “blackbirding” and the brutal traffic in human beings to America and elsewhere for physical and sexual exploitation stands on the same ground a century and more later as simply having a view about the ethical implications of one’s food choices. Those people whom one can include in the “south” are indeed entitled to feel aggrieved at western practice and not merely because of slavery, but I’d be stunned if asked about their sense of justice, that animal rights positions of some western and non-westerners figures in the top ten issues or even the top 100. I daresay that issues like water, housing, access to markets, the quality of governance, the role extractive industry in forming up local sovereignty, and so forth would stand rather higher.

    If robust and positive attitudes to global equity were foundational to north-south dealings they’d not read our attiudes on any matter as an allusion to wrongs past.

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  33. From an unpromising start this thread has morphed into an interesting discussion on controlling human population. I was about to chip in with my point of view but DV8 beat me to it in eloquent fashion.

    When one looks at “First World” countries the birth rate barely achieves sustainability and often is below that (e.g. Sweden and Japan). Countries that have growing populations (e.g. the USA) often depend heavily on immigration and the fecundity of first generation immigrants.

    Rather than government imposed limits on family size (e.g. the People’s Republic of China) we should aim to bring prosperity to “less happier lands” and thereby reduce or even stop population growth.

    Currently the human population is in an exponential growth phase fueled by the success of our technologically based civilizations. Such civilizations have risen before and they proved vulnerable to climate change.

    I mentioned the

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  34. Oooops! I pressed the “send button” prematurely so here is the rest of it:

    I mentioned the Clovis culture earlier and it seems likely that a cooling climate did them in. The Minoan civilization is another example of a climate induced collapse. Then there was the Roman Empire that failed to cope with the cold period we call the “Dark Ages”.

    My point is that falling temperatures cause civilizations to fail, bringing about rapid decreases in population. The greater the growth during the good times (Climate Optima) the harder the fall when the climate turns colder.

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  35. Fran- I am sure nether one of us wants to see this degenerate into a debate on relative vs absolute morality, so I will make my concluding remarks now and let you have the last word.

    I am a utilitarian, and as a consequence I am only interested in practical solutions. Thus it is my opinion that prosecuting this issue as a moral/ethical one is counter productive, especially when there are firm practical reasons to move in the same direction that might find a wider appeal. Furthermore the stridency of those arguing the moral/ethical position, is off-putting for many creating difficult environment to present the technical case.

    If indeed animal rights militants wish to see a reduction or halt in the slaughter of animals for commercial reasons, as opposed to haranguing those that use animal products as morally/ethical inferior to themselves, one can legitimately ask why they persist at the latter to the detriment of the former.

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  36. Dv8 Said:

    I am sure neither one of us wants to see this degenerate into a debate on relative vs absolute morality,

    That is so. You seem to me to be a person of ethical integrity and such debates by their very nature, are incapable of final resolution.

    I confess I share your inclination to practicable solutions to presenting problems. I have a distinctly utilitarian predisposition.

    Yet for me, questions of utility operate within a broader paradigm of ethical arrangements. I find it hard to understand why one solution is better than another unless I agree on the virtues of an given end and can relate the solution to that withing the paradigm. For me, suffering is always a thing to be staunched, even if the suffering is of individual members of another species, so it’s an extension of the obligations I bear other human beings. I find it paradoxic to be appalled at human suffering and indifferent to animal suffering.

    If indeed animal rights militants wish to see a reduction or halt in the slaughter of animals for commercial reasons, as opposed to haranguing those that use animal products as morally/ethical inferior to themselves, one can legitimately ask why they persist at the latter to the detriment of the former.

    One suspects that to the extent that there is ‘haranguing’ involved, the desire for the fomrer is merely a necessary rather than sufficient condition. People get very emotional about stuff that they see as defining who they are. That’s so whether one is considering religious belief, membership of a political party or a cultural or ethnic association. It’s existential and goes way beyond utility. It’s as if to fail to vent is to commit incipient cultural suicide.

    This isn’t, strictly speaking, rational behaviour, any more than people with other kinds or personality quirks are behaving rationally. Couched in the right terms — i.e. as a matter for someone to reflect upon — I have no problem with bringing broader questions of ethics into play. Telling someone that he or she is a party to animal cruelty is ill-advised, IMO, but OTOH drawing their attention to observable reality and the chain of provenance leading to them is apt.

    We are rational beings after all. Our capacity to reflect upon our connection with our ‘ecology’ is perhaps the most significant thing about us — it’s what makes us human. It’s how we know that we are a species and how we work out what others owe us and what we owe them and how we can collaborate. It’s is why we care about the fate of our offspring (and theirs after them), not merely as members of our species or our kin group but as autonomous beings. It’s why we care about how we will be recalled post-mortem.

    I don’t demand of anyone that he or she share my ethical paradigm, or even trouble to understand it. Yet I find it hard to imagine someone not having one, and not preferring to have one that was robust and coherent and thus not wanting to explore a path to establishing a robust and coherent paradigm. That is the reason, in utility if you like, that I regard these matters as worthy of exploration.

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  37. dv82xl/fran: Every time I write a piece giving environmental and or
    nutritional reasons for reducing animal product production,
    the comments invariably end up in food ethics … which I rarely mention,
    particular in the context of BNC. I’m guessing the reason is that if they
    can shift the topic to ethics, they will establish an immovable point of
    disagreement which will enable them to continue acting in ways that
    totally contradict their stated interest in dealing with climate
    change, deforestation, biodiversity loss … etc.

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  38. And for my reading of DV8 is that he says what he means and means just what he says. He was IMO being absolutely sincere in preferring an approach that would achieve the neds of less explouitation of animals by means that those indifferent to the question could endorse rather than seeking to find other reasons not to go along with the general objective.

    This separates him methodologically from those resisting action on climate change on the basis that it offends them culturally, even though they acknowledge that almost all of the measures are warranted on other grounds.

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  39. Whilst human population is still growing due to demographic inertia, human fertility is in steep decline. Even with draconian measures (short of shooting babies) it is hard to see how it could be declining quicker. However if we really want to push downward on fertility the main ingredients are education, contraceptives and wealth.

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  40. You will find the same sort of data if you look at gapminder. Population can still grow as fertility declines because not all women are in the birth giving age cohort and life expectancy is being extended.

    As I said there is little we can do to lower fertility any quicker than the current rate of decline short of shooting babies. The main action is in India because fertility there is still above the world average and it is such a large population. But fertility there will probably hit replacement levels within a decade. That leaves central Africa as the only major source of above replacement rate fertility. And even there the trend is down.

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  41. Pingback: Feeding 10 billion on a hotter planet (Part II) « BraveNewClimate

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