The 2014 documentary Cowspiracy illuminates the connection between the global climate crisis and modern farming techniques. The hour and a half film follows an environmentalist, Kip Anderson, on his search for answers regarding the most pressing environmental issues. His research leads him to stumble upon a scientific consensus: the use of animals in agriculture is among the leading factors that influence environmental degradation, including ocean dead zones, rapid species extinctions, habitat loss, Amazon rainforest destruction, water overconsumption and land misuse. However, Anderson grows frustrated as he discovers that some environmental organizations and other conservationists (Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Surfrider Foundation, Rainforest Action Network, and Oceana) refuse to be frank about the role of animal agriculture in climate change.
The Silence of Environmentalists
Greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide contribute to global warming. Each of these natural gases are heavily produced in industrial factory farming practices, where forests are cleared, thereby robbing landscapes of not only their carbon sequestering potential, but also of innumerable wildlife species. Fossil fuel emissions come from fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, from eccentric fermentation in ruminants and from manure management.
Bruce Hamilton: Sierra Club
Bruce Hamilton of the Sierra Club describes the present rate of greenhouse gas proliferation as exceeding levels ever before seen or estimated. This is hardly news. However, during his terse interview, Bruce Hamilton declared that other sources of methane and carbon dioxide should be prioritized above agriculture farming. Is Hamilton suggesting that some other economic sector has greater overall emissions than agriculture does? Doe he know agriculture’s impact estimates should include transport and energy generation? The Sierra Club is an organization that partly focuses promoting sustainable energy and limiting global warming. As the Deputy Executive Director of the Sierra Club, Bruce Hamilton should know.
Ann Notthoff: Natural Resources Defense Counsil
The Natural Resources Defense Council’s Ann Notthoff says that energy production and transportation are the major sources of environmental degradation. The woman then laughs when pressed about livestock’s contribution. She jokingly says, “that’s cow farts… I think that’s what that is”.
Chad Nelson: Surfrider
Dr. Chad Nelson of Surfrider notes that heavy metals from automated vehicles and herbicides and pesticides as sources of ocean pollution. When Kip Anderson questions Dr. Nelson about the influence of animal agriculture on oceanic pollution, Nelson simply remarks that California’s research teams do not see much evidence of it. A pattern is made apparent for the Cowspiracy audience. Environmental organizations do not wish to point the finger directly at factory farming.
The Cost of Speaking Up
In some cases, speaking out against factory farming or animal agriculture has cost activists their lives. The film mentions the tragic assassination of Sister Dorothy Stang, an American nun who was murdered in 2005 for her activism against cattle ranching. According to the film, more than 1,100 environmental campaigners were killed over a 20 year period in Brazil for animal activism. Journalist Will Potter believes that environmentalists are considered terrorists by the FBI. Will Anderson, the founder of Greenpeace Alaska, believes that most environmental institutions are failing us by neglecting to mention the role of human diets and farming practices in climate change.
Activism comes with a cost. In some cases, the cost is lost revenue or a reputation blow. The fact is, agriculture corporations are powerfully influential due to the amount of profit that they reap and the jobs that they supply. As staples in global economies, these organizations are capable of preventing activists from being publicly critical. Speaking up could result in funding loss, loss of business, alienation or worse.