The numbers 21 and 34 are key features of this article.
They are relevant to claims of carbon neutrality by a prominent Australian sheep, cattle and agroforestry business.
The people who estimated the farm’s greenhouse gas emissions used the number 21 as a multiplier in their calculations. However, that number was years out of date. If an up-to-date multiplier of 34 had been used, the results would have been very different.
Jigsaw Farms is owned and operated by Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor and located near Hamilton in south-western Victoria.
The business claims it has been carbon neutral since 2010. The claim is based on a journal paper initially published online in 2017, co-authored (with three others) by Wootton, and “supported by Meat and Livestock Australia, Australian Wool Innovation, Dairy Australia, and the Australian Government Department of Agriculture”. The paper reported on the changing carbon balance of a significant portion of Jigsaw’s land from 2000 to 2014.    
Such a claim is standard biographical content for Wootton, and appears on various websites including those of the Victorian government, Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) and Meat & Livestock Australia.   
Figure 1: Host of Fight for Planet A, Craig Reucassel
The journal paper utilised out of date global warming potential (GWP) multipliers, thereby understating overall emissions. For methane, it used a multiplier of 21 when an up-to-date figure of 34 would have been more appropriate.
The extent of climate forcing varies from greenhouse gas to greenhouse gas. GWPs are multipliers that enable us to aggregate, for measurement purposes, emissions of a wide range of greenhouse gases by converting them to carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e). The process is analogous to using exchange rates to convert different currencies to a common denomination.
GWP multipliers have been included in assessment reports of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published from 1995 to 2013. (The sixth assessment report is scheduled to be released in stages from April 2021 to May 2022.) [Footnote 1]
The authors of the journal paper utilised figures from Australia’s national greenhouse gas inventory report for 2011, which was published in 2013. That report, in turn, utilised figures from the IPCC’s 1995 Second Assessment Report.
Updated figures, with increased multipliers for methane, were released by the IPCC in its third, fourth and fifth assessment reports, released in 2001, 2007 and 2013.
Here is a timeline of GWP multiplier usage for methane:
Figure 2: Timeline of GWP multiplier usage for methane
Perhaps the main puzzle involved in this Jigsaw is why the authors of a journal paper submitted to publishers in July 2016 used a GWP multiplier from 1995, rather than the most up-to-date IPCC figure. This article does not speculate on potential reasons.
The Sustainability Steering Group (SSG) of the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework has accepted the GWP multiplier of 34.  The SSG is administered by Meat & Livestock Australia, of which Wootton is a board member. Wootton is also a member of the Sustainability Steering Group of the Australian Sheep Sustainability Framework, which is currently being developed. The framework is intended to be released during 2021. 
The GWP multipliers in Figure 2 are based on a 100-year time horizon (GWP100). Because methane breaks down in the atmosphere relatively quickly, the GWP multiplier for a 20-year time horizon (GWP20) provides a more realistic indication of its shorter-term warming impact. Such an indication is critically important in terms of climate feedback mechanisms, tipping points, and potential runaway climate change.
The latest GWP20 multiplier is 86 (with climate-carbon feedbacks), which is more than four times the GWP100 multiplier used for the study.
The IPCC has said there is no scientific argument for selecting a 100-year time horizon, and that the choice of period is a value judgement “because it depends on the relative weight assigned to effects at different times”. 
Figure 3 compares the results from the journal paper (in orange) with those that would have applied if updated GWP multipliers for 100-year and 20-year time horizons had been used for methane and another potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide. All figures are net of sequestration in trees and soil.
The average 2008-2014 apportionment between carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide has been used for all years, as the journal paper did not indicate the apportionments for specific years.
The updated GWPs allow for climate-carbon feedbacks. Even without those feedbacks, no years would have been carbon neutral for GWP100 or GWP20, although some would have been close for GWP100.
Figure 3: Jigsaw Farms – Reported emissions net of sequestration compared to those utilising updated IPCC metrics (tonnes CO2-e)
The chart indicates that Jigsaw’s claim of carbon neutrality since 2010 is invalid in the context of IPCC metrics that were introduced nearly three years before the journal paper was submitted. [Footnotes 2 and 3]
Relationships with environmental and other organisations
Mark Wootton and Eve Kantor have been prominent figures in Australian agricultural and environmental circles for many years, including board positions held by Wootton with, and funding of, Australian Conservation Foundation (ACF), The Climate Institute (which ceased operating in 2017 after being founded by Wootton and Kantor in 2005), and The Australia Institute. In November 2020 Wootton joined the board of Meat & Livestock Australia.
Kantor is a niece of Rupert Murdoch. With immediate and extended family members, she benefited from Murdoch’s buyout in 1990 of the family company Cruden Investments, which controlled News Corporation. Much of Kantor’s share was used to establish the philanthropic Poola Foundation. The foundation was established in 1992 with the intention of having a limited life and was wound up in 2016.    
The couple are honorary life members of ACF. In 2009, with Kantor’s sister Kate, they gifted ACF its redeveloped high-tech headquarters in inner-suburban Carlton, Victoria, a few minutes’ walk from Melbourne’s central business district. Poola Foundation was involved in the arrangement and had been a major ACF donor.   
Figure 4: ACF headquarters, the 60L Green Building, Carlton, Victoria
Tenants have included Australian Youth Climate Coalition, Environment Victoria and former Greens member of state parliament Greg Barber.
ACF appears to say little about animal agriculture’s adverse climate change impacts. Likewise Midnight Oil lead singer and former federal environment minister Peter Garrett, who is ACF’s patron and former president.
Garrett has said he is not a big meat-eater “although people who have been on the road with me might laugh if they heard me say that”. In the same interview, he professed a weakness for a “proper barbie” and said election polling days were a breeze, with “a series of sausage sizzles altogether – my idea of heaven”.  [Footnote 4]
Figure 5: ACF patron and former president Peter Garrett
This writer is not suggesting that any person or organisation has sought to influence others or that any person or organisation has been influenced. In 2011, responding to an article cited in this article (sub-titled “Australia’s patrons of climate change activism”), Wootton stated that a number of chairpersons, presidents and CEOs of organisations of which he had been a director had confirmed that he never acted in an inappropriate manner or sought to unfairly influence the organisations’ affairs. 
Victorian State Government
The submission referred to the sector’s long history of land clearing and other forms of environmental degradation, along with limitations in potential climate change mitigation measures. It also outlined omissions from official greenhouse gas reporting, which cause the sector’s contribution to be understated.
The Victorian government appears to have ignored the submission, as it has recently created the Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council (VACCC), with two-thirds of members having strong links to the animal agriculture sector. Indeed, Mark Wootton has been appointed the council’s deputy chair. Another co-author of the journal paper referred to earlier, Richard Eckard, has also been appointed a member. 
The government’s VACCC web page indicates that Wootton and fellow member Fiona Conroy operate carbon neutral farming operations. [Footnote 5]
The VACCC is a ministerial advisory council that advises the minister for agriculture on how the agriculture sector can prepare for and respond to the impacts of climate change. The government claims the advice is “independent and strategic”.
Here is a chart that lists the members according to their links to animal agriculture.
Figure 6: Members of the Victorian Agriculture and Climate Change Council
Historical land clearing
The animal agriculture sector, including Jigsaw Farms, claims credit for increased carbon sequestration from planting trees. Although such a practice is commendable and essential if we are to overcome the climate crisis, claiming credit unreservedly for such a measure is arguably unjust for a sector that has been responsible for most of the nation’s land clearing (with extensive clearing continuing in many parts of the country). Most of Jigsaw’s land was cleared in 1880.
Around 66 per cent of Victoria’s native vegetation has been cleared since Europeans arrived, leaving 34 per cent of its land area covered by native forests.   The cleared area is roughly equivalent to the area of Ireland, Switzerland and Netherlands combined. In percentage terms, it makes Victoria Australia’s most heavily cleared state.  The major uses of the state’s lands, including farmed animal grazing, are shown in Figure 7. 
Figure 7: Land use in Victoria 2010-11
Given that healthy forests are carbon sinks, greenhouse gas reporting mechanisms should arguably be amended to count sequestration foregone as a result of the initial land clearing.
The issue also applies to non-animal forms of agriculture but is accentuated in animal agriculture due to the grossly inefficient nature of the activity. The inefficiency causes us to use far more resources, including land, than would otherwise be required.
The extent of the inefficiency was highlighted in a paper in the journal Science from June 2018 by Joseph Poore (University of Oxford) and Thomas Nemecek (LCA Research Group, Switzerland). The paper indicated that a general transition to an animal-free diet would reduce food production’s land use by 3.1 billion hectares (31 million square kilometres).  That is an area similar to (but slightly larger than): (a) Africa; (b) four times the contiguous United States; and (c) four times Australia, as depicted in Figure 8.
Figure 8: Reduction in farmland through transition away from animal-based foods
The authors reported that production of meat and dairy products occupies 83 per cent of farmland globally while providing only 37 per cent of protein and 18 per cent of calories. The comparison is depicted in Figure 9.
Figure 9: Inefficiency of animal agriculture
Based on a 2013 study from researchers at the University of Minnesota, we would have the capacity to feed an additional 3.6 billion people globally by transitioning away from animal agriculture.  That is more than enough capacity to feed the 821 million people who are currently under-nourished. 
Comparison with American feedlots
When appearing as a witness at a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into animal activism, Wootton claimed that people arguing against Australian animal agriculture on climate change grounds mistakenly apply figures from the “worst-case scenario” of North American feedlots.  He may be unaware that methane emissions from cattle in feedlots are generally far lower than emissions from those eating grass.
Researchers from the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, Texas A&M University and Australia’s CSIRO reported in 1999 that ruminant animals eating grass produce methane at four times the rate of those eating grain. 
A 2012 paper by CSIRO researchers estimated a 30 per cent lower methane emissions figure than the prevailing estimate for Brahman cattle in northern Australia.  However, that still left emissions from grass-fed cattle as a multiple of emissions from those on grain.
In 2010, Professor Gidon Eshel of Bard College, New York and formerly of the Department of the Geophysical Sciences, University of Chicago, reported, “since grazing animals eat mostly cellulose-rich roughage while their feedlot counterparts eat mostly simple sugars whose digestion requires no rumination, the grazing animals emit two to four times as much methane”. 
Rotational grazing practices
On the ABC’s “Fight for Planet A“, Wootton and host Craig Reucassel (who professed a love of meat) discussed soil carbon sequestration and the farm’s rotational grazing practices.  Using the term “rotational grazing” and others, including “regenerative”, “cell”, “adaptive” and “management-intensive rotational” grazing, researchers at the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN) at the University of Oxford argued in 2017 that the “extremely ambitious claims” made by proponents of such approaches are “dangerously misleading“. 
“The potential contribution of grazing ruminants to soil carbon sequestration is small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions they generate. The ambitious claims made by advocates of grass-fed livestock about grazing as a significant mitigation opportunity are thus unfounded.“
“. . . there is no room, environmentally speaking, for more animals.“
The journal paper referred to earlier was published by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). That point was emphasised by Wootton when appearing as a witness at the Victorian government’s 2019 inquiry into animal rights activism (referred to earlier). 
CSIRO was established through legislation in 1949 with the role of conducting scientific research to: assist Australian industry; further the interests of the Australian community; contribute to the achievement of national objectives or the performance of the national and international responsibilities of the Commonwealth; or any other purpose determined by the relevant minister.
Although CSIRO has achieved much, it has also been criticised for various collaborations and connections. An example was research funded by Meat & Livestock Australia that was used in “The CSIRO Total Wellbeing Diet”. The book was originally published in May 2005, with a new edition published in October 2006. It has since been further commercialised into an online program by the firm Digital Wellness, under license.
“The CSIRO’s research was partly funded by the Meat and Livestock Industry and Dairy Australia. So it is no surprise the sponsors’ products figure so highly in the recommended meals and weekly meal plans: beef, lamb and dairy products.
The CSIRO’s endorsement of a high-meat diet is perhaps an indication of the extent to which our scientists have taken on the role of consultants to industry in their bid to raise funds, and their willingness to deliver research findings that industry finds agreeable.“
Ms Stanton was awarded the Order of Australia medal in 1998 for her services to community health, particularly through education in the field of nutrition and dietetics.
Author and Professor of Public Ethics at Charles Sturt University, Clive Hamilton, has said:
“Since when did it become normal for publicly-employed scientists to spruik for the coal industry? The Australian Coal Association’s slick new website aimed at promoting ‘clean coal’ features video grabs of CSIRO experts mixed in with industry spokespeople.“
A similar question could possibly be asked of Meat & Livestock Australia’s YouTube channel promoting “carbon neutral” red meat. It is noted that the organisation’s core purpose is “fostering the prosperity of the red meat industry”.  
“We participate in several carbon offsetting projects to both offset its footprint.”
Other farmed animal enterprises certainly do highlight carbon offsetting projects in supporting claims of carbon neutrality.
“Offsetting is worse than doing nothing. It is without scientific legitimacy, is dangerously misleading and almost certainly contributes to a net increase in the absolute rate of global emissions growth.”
“Carbon offsets are a greenwashing mechanism that enables individuals to buy themselves green credentials without actually changing their consumption habits, and nations to avoid the more difficult structural and regulatory change necessary to prevent further global warming.”
A key point about offsetting is that we must avoid emitting greenhouse gases rather than simply offsetting them, as the planet’s ability to absorb ongoing emissions is limited.
Although Jigsaw’s practices in a temperate climate like Victoria’s may be preferable (even with the shortcomings referred to above) to those used in many farmed animal enterprises, the overriding problems associated with animal agriculture remain. They include the inefficient use of land and ongoing greenhouse gas emissions.
If the governments of Victoria and other jurisdictions are serious about climate change, they will introduce policies that help to reduce their reliance on animal agriculture, potentially enabling a significant amount of rewilding, reforestation and afforestation. With the future of a habitable planet at stake, it is irresponsible to rely heavily on advice from a sector that is a key contributor to the crisis.
- The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is an independent body founded under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). It assesses the scientific literature, provides scientific information, and advises United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) bodies such as the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).
The UNFCCC is an international treaty that commenced in 1992. The UNFCCC currently specifies that national inventory reports use GWP values from the IPCC’s 2007 Fourth Assessment Report. That is a questionable approach that may reflect a desire by powerful treaty partners to conservatively report their emissions figures. Updated IPCC metrics are available for individual businesses and organisations to use if they wish to do so.
- Continued tree planting at Jigsaw Farms since the end of the study period may have improved net emission results from those referred to here.
- The differences between reported and alternative GWP100 and GWP20 results have been accentuated by the fact that sequestration results are identical under each scenario.
- The word “barbie” is Australian slang for “barbecue”.
- To date, this writer has not investigated the claim that Fiona Conroy’s sheep and cattle business is carbon neutral.
The author has used some information that appears within this article in previous articles and submissions.
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Feature image: William Edge, Shutterstock ID 1729306699
Figure 1 image: Mal Vickers, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/, Craig Reucassel
Figure 4 image: Nick Carson, Wikimedia, Creative Commons, Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, The original facade of the 60L Green Building in Carlton, Melbourne, Australia, Sep 2010
Figure 5 image: Melanie Lemahieu, Shutterstock ID 683836642, Peter Garrett
Figure 7 image: Australian Government, Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, ABARES, Land Use Australia 2010-11 (Extract), https://www.agriculture.gov.au/sites/default/files/documents/nlum_map_2010-11_alum_secondary_v1.0.0.pdf
Figure 8 image: Clive, “Wyre Forest”, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/
Figure 9 image: Marco Brivio, Shutterstock ID 3951373254679