Here’s a selection of my letters published in newspapers, listed under the headings:
- animal rights
- climate change in general
- environmental (incl. climate change) impacts of animal agriculture
I hope they provide a reasonable perspective of some of the key issues we face.
“Mulesing”, The Age, 10th March, 2008
The wool industry’s cruel practice of cutting skin from the backsides of sheep without pain relief (8/3) has come back to bite it in the bum.
“Only skin deep”, The Sunday Age, 16th March, 2008
The green marketing push by the Fur Council of Canada and other (“Industry Pushes ‘Green’ Fur Coats”, 9/3) is just another example of mankind’s appalling lack of ethics when it comes to the treatment of animals. It seems that if the trade can make a dollar, allegedly without damaging the environment, then no amount of physical or psychological pain experienced by our animal friends matters.
Even if you were to accept the council’s dubious claims of humane practices, then you should also consider where else your fur might come from. You’d owe it to yourself to see what happens (for example) on Chinese fur farms. The information’s not hard to find through reputable sources on the internet, but be warned: an animal being skinned alive is not a pretty sight.
“Nothing humane about pig farming”, The Age, 10th August, 2008
It’s great to see that the campaign by Animals Australia in favour of pigs is having an impact.
Consider how these intelligent and caring animals are treated. Most pigs are kept indoors for their entire life, often in horrifically confined spaces. Whilst still piglets, they are routinely castrated, have their teeth and ears clipped and their tails docked, all without pain relief.
And don’t assume that there’s anything humane about the slaughter process for the young pigs that are sent to the abattoir.
Most production animals have little or no protection under Australia’s “prevention of cruelty” legislation, due to exemptions contained in the various state and territory acts. It’s important that people know of our production animals’ plight, so that they can make informed purchasing decisions.
“If you dare”, The Sunday Age, 8th February, 2009
The “bacon explosion” is a grotesque indulgence at the expense of animals. However, the animals might have the last laugh, as consumers face another significant health risk in addition to heart failure.
The World Cancer Research Fund has recommended against consuming processed meat (including bacon and sausage meat) because of the cancer risk. Indulge if you dare.
“Get meat off the menu”, The Sunday Age, 15th March, 2009
How sad to see pigs and other animals continuing to be treated as commodities (“Offal on again as diners rediscover blood & guts”, 8/3), with a chef gleefully hoeing into a pig’s ear whilst a pig’s head sits on the plate in front of him.
We’ve been conditioned over the years to believe that we need to eat meat, when a simple ethical approach demands otherwise.
Despite what we’re told by commercial interests (the full-page ad for red meat in the same paper was a good example), it’s easy to follow an incredibly varied, delicious and healthy diet without consuming animal products. It’s also much better for the planet.
In the words of Henning Steinfeld from the United Nations Food & Agriculture Organisation, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”
“Double standards”, The Sunday Age, 23rd August, 2009
I was interested to read that ”pig arks” have become big business in Great Britain; they’re like a backyard kennel for pigs, before they’re sent to the abattoir for slaughter (”Have a butcher’s at the latest trend”, 16/8.)
This trend should help highlight the double standards that exist in our society’s treatment of animals. While dogs are often pampered, many in the West regularly eat other intelligent, sensitive and sociable beings.
In physical and psychological terms, the treatment of pigs in factory ”farms” is horrendous. In certain countries, the breeding and slaughter of dogs for human consumption is big business.
Do Australians who eat pigs and other animals have any right to complain?
“Such a cruel ‘sport’”, The Age, 5th November, 2009
Something to consider amid the hype surrounding the spring racing carnival is that a large percentage of horses bred for racing never make it to the track due to injury or lack of ability. They end up at the slaughterhouse for foreign meat markets or the knackery for pet food.
The life of many that race is miserable, with excessive periods of confinement and health problems. These include stomach ulcers due to the artificial feeding cycle and bleeding in the lungs due to excessive vigorous exercise. It is a profit-making industry and the horses are considered to be an expendable commodity. Everyone loves a winner, but for how long and at what cost to the horse?
“A woolly way”, The Age, 16th December, 2009
Sarah Long (Letters, 14/12) has hit the nail on the head in pointing out that breeding sheep to have more wrinkles and skin folds than normal, to increase the yield of wool (and profits), makes them prone to flystrike.
The problem could be avoided if farmers stopped breeding sheep that way, rather than barbarically cutting large pieces of skin from their backsides without pain relief.
Adelaide University research suggests that bare-breech sheep cut more wool and produce more lambs than other types, which may help to offset the higher initial cost.
“Cruelty out of sight”, The Age, 4th June, 2010
The outcry over jumps racing indicates that many people find animal cruelty abhorrent when it’s brought to their attention. While that form of cruelty is visible, let’s not forget institutionalised cruelty that is out of sight in our industrial farming system.
An example is the lifelong confinement of breeding sows, whose first glimpse of sunshine occurs on the day they’re sent for slaughter. Many are driven insane by horrific conditions.
Until we can show universal compassion for other sentient beings, we should stop pretending we live in a civilised society.
“Not so glamorous”, The Sunday Age, 3rd November, 2010
We were told that So You Think carried the hopes of a nation into the Melbourne Cup (The Age, 2/11). Isn’t that a little over the top?
It’s just another example of an industry being perpetuated, with gambling, alcohol, expensive clothes and media coverage being just some of the associated products that people are being brainwashed into buying. This nation has far more important things to think about than that.
And let’s not forget the plight of the horses. Many that are bred for racing end up on foreign dinner tables or in pet food. Most racehorses experience miserable lives, with excessive periods of confinement and health problems such as stomach ulcers due to the artificial feeding cycle and bleeding in the lungs due to excessive vigorous exercise.
It doesn’t sound very glamorous to me.
“Endangered species”, The Age, 26th September, 2011
It is wonderful that a key shark fishery has been closed in order to protect dolphins and sea lions (The Saturday Age, 24/9). However, another valid reason for closing it would have been the protection of the sharks themselves. Those magnificent creatures evolved around 400 million years ago, but many species are now facing extinction. For shark fin soup alone, 38 million sharks are killed each year in horrific circumstances. Let us do our best to preserve this natural wonder before it’s too late.
“Reduce dairy farming”, The Age, 30th November, 2011
It is pleasing that the dairy industry’s massive levels of water consumption are recognised (”Bid to end fighting over rivers”, The Age, 28/11). At various times, it has been responsible for 34 per cent of Victoria’s water consumption and 35 per cent of the Murray-Darling basin’s, primarily due to the flood irrigation of pasture for cattle.
The most effective way to reduce the industry’s environmental impacts is to consume fewer of its products, which would benefit cows and human health. Casein, the main protein in cows’ milk, is so durable and sticky it is used in some glues. Casein and other dairy milk proteins are responsible for many human health problems.
Further, dairy cows are continually impregnated to produce milk, and are usually separated from calves a day after birth, at huge distress to both. The calves are generally slaughtered (many within a few days of birth) or retained to live the same miserable lives as their mothers.
“Monsters on the line”, The Age Travel section, 3rd March, 2012
The “monster” fish that Jeremy Wade describes (Traveller, February 18-19) are magnificent creatures that have evolved to survive and thrive in their natural environment. That’s in contrast to human monsters who invade others’ territories to pursue “an eccentric pastime”, willingly drawn by “their sport’s appeal”.
“Pigs more than food”, The Sunday Age, 3rd June, 2012
The image of the piglet in the restaurant kitchen (”Pork back in flavour as chefs put a twist in little piggy tale”, 27/5) reminded me of similar images I have seen from overseas of dogs being cooked. The comparison runs deeper than the culinary delights provided by both animals; pigs are as intelligent, sociable and fun-loving as any dog.
That the pigs mentioned in the article were allegedly free range doesn’t help much. Patty Mark, founder of Animal Liberation Victoria, has seen free-range pigs in the slaughterhouse. She has been quoted as saying: ”One pig was absolutely terrified, screaming and frothing at the mouth. She could see pigs bleeding out before her.”
It’s time we learnt to respect pigs and other animals as the fascinating creatures they are, rather than raising them as food.
“Legalised cruelty”, The Sunday Age, 21st October, 2012
Bacon baklava and other ”super tasty treats” disguise the sinister side of the pig meat industry (”And for just desserts, can we tempt you with some bacon baklava?”, 14/10).
Legalised cruelty comes in many forms. How about the widespread mutilation of piglets a few days after birth without anaesthetic, including castration, tail docking, ear notching and teeth clipping?
Then there’s the confinement of sows day and night for months on end in sow stalls and farrowing crates so small that sows can’t even turn around. And the fact that most pigs never see daylight until the day they are sent to the slaughterhouse?
When will society decide that enough is enough?
“Culinary treats”, The Age, 21st January, 2013
The people of Britain and Australia should get over their hang-up about eating horse meat (The Saturday Age, 19/1). If we can eat cows, then we can eat horses. If we can eat pigs and lambs, we can eat dogs and cats. If farm animals exist for our culinary benefit, then other animals should also “step up to the plate”. With our rapidly growing population, they should accept that they will be required to help out sooner, rather than later. They are very popular components of the diet in many other countries.
Note: Just in case you’re wondering, yes, there was a lot of sarcasm in that one.
“Break the meat habit”, The Age, 30th December, 2013
The article on superbugs says: ”Australians love their antibiotics” (”A plague upon us”, Insight, 28/12). The problem is that they and others also love ”their” meat. The conditions in most animal-based food production facilities are so bad that antibiotics are routinely used in huge quantities to prevent infection, thereby creating most of the superbugs that we’re now contending with. If it’s not already too late, we urgently need to break our meat habit.
“Need a reason?”, The Sunday Age, 19th January, 2014
So most meat pies contain less than one third meat (”Tests reveal supermarket pies not even one-third meat”, theage.com.au, 12/1). The government standard says they must contain at least 25 per cent ”fat-free flesh”, which may, in fact, contain fat, along with animal rind, connective nerves, blood, blood vessels and, in the case of poultry, skin. It sounds like one more good reason to look after yourself, the animals and the planet by giving up meat and ”meat” products.
“Unethical addiction”, The Sunday Age, 4th May, 2014
Sam de Brito highlights that we are allowing an animal holocaust to proceed in our midst (”We are all Nazis when it comes to animal rights”, 27/4). Consistent with that notion, Georgie Mattingley says many of us have become complacent and close our eyes to what’s happening (”A vegetarian in the slaughterhouse”). However, Mattingley is wrong; the nation does not need meat. She proves as much by her consumption choices. The American Dietetic Association has stated meat is unnecessary for a healthy life. In terms of the economy, we can adapt to producing alternatives, with significant environmental benefits. What price must animals pay for society’s blind addiction to a product whose consumption breaches all notions of an ethical life?
“Cruelty part of the deal”, The Age, 3rd June, 2015 [Note 1]
Curtis Stone highlights the introduction of “sow stall-free” pork by Coles (“Chef of substance”, Epicure, 2/6). However, he does not mention that Coles and other retailers still sell meat from animals that have suffered horrendously due to exemptions contained in anti-cruelty legislation. In respect of pigs, those exemptions allow lifelong confinement indoors; 24/7 confinement in tiny farrowing crates for up to six weeks; and mutilation of piglets without anaesthetic, including castration, tail docking, ear notching and teeth clipping.
Coles chief executive, John Durkan, has said his company’s customers want to know that their products are cruelty-free. With that in mind, hopefully he and Curtis Stone will tell us all the facts.
“Get up, stand up”, The Age, 14th August, 2018
Thank you, Andy Marks, for your superb opinion piece (‘‘Strong message in horse’s defiance’’, 13/8). Why are so many conventions unquestioned? We must not act blindly, like robots programmed by governments, corporations and society generally. The more we systemically succumb to vested interests, the more we throw ethics out the door.
Climate change in general
“Rudd the dud” published in The Australian, 17th December, 2008 (with edited versions in The Herald Sun, The Daily Telegraph and The West Australian)
Kevin Rudd, you’re a dud. The climate change crisis requires leadership, not middle-ground marketing strategies aimed at matching the views of the majority. The problem is that the majority of people are yet to grasp the scale of the crisis we’re facing. A true leader would ensure they understood so that they’d support the drastic measures required to deal with the problem
Background: The letter was prompted by Rudd’s decision to have an emissions reduction target of only 5% (or 15% if other nations agreed). It was over a year before he scrapped plans for an emissions trading scheme. When he announced the target, he said that some say it’s too much, others say it’s not enough, so it must be about right (a little like Goldilocks). Science didn’t come into it. The only question was how would it look in the electorate. He was a massive let-down on climate change, after saying during the election campaign that it was the greatest moral challenge of our time. We had so much hope after suffering though 11 years of right-wing denialist John Howard as prime minister.
“Threat is real”, The Sunday Age, 28th December, 2008 [Note 2]
I can sympathise with farmers who are not convinced that climate change is real.
However, the fact is (for example) that the Greenland ice sheet is 2 kilometres thick (not 2 metres), 2,400 km long and up to 1,100 km wide. If it melts completely, sea levels will rise by 7 metres.
In their book “Climate Code Red”, David Spratt and Philip Sutton have explained how global warming is causing water on the melting surface to run across the ice, forming streams that widen into a torrent of water which pours through cracks that have formed and eventually the water finds its way to the base, lubricating the movement of the ice sheet over the rocky bottom.
This process feeds on itself, and is leading to a much faster deterioration than first anticipated. Then there’s the Antarctic ice sheet to think about.
Many feedback loops involved in climate change lead to accelerating global warming, e.g. loss of white ice exposes dark land, vegetation or water, which causes solar radiation to be absorbed rather than reflected, leading to further warming, more melting and so on.
Just because farmers can’t see such processes doesn’t mean they’re not happening.
The problem is that we’re at or near a point where those processes will accelerate no matter what we do. But let’s face the enormous challenge and mobilise our resources to grab whatever chance we have to save this magnificent planet.
“Pathetic”, The Australian, 12th March, 2009
How pathetic. The day after the Government introduces legislation that completely fails to recognise the extent to which we need to tackle climate change, The Australian’s headline is about a tiff over industrial relations between two Liberal MP’s who are behaving like recalcitrant schoolboys.
When will a politician stand up and accept that we’re facing a climate emergency?
“Australia must lead”, The Age, 28th April, 2009 [Note 3]
Even the conservative Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there’s a 90 per cent probability that the problem has been caused by human activities. Yet all Kevin Rudd and Penny Wong can offer is an emissions reduction target of 5-15 per cent by 2020, and the establishment of the grandly titled Global Carbon Capture and Storage Institute. I’d suggest that the Ponds Institute has more credibility.
The [Australian Conservation Foundation] and the ACTU estimate that a million new Australian jobs could be created by 2030 in tackling the crisis. Our overall emissions are higher than those of many European countries, and only 20 per cent less than those of Britain. A commitment by Australia would influence other countries such as China and India, which face extreme food shortages as the Himalayan glaciers and Asian monsoonal rains disappear.
“Real leaders needed”, The Age, 17th June, 2009
Leslie Cannold has indicated that apocalyptic headlines and catastrophic images of climate change provoke feelings of powerlessness among the public rather than a desire to act.
If only we again had political leaders like Roosevelt, Churchill and Curtin. In a time of war, they showed the way and channelled their nations’ efforts in overcoming the enormous challenges. In 1943, the percentage of gross domestic product attributable to the war effort in those three leaders’ countries ranged from 40 per cent to 55 per cent.
In modern-day Australia, our weak-kneed and short-sighted leaders are afraid to stand up to the fossil fuel lobby and transform our economy using green technologies and practices.
Such a transformation would lead us out of the global financial crisis and make us world leaders in energy supply.
We do face catastrophe if we fail to act, and much sooner than many people care to think.
“In thrall to lobbyists”, The Age, 9th November, 2009
Kevin Rudd is good at grandstanding and sounding earnest about climate change. Tragically, he is no better than John Howard or Malcolm Turnbull because, like them, he has been mesmerised by the fossil fuel lobby. Carbon dioxide takes hundreds of years to break down. Continuing to pump it out as we do is like blowing up a balloon.
If we keep going, something will have to give. Because of that the future is looking ugly.
“Too much hot air”, The Australian, 11th February, 2010
The climate change policies of both major parties are pathetic attempts to appear to be doing something meaningful, when in reality they are just continuing to pander to the fossil fuel lobby. In fact, with so much hot air to be produced by both sides prior to the election, they may significantly add to the problem
“Send smelters to cleaner countries”, The Age, 3rd March, 2010
So the extension of electricity contracts for Alcoa will secure 2500 jobs, utilising the world’s most greenhouse intensive energy source, brown coal (The Age, 2/3). However, in terms of jobs and the environment, we would be better off letting the aluminium industry go elsewhere. As they rely so heavily on coal (including brown coal), Australia’s smelters generate 2.5 times the world average of greenhouse gases per tonne of aluminium produced. Relocating them to other countries that utilise cleaner energy sources would significantly reduce global emissions.
In terms of employment, the ACTU and the Australian Conservation Foundation have estimated that Australia could create around 850,000 new jobs over the next 20 years by investing in green technologies, including renewable energy. That is more than enough to absorb the jobs that would have been lost at Alcoa and Loy Yang Power if the existing supply contracts had not been renewed.
“Gillard is no better”, The Age, 18th August, 2010
Maybe it’s the lack of media coverage about tipping points and runaway climate change that enables politicians to be so blase on the issue.
Although Abbott’s views are frightening and hard to believe from an aspiring PM, Julia Gillard’s policies are so insipid that she is no better.
We’re now told their campaigns are focusing on the economy. If we allow climate change to get out of hand (it may already be too late), then we can forget about a stable economy. The basic science is straightforward and we’re seeing more evidence every day. If we continue with business as usual, it will just be a question of how soon the signs become so bad that even deniers can’t ignore them, even if they continue to claim that the earth is flat and that gravity does not exist.
“A grubby association”, The Age, 17th February, 2012
Whether or not the payments to Professor Bob Carter were inappropriate, many credible sources have documented the grubby history of the denialist movement. An infamous tobacco industry memo, discovered through US legal proceedings, stated, ”Doubt is our product, since it is the best means of competing with the body of fact that exists in the minds of the general public.” That is the strategy that has been adopted by many groups denying the reality of man-made climate change.
We need to cut through the smokescreen created by those with vested interests in thwarting meaningful action. If we do not act urgently, we may lose the opportunity to prevent civilisation-threatening outcomes.
“Climate cringe sank Rudd”, The Sunday Age, 4th March, 2012
I thank Maxine McKew for her insights into the tactics of Julia Gillard (”Divided they stand”, 26/2). However, it wasn’t just the scrapping of the emissions trading scheme in 2010 that turned many people against Kevin Rudd. It was his decision in December 2008 to target a measly 5 to 15 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions from 2000 levels, along with massive compensation to big polluters.
That was a pathetic, politically expedient response to what he had previously described as ”the great moral, economic and environmental challenge of our generation”.
Now, as then, the climate change crisis requires inspirational leadership, not middle-ground marketing strategies aimed at matching the views of the majority or placating big business. A true leader would ensure that the majority of people understood the scale of the crisis, so that they would support the emergency measures required to deal with it. Neither Gillard nor Rudd are willing to do what is required.
A bonus would be that many of the measures would stimulate the economy well beyond the booming mining sector.
“Rising dangers”, The Age, 7th June, 2012
The Victorian government is being grossly irresponsible in relaxing planning laws dealing with sea-level rise (”State eases sea level regulations”, The Age, 6/6). The assumption of a 40 centimetre rise by 2040 is incredibly optimistic, as are the projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which estimate a rise of 19-59 centimetres by 2100. Climate commissioner Tim Flannery argues that the IPCC is ”painfully conservative” because it ”works by consensus and includes government representatives from the US, China and Saudi Arabia, all of whom must assent to every word of every finding”. The IPCC’s projections do not allow for many factors, including the ice-sheet dynamics of Greenland and Antarctica. Dr James Hansen of NASA says that if ice-sheet disintegration continues to double every decade, we will be faced with sea-level rise of several metres this century. Good luck to anybody relying on Victoria’s new planning regulations.
“Policy will be futile”, The Sunday Age, 8th December, 2013
If Tony Abbott allows the fossil fuel sector to fulfil its massive expansion plans, then he’d better scrap his ”stop the boats” policy. Any efforts to turn back millions of climate refugees will be futile.
“Emergency action on grand scale is required”, The Age, 10th January, 2015
Adam Morton reports that only a modest deal, to be “built on over time”, is anticipated at the Paris climate summit. Unfortunately, the planet cannot wait. Part of the problem is the fact that negotiations are based on projections developed by the IPCC, an organisation described by Professor Tim Flannery as “painfully conservative”. Dire as they are, those projections do not allow for many critical climate feedback mechanisms that create a very real risk of runaway climate change. The climate crisis requires emergency action. During World War II, the governments of the US, UK, Germany, Japan and Australia were committing around 40-70 per cent of GDP to the war effort. Trillions of dollars were utilised in dealing with the global financial crisis. Where is the required monetary commitment to the greatest threat ever faced by the inhabitants of our magnificent planet? Feigned concern, platitudes and paper-thin treaties will achieve nothing.
“Coal”, The Age, 17th October, 2015
The Carmichael coal mine: A disaster for the climate and the barrier reef. Greg Hunt: A disaster as Environment Minister.
“Only one Earth”, The Age, 11th September, 2018
So is Josh Frydenberg telling us that Nero fiddled while Rome burned? We knew that already. The Parliament has performed disgracefully on the existential threat of climate change and continues to do so. He should heed the words of ANU’s Dr Andrew Glikson that good planets are hard to come by.
Environmental (incl. Climate Change) impacts of Animal Agriculture
“Feeling scared? Eat less meat”, The Age, 22nd February, 2008
Professor Garnaut’s ominous predictions on climate change (The Age, 21/2) must be taken seriously by us all. If we were under threat by another country, we’d do whatever it took to protect our homeland. Kevin Rudd needs to treat the current threat in the same way that Winston Churchill and the citizens of Britain treated the threat to their country and Western Europe in World War II.
An easy step, which no one in Australian politics seems to mention, is to eat less meat. Could it be that they’re afraid of a backlash from the livestock sector? Just look at the findings of UN bodies such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), in regard to the disastrous effects of the livestock sector on climate change, land degradation, water use and loss of biodiversity. For example, the FAO has said that the livestock sector is “responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide equivalent. This is a higher share than transport.”
The livestock sector converts vegetable protein to animal protein in an incredibly inefficient manner. It typically takes around 20 kilograms of vegetable protein fed to cattle, to produce one kilogram of animal protein. We’d use an awful lot less land, and produce far less greenhouse gas, if that vegetable protein came straight to us.
“Cause and effect”, The Sunday Age, 8th June, 2008
It’s pleasing to see a scientific approach being developed to measure Australia’s environmental impact on other nations and future generations (“Many unhappy returns, from a ravenous nation”, 1/6).
However, the article suggests the prospect of a tax on beef and dairy farmers in recognition of the livestock sector’s high greenhouse emissions.
Instead of a new tax, why not simply try to educate consumers? A tax on the producer would cause everyone to grumble but no-one could validly complain if well-informed consumers decided to purchase fewer beef and dairy products for environmental reasons.
Do most consumers know that the UN’s Food & Agriculture Organisation has said that livestock production is one of the major causes of the world’s most pressing environmental problems? It has reported that the livestock sector is responsible for a higher share of greenhouse gas emissions than the entire global transport system.
While governments are willing to spend money on advertisements that encourage us to turn off electrical appliances, they seem to say very little about our food choices. We simply don’t have time to muck around; they must help to convey the message.
“Food for thought”, 11th January, 2009, The Sunday Age
There was a very interesting juxtaposition of articles in The Sunday Age (4/1). Firstly, an article commenting on the State Government’s campaign encouraging Melburnians to reduce their average direct water consumption to 155 litres per day (“Water savers’ flush of pride”). Second, an alarming article on Australia’s disgraceful performance in regard to our most endangered wetlands (“Australia fails to act on wetland obligations”).
The first article mentioned that the government is spending $5.4 million on advertising as part of the Target 155 campaign. However, the government is not telling us that around 90 per cent of our water is consumed indirectly in the food we eat, and that animal-based food products are the worst offenders.
Direct household consumption only accounts for 8 per cent of this state’s water use, whilst the animal agriculture sector as a whole accounts for 51 per cent and the dairy industry 34 per cent. UNESCO says that a kilogram of beef requires five times more water to produce than a kilogram of rice and it takes 1,000 litres of water to produce 1 litre of milk. Plant-based agriculture is many times more water-efficient than the animal-based alternative.
If you want to save our great rivers and their associated wetlands, by far the most effective thing you can do is reduce your consumption of dairy and other animal-based food products in favour of plant-based alternatives.
“The methane factor”, The Age, 13th January, 2009
Coal-fired power has rightly been identified as a significant contributor to Australia’s (and particularly Victoria’s) shameful level of greenhouse emissions (“Victoria, the dirty state, shamed by emissions scorecard”, 12/1). However, the true impact of a more significant contributor is overlooked. It is the livestock sector.
Each year, Australia’s livestock produce around 3 million tonnes of methane. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, methane’s greenhouse impact is 72 times stronger over a 20 year time horizon than carbon dioxide’s. Those methane emissions equate to around 216 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, which is around 20% more than the emissions from all of Australia’s coal-fired power stations.
If people really want to help save the planet, they should consider their consumption of livestock products, particularly beef, dairy, lamb and wool.
“Up in smoke”, The Age, 28th September, 2009
I see that John Vogels suggests that the CSIRO should apologise to livestock and dairy farmers for daring to suggest that their products are harmful to the environment (”Hot air over CSIRO’s new enviro diet”, the nationaltimes.com.au, 25/9).
Does that mean (for example) that the Federal Government should apologise to tobacco farmers for requiring cigarette manufacturers to place health warnings on their products?
If we’re to have any chance of saving the planet, we must stop pandering to powerful interest groups and politicians who depend on such groups for electoral success.
“Cut the bull”, The Age, 1st January, 2010
Whether it’s Angus or another form of beef (“Bull and burgers: mincing their words”, The Age, 30/12), a massive rip-off is occurring, but it’s not the hamburger consumers who are suffering, it’s the rest of us. Beef consumption involves massive environmental externalities – the consequences of the production and delivery process experienced by parties not directly involved in the transaction.
According to the CSIRO, it takes between 50,000 and 100,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of beef, compared with: 2200 litres for one kilogram of soy beans, 2000 litres for rice, and 750 litres for wheat. That kilogram of soy beans contains about 50 per cent more high-quality protein than the beef.
Also, because of methane emissions, land clearing, refrigeration and high fossil fuel usage in production, beef’s contribution to Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions is massive.
If we are serious about tackling our critical environmental problems, then the true cost of beef production and other forms of animal agriculture must be accounted for in the Federal Government’s proposed emissions trading scheme and in water pricing mechanisms.
“More than we can chew”, The Sunday Age, 21st February, 2010
It’s ironic that Guy Pearse uses hamburgers to compare the climate policies of the major parties. The emissions intensity of carcass beef is more than twice that of aluminium smelting. (Emissions intensity represents kilograms of greenhouse gas generated per kilogram of product.) To put that in perspective, aluminium smelting consumes 16 per cent of Australia’s (mainly coal-fired) electricity while our annual tonnage of beef production is around 10 per cent higher than that of aluminium. Policymakers need to start focusing on the horrendous impact of our diet on climate change.
“Too high a price for dairy”, The Sunday Age, 4th April, 2010
Something that seems to be missing from the discussion on the food bowl modernisation project (”Brumby’s water plan savaged”, 28/3) is the type of food that is being produced. For example, ABS figures show that dairy farming represents around 34 per cent of the state’s overall water consumption, which is largely due to the practice of flood irrigating pasture for cattle.
If domestic and export customers were required to pay prices that reflected the true environmental cost, then demand would fall and the dairy industry’s horrendous impact on our rivers would be greatly reduced.
“Better use of water”, The Age, 11th October, 2010
The debate on water allocations is being portrayed as a battle between the needs of irrigators and the environment. What they are not considering is the different types of irrigation.
The most recent ABS figures for Victoria (from 2004-05) show that animal agriculture represents 51 per cent of the state’s total water consumption; dairy farming alone represents 34 per cent, which is largely due to the practice of flood irrigating pasture for cattle.
Researchers at Cornell University in the US have reported that producing one kilogram of animal protein requires about 100 times more water than producing one kilogram of grain protein. CSIRO results for Australia are similar. Animal agriculture is inherently inefficient in satisfying nutritional requirements.
Governments may be under pressure from industry livestock groups to avoid mentioning such figures, but if they’re serious about saving our great rivers, it’s time they faced reality.
“Keep BBQ beef-free”, The Age, 21st March, 2011
It’s ironic that farmers in flooded areas of Victoria are welcoming Prince William with a barbecue (”Barbie fit for a prince eases flood pain”, The Saturday Age, 19/3).
More intense weather events are the direct result of climate change, with animal agriculture a major contributor. The beef they’re likely to eat is 2½ times as greenhouse gas-emission intensive as aluminium smelting, which consumes 16 per cent of Australia’s (mainly coal-fired) electricity.
Due primarily to related deforestation and methane emissions, Australia’s beef cattle are responsible for 1.3 times the emissions of electricity generation in Victoria. If they want a stable climate, the farmers would be better off cooking delicious and nutritious plant-based alternatives at the barbie.
“The Climate Agenda: Question 2”, The Sunday Age, 4th September, 2011
When are we going to hear more about the great elephant in the room – animal agriculture? The CSIRO and the University of Sydney have jointly reported that it is responsible for over 30 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s conservative, as it is based on a 100-year time horizon for methane’s warming impact. According to the IPCC, methane is far more potent when measured over a 20-year time horizon.
Livestock’s impact is largely attributable to the inherently inefficient nature of animals as a food source for humans, with onerous demands on resources at every step of the supply chain. A key factor in livestock’s emissions is the massive amount of deforestation attributable to grazing and feed crop production, which the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency now ignores in its National Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Animal agriculture is by far the greatest cause of deforestation globally and in Australia. The world’s pre-eminent climate scientist, James Hansen, says we will not overcome climate change without massive reforestation and significant cuts in emissions of non-CO2 climate forcers, such as methane, nitrous oxide, tropospheric ozone and black carbon. Meaningful action in that regard cannot be achieved without a general move towards a plant-based diet.
The livestock sector is becoming more active in alleging its products are benign. The industry’s arguments remind me of contributions by Ian Plimer and Bob Carter to the general climate change debate. A key problem is that social and cultural conditioning encourages key decision makers and most climate change activists to overlook the problem. They will happily absorb any propaganda that tells them it is all okay. The Greens say virtually nothing, possibly with one eye on the ballot box and potential scare campaigns by the livestock sector. One argument of the livestock sector is that production animals eat plants and crop residues that we wouldn’t. That practice is a key contributor to desertification in Africa, West Asia, the Americas and Australia.
If we are to have any chance of avoiding climate change tipping points and keep our planet habitable for humans and wildlife, we must not ignore the livestock issue.
Background: This was the “question” I posed in response to The Sunday Age’s “Climate Agenda” initiative. Here’s what The Sunday Age said when publishing my the questions (with mine finishing second in voting):
“Democracy, the OurSay website declares, is not a spectator sport. And there were few spectators when The Sunday Age asked readers to set the paper’s agenda on climate change. There were 567 questions posted and almost 20,000 votes cast. Then there was the debate – 4094 comments discussed the rights and wrongs of the questions. The Sunday Age partnered with the oursay.org website to create The Climate Agenda, an idea which aimed to open up reporting to broader ideas. Today, The Sunday Age answers the question which received the most votes – 5564 – and will report on the rest in coming weeks. The top 10 questions are listed below.”
I subsequently wrote about the “climate agenda” in my article “Does the standard of climate change reporting need beefing up?“.
“Halt the deforestation”, The Sunday Age, 11th December, 2011
Ross Garnaut is right to highlight the poor media reporting of climate change issues (“The science is good, the media bad, the situation worse: Garnaut”, The Age, 11/3). However, he has always overlooked the elephant in the room – animal agriculture.
The CSIRO and the University of Sydney have jointly reported that it is responsible for about 30 per cent of Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions.
This is partly due to the inherently inefficient nature of animals as a food source for humans, with onerous demands on resources at every step of the supply chain.
A key factor in livestock’s emissions is the massive amount of deforestation attributable to grazing and feed crop production. The world’s pre-eminent climate scientist, James Hansen, says we will not overcome climate change without massive reforestation and significant cuts in methane and nitrous oxide emissions. Meaningful action in this regard cannot be achieved without a general move towards a plant-based diet.
“A beef with emissions”, The Sunday Age, 31st May, 2015
It’s pleasing that the methane emissions of Australia’s northern cattle herd are lower than thought (“CSIRO technologies transform cattle production and meat”, theage.com.au, 24/5). However, the finding still leaves beef’s greenhouse gas emissions over a 20-year time frame (which is critical for climate change tipping points) on a different paradigm from those of plant-based alternatives and other types of meat. The reduction in emissions is hardly an innovation; rather the research simply obtained a clearer picture.
“Costly pursuit”, The Age, 15th June, 2015
I can not sympathise with those who complain about high beef prices (“High beef prices cutting margins to the bone”, 13/6). The problem remains that the price does not allow for the huge environmental costs, which affect us all. Those costs should be fully incorporated within the price paid by the end user. In that way, demand would reduce dramatically, and we would be dealing realistically with a key contributor to climate change and other environmental problems.
“Curse of Aussie BBQ”, The Age, 24th October, 2015
It is ironic that an image of a cattle farmer’s empty dam is used to demonstrate the scourge of drought in western Victoria, when beef production is a major contributor to climate change (“West’s dry core is ‘ready to burn”‘, 22/10).
In most official figures relevant data is either omitted, classified under non-livestock headings, or included using conservative calculations. The link between beef production and climate change involves many inter-related factors, such as its inherent inefficiency as a food source; the massive scale of the industry; land clearing; greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and other warming agents such as black carbon.
“Animals’ harmful role”, The Age, 5th November, 2015
Politicians must carry much of the blame for such a high proportion of people who do not accept the reality of climate change and the human population’s role in it. All parties, and major environmental groups, ignore the role of animal agriculture. Its impact arises from many inter-related factors, such as its inherent inefficiency as a food source; the massive scale of the industry; land clearing far beyond what would otherwise be required to satisfy our nutritional requirements; greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide; and other warming agents such as black carbon.
Same old beef, The Age, 17th March, 2017
Like so many people bemoaning the demise of the Great Barrier Reef, Tim Winton overlooks the impact of cattle grazing. The Queensland Government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement confirmed that beef production in the surrounding catchment was responsible for 75 per cent of sediment, 54 per cent of phosphorous and 40 per cent of nitrogen in the reef’s waters. The sediment blocks the sun and settles on the coral. The nitrogen and phosphorous promote plant growth, feeding Crown of Thorns starfish, which have destroyed much of the coral. So Tim, if you eat beef, it might be a good idea to give it up.
The issue we must address, The Sunday Age, 20th May, 2018
The article “Forest clearing reef threat” noted that the proposed clearing is intended “for cropping and other activities”. It did not mention that, according to the federal Department of Environment and Energy, it is intended for “the production of sorghum and intensification of cattle grazing”. As is generally the case with sorghum, its intended use in this instance is to feed livestock (dairy cattle, chickens and the owner’s own beef cattle). Since records began in 1988, 91 per cent of land clearing in Queensland has been for livestock grazing, with livestock feed crops adding to the total.
It is pleasing that the article noted the adverse role of agriculture in relation to water quality and outbreaks of crown-of-thorns starfish contributing significantly to coral loss. The Queensland government’s 2013 Scientific Consensus Statement reported that cattle grazing had been responsible for 54 per cent of phosphorus, 40 per cent of nitrogen and 75 per cent of sediment in the reef’s waters. Cattle grazing also contributes to bleaching and cyclone-related coral loss through its significant global warming impact.
We will have no chance of saving the reef’s corals without addressing the issue of animal-based food consumption and production.
Other factors, The Sunday Age, 1st July, 2018
The article (“The climate catastrophe hanging over our heads”, The Sunday Age, 24/6) states that half the Great Barrier Reef’s corals were killed in “back-to-back bleaching over two summers”. However, the extent of coral coverage immediately before those bleaching events was only 40 per cent of the area covered in 1960, meaning the extent of coral loss in 2016 and 2017 (although tragic) only represented 20 per cent of the area covered 60 years ago.
Most of the 60 per cent loss between 1960 and 2015 has been attributed by researchers at the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the University of Wollongong to crown-of-thorns starfish and cyclones. Poor agricultural practices have been a major factor in the starfish outbreaks and reduced coral resilience due to nutrient and sediment run-off.
Politics (incl. environmental and health issues)
“Politics”, The Age, 4th February, 2008
Where have the Greens been during the dredging debate? Seaweed’s green, just like forests. Is it a case of out of sight, out of mind?
“Transparent as silt”, The Age, 9th February, 2008
Port of Melbourne Corporation CEO Stephen Bradford says the approval process for the channel deepening project has been transparent (Letters, 8/2). So why did the terms of reference for the Supplementary Environment Effects Statement inquiry prevent expert witnesses from being cross-examined? The words of former premier Steve Bracks from 1999, ring loud: “When you’re proud of what you’re doing, you don’t want it hidden; you want people to know about it. You only keep secret the things that you’re ashamed of.”
“Gross distortions of truth”, The Age, 14th December, 2009
So Brumby’s Labor Government has again withheld critical information (”True cost of desal plant concealed”, The Age, 12/12). Yet again, the grand words of then Labor leader Steve Bracks from 1999 are shown to be hollow. He said a Labor government would differ from its predecessor through “leadership that believes in openness and accountability, that isn’t afraid of scrutiny, that credits the people of this state with the intelligence to make their own judgements”.
Thank you to The Age for highlighting such abuses of power. It’s time the broader media, and the population in general, scrutinised our governments more closely. They get away with murder because too many media outlets feed the public a diet of orchestrated 10-second sound grabs that either say nothing or grossly distort the truth.
“Too one-sided”, The Age, 20th December, 2009
So the Victorian Government has failed to deliver five of its promised ”significant policy statements” for 2009, including its ”respect” statement (”Excuses, yes, but report card stern on Brumby”, 13/12). I’m willing to forgive it for that one, as I already know what it’s going to say: ”All citizens are required to respect the Government, no matter how much it insults their intelligence or abuses their rights.”
“Mutiny”, The Age, 25th June, 2010
The mutiny by Labor MPs confirms what we all knew. Politicians’ main aim in life is to protect jobs: their own.
“Oblivious to crisis”, Sydney Morning Herald, 14th August, 2010
Not only is Tony Abbott a non- tech-head but he was oblivious to the concept of peak oil until asked a question on it at the 2008 Sydney Writers Festival. He tried to bluff his way through, but then had to admit he had not heard of it. Peak oil is when oil demand exceeds supply, with resulting shortfalls and a rapid escalation in prices.
So the man whose party claims to be the only responsible economic manager was, until two years ago, oblivious to an issue that will have profound impacts on the global economy and society generally, and requires us to pursue renewal energy solutions without delay.
“Meat”, The Age, 29th October, 2015
Barnaby: I don’t eat meat, smoke or drink, knowingly inhale asbestos, or live in a cave.
Note: I was responding to comments from Agriculture Minister, Barnaby Joyce, on the link between red and processed meat and cancer. That letter and others on the subject were accompanied by a Matt Golding cartoon showing Barnaby holding a Dr Seuss book and saying, “If processed meat is so bad for you, why is a doctor promoting it?”
All for show, The Sunday Age, 19th March, 2017
So Labor spent $60,000 in an effort to improve the image of the Shortens. Can’t people just be themselves? When interviewed, Shorten and most other modern politicians seem like B-grade actors, trying to remember their lines. Where is the spontaneity? Where is the aim of genuinely trying to create a better world?
“Health snag”, The Age, 15th March, 2018
The article “Sausages lose their sizzle as salt is added up” (The Age, 14/3) focused on the high salt content of sausages, but it is only one of the serious problems.
An April 2016 study by researchers from the University of Oxford estimated that if the global population were to adopt a vegetarian diet, 7.3 million lives per year would be saved by 2050. Ifa vegan diet were adopted, the figure would be 8.1 million.
More than half the avoided deaths would result from reduced red meat consumption, including pig meat. The results primarily reflect anticipated reductions in the rate of coronary heart disease, stroke, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Healthy options are readily available.
“Slap a tax on meat, too”, The Sunday Age, 27th March, 2016
If it is reasonable to consider a tax on sugar (Editorial, 20/3), then why not also impose one on animal-based food products? The WHO and World Cancer Research Fund have provided strong evidence of the link between red and processed meat and cancer. A 26-year study by Harvard University found that eating red meat was associated with a sharply increased risk of death from cancer and heart disease. A major study by the US National Cancer Institute found that those who avoid animal-based products had lower rates of cancer, obesity, diabetes and hypertension. Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council and the American Dietetic Association have endorsed diets free of animal products.
It may be difficult for the public to unravel the truth amid the onslaught of the food industry’s slick advertising campaigns. That’s where governments can help, and a tax on animal-based foods could be a key component of a healthy food strategy.
Newspaper Photo © Imagestore | Dreamstime.com
Sammy Frost (now at Green Pastures Sanctuary Waroona, Western Australia)
Lightning, night storm © Petr Mašek | Dreamstime.com
Cattle at sunset © Anthony Brown | Dreamstime.com
Parliament House in Canberra, Australia © Dan Breckwoldt | Dreamstime.com
1. The Age’s letters editor replaced my “who” with “that”.
2. Reference to “Arctic ice sheet” deleted due to duplication (as Greenland mentioned).
3. Australian Conservation Foundation referred to in lieu of CSIRO. The figure of 1 million jobs was based on the Age article “Rudd ignores better options after pressure from industry” of 20th April, 2009, by James Norman, which referred to “nearly 1 million new green jobs”. The relevant report, “Green Gold Rush”, actually used a figure of 850,000.