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, that the use of animals in agricultures is one of the primary factors to blame for environmental degradation; this includes ocean dead zones, rapid species extinctions, Amazon rainforest destruction, water consumption and land use. However, Anderson becomes frustrated to find 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.

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret

The Silence of Environmentalists

Greenhouse gases such as methane, carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are predominant contributors to our climate crisis and global warming. Each of these natural gases are heavily produced in industrial factory farming practices where forests are cleared, robbing entire landscapes of not only their carbon sequestering potential, but also of innumerable wildlife species. Fossil fuels 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 somehow unaware of which sources of greenhouse gases are most prevalent? Does he simply not realize the extent to which factory farm operations rely upon greenhouse gas and deforestation. 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, it seems like it would be Hamilton’s job to know.

Ann Notthoff: Natural Resources Defense Counsil

The Natural Resources Defense Counsil’s Ann Notthoff says 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 in 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. According to journalist Will Potter, environmentalists are considered terrorists to the FBI. Will Anderson, founder of Greenpeace Alaska, believes that most environmental institutions are failing us by failing to mention the role of diet and agriculture in climate change.

Activism comes with a cost. In some cases, the cost is lost revenue or a reputation blow. The fact is that factory farming and agriculture are powerfully influential due to the amount of profit they reap and the jobs that they supply. Being a staple in global economies prevents many organizations from speaking up. Speaking up could result in funding loss, loss of business, alienation or worse.

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