Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Time to clear up recent news reports about the role of animal agriculture in climate change

Reporting on climate science has been anything but smooth, and evidence suggests some news media have misreported the relationship between animal agriculture and global warming. Since 2006, many outlets have cited a "United Nations study which found that livestock production is responsible for about 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions—a larger share than comes from all planes, trains, and automobiles combined," Curtis Brainard writes for Columbia Journalism Review. That study was back in the news last week when Dr. Frank Mitloehner, an animal scientist at the University of California at Davis, undermined those claims at an American Chemical Society meeting.

The report, "Livestock’s Long Shadow," calculated its impact over the entire life cycle, including "emissions from things like fertilizer production and land-use change in addition to those from cow burps and manure," Brainard writes. The researchers didn't do likewise for transportation but compared the two. Now one of the original study's authors says Mitloehner is correct. "I must say honestly that he has a point – we factored in everything for meat emissions, and we didn’t do the same thing with transport, we just used the figure from the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change]," UN Food and Agriculture Organization livestock-policy officer Pierre Gerber told the BBC.

So, animal agricultuire's role was overstated. But some news outlets have incorrectly understood Mitloehener to have dismissed the whole study, and have "left the impression that he believes there is no link whatsoever between livestock production and warming," Brainard reports, citing examples. So where is the true middle? "Mitloehner does not think curtailing livestock production would make no dent in warming," Brainard writes. "He just thinks it would be an insignificant dent and that there are far more effective ways to reduce emissions." (Read more)

Meanwhile, a House of Commons investigation has found "no evidence to support charges that the University of East Anglia's Climatic Research Unit or its director, Phil Jones, had tampered with data or perverted the peer review process to exaggerate the threat of global warming," MSNBC reports, with help from The Associated Press and Reuters. (Read more)

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