Our Planet Is a Farm

by Jonathan Safran Foer

  • Globally, humans use 59 percent of all the land capable of growing crops to grow food for livestock.
  • One third of all the fresh water that humans use goes to livestock, while only about one-thirtieth is used in homes.
  • Seventy percent of the antibiotics produced globally are used for livestock, weakening the effectiveness of antibiotics to treat human diseases.
  • Sixty percent of all mammals on Earth are animals raised for food.
  • There are approximately thirty farmed animals for every human on the planet.

Our Animal Farming Is Radical

  • In 1820, 72 percent of the American workforce was directly involved in agriculture. Today, 1.5 percent is.
  • Like the video game console, the factory farm was an invention of the 1960s. Before then, food animals were raised outdoors in sustainable concentrations.
  • Between 1950 and 1970, the number of American farms declined by half, the number of people employed in farming declined by half, and the size of the average farm doubled. During that time, the size of the average chicken also doubled.
  • In 1966, distorting contact lenses were invented to make it harder for chicken to see their increasingly unnatural surroundings, thereby easing the stress that caused violent pecking and cannibalism. The lenses were considered too burdensome for farmers, so automated debeakers—which burn off the ends of chicken’s faces—became the industry norm.

Animal Agriculture Causes Climate Change

  • As they digest food, cattle, goats, and sheep produce a significant amount of methane, which is mostly belched but also exhaled, farted and passed in the waste of the animal.
  • Livestock are the leading source of methane emissions.
  • Nitrous oxide is emitted by livestock urine, manure, and the fertilizers used for growing feed crops.Livestock are the leading source of nitrous oxide emissions.
  • Animal agriculture is deforestation, the leading cause of.
  • According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the United States.

Animal Agriculture is a/the Leading CaUse of Climate Change

  • When assessing animal agriculture’s overall contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, estimates range dramatically depending on what is included in the calculation.
  • The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations asserts that livestock are a leading cause of climate change, responsible for approximately 7,516 million tons of CO2e emissions per year, or 14.5 percent of annual global emissions.
  • The FAO calculation includes the CO2 emitted when forests are cleared for animal feed crops and pastures, but it does not take into account the CO2 that those forests can no longer absorb. (Imagine a life insurance policy that covered the cost of the funeral but not the future lost wages.) Among other things not included in its calculation is the CO2 exhaled by farmed animals, even though, in the words of one environmental assessment specialist, ‘livestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.’
  • When researchers at the Worldwatch Institute accounted for emissions that the FAO overlooked, they estimated that livestock are responsible for 32,564 million tons of CO2 emissions per year, or 51 percent of annual global emissions – more than all cars, planes, buildings, power plants, and industry combined.
  • We do not know for sure if animal agriculture is a leading cause of climate change or the leading cause of climate change.
  • We know for sure that we cannot address climate change without addressing animal agriculture.

Climate change is the greatest crisis humankind has ever faced, and it is a crisis that will always be simultaneously addressed together and faced alone. We cannot keep the kinds of meals we have known and also keep the planet we have known. We must either let some eating habits go or let the planet go. It is that straightforward, that fraught.

Jonathan Safran Foer
We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast
Penguin Books 2019