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Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
© 2016 The Author(s). Licensee InTech. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons
Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Additional information is available at the end of the chapter
It is very old wisdom that climate dictates farm management strategies. In recent
years, however, we are increasingly confronted with claims that agriculture, livestock
husbandry, and even food consumption habits are forcing the climate to change. We
subjected this worrisome concern expressed by public institutions, the media, policy
makers, and even scientists to a rigorous review, cross-checking critical coherence and
(in)compatibilities within and between published scientic papers. Our key conclusion
is there is no need for anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), and even
less so for livestock-born emissions, to explain climate change. Climate has always been
changing, and even the present warming is most likely driven by natural factors. The
warming potential of anthropogenic GHG emissions has been exaggerated, and the ben-
ecial impacts of manmade CO2 emissions for nature, agriculture, and global food secu-
rity have been systematically suppressed, ignored, or at least downplayed by the IPCC
(Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and other UN (United Nations) agencies.
Furthermore, we expose important methodological deciencies in IPCC and FAO (Food
Agriculture Organization) instructions and applications for the quantication of the
manmade part of non-CO2-GHG emissions from agro-ecosystems. However, so far, these
fatal errors inexorably propagated through scientic literature. Finally, we could not nd
a clear domestic livestock ngerprint, neither in the geographical methane distribution
nor in the historical evolution of mean atmospheric methane concentration. In conclu-
sion, everybody is free to choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, but there is no scientic
basis, whatsoever, for claiming this decision could contribute to save the planet’s climate.
Keywords: greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, agro-
ecosystems, deforestation, climate change
© 2018 The Author(s). Licensee IntechOpen. This chapter is distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0), which permits unrestricted use,
distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.
Since its early origins, mankind adapts to the prevailing climatic conditions (from the arctic
to the tropical rainforest) and copes fairly successfully with natural climate variability. It is
very old wisdom that climate dictates farm management strategies. Fairly new, however, is
the idea that agriculture, livestock husbandry, and food consumption habits are forcing sup-
posedly the climate to change. This idea spread across the globe when thousands of media
reports picked up the central message of the famous FAO report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”
, which blamed domestic livestock of causing serious environmental hazards such as cli-
mate change, through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Another FAO report  basically
transmied the same message, reducing, however, somewhat the livestock contribution to
global GHG emissions from 18 to 14.5%. But dramatic gures of emission intensity were still
maintained particularly for South American pasture-based beef production (Figure 1).
The worrisome messages launched by the FAO were eagerly disseminated by several envi-
ronmentalist and even ecclesiastic organizations. They also triggered political action: there
was a public audience in the European Parliament in November 2009 about the topic “Less
Meat = Less Heat.” And at the Conference of Partners in Paris COP21 in 2015, this topic was
also subject in the climate negotiations. And even in scientic literature, reduction of livestock
numbers and meat consumption was recommended . These concerns expressed by public
institutions, the media, politics, and even science evoke the question: is global climate really
at risk from livestock husbandry and cropping?
Figure 1. Key conclusions from Gerber et al. .
2. Methodological procedure
To answer this question, we did extensive review work, cross-checking critically coherence and
(in)compatibilities between several published papers and data, and came to distinct results to
what one would expect when listening to environmentalists and political climate change activists.
3. Results and discussion
3.1. About GHG emissions in the context of livestock husbandry
3.1.1. Carbon dioxide (CO2)
CO2 emied by human consumption of cereals, meat, and milk, by livestock respiration and
forage digestion, does not increase atmospheric CO2 levels, as this is part of the natural carbon
cycle. Not a single human- or livestock-born CO2 molecule is additionally released into the
atmosphere, as it has previously been captured through photosynthesis. The amount of CO2
released annually by humans and livestock is oset by regrowing CO2-assimilating forages
and crops. The only sources of additional CO2 emissions caused by agriculture and livestock
husbandry, beyond the natural carbon cycle, are:
• fossil fuel consumption during production, processing, and marketing, such as transporta-
tion, soil tillage, harvesting, and fertilizer manufacturing,
• deforestation for reclamation of pasture and cropland, and
• soil organic maer decomposition from degrading grasslands and arable lands, as deter-
mined by the dierence of ecosystemic carbon stocks before and after certain human
Usage of fossil fuels is considerable in industrial livestock production systems which rely on
forage cropping and feed transportation to the conned animals. In grazing systems, how-
ever, fuel consumption is rather low. Fossil fuel-related emission intensity of feed is less than
0.05 CO2 kg−1 of dry maer intake in grazing systems and around 0.3 in feedlots . The
widespread perception that only feedlot intensication can reduce the overall GHG emission
intensity (per kg of beef produced) was recently challenged by Paige et al.  who found
considerable soil organic carbon sequestration in certain grazing systems which even oset
methane emissions from enteric fermentation. However, after any sort of land use change, the
rate of soil carbon sequestration or of carbon loss is changing over time until a new equilib-
rium level is reached for each kind of land management .
Deforestation for pasture establishment causes a unique one-time CO2 release from burning
and decomposition of woody vegetation. For emission intensity calculations, deforestation-
born emissions have to be shared out over the accumulated animal products generated dur-
ing the total utilization period of the very pasture, which replaced the forest. This may easily
Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change 3
be hundreds of years (as in the case of European grasslands). In the long run, total production
accumulates to huge quantities and the deforestation part of the emission intensity (CO2 emit-
ted per kg of carcass weight) approaches zero (Figure 2).
Unfortunately, in published literature, emissions from deforestation are treated inconsis-
tently. They are either neglected or charged entirely to the year of their appearance onto a
product which is not necessarily related to the ongoing deforestation, such as total beef pro-
duction in South America (e.g., Figure 1). For Europe, however, these emissions are usually
ignored as they took place 500 years and longer ago.
In spite of ongoing deforestation, world vegetation cover, particularly in (semi-)arid regions,
has improved in the past 30 years due to rising CO2, as a satellite image-based analysis by
CSIRO Australia  and Geoscience Institutes in Denmark and Spain  has shown. Another
study of 32 authors from 24 institutions from 8 countries, published on the NASA website,
found a signicant increase in the leaf area index on most of the earth’s vegetated surface,
during the past 35 years, for which increasing CO2 emissions are considered responsible at a
70% level [9, 10].
In the Northern Hemisphere with big landmasses covered with vegetation, the annual oscil-
lation of CO2 rose considerably in the past decades. In 2013, 36% more CO2 was captured in
spring and summer and released again in wintertime than 45 years ago. The growing annual
amplitude with more CO2 in the air is a clear indicator of a tremendous vegetation response to
increased CO2 levels . Fully in line with this nding is another paper published in Nature
providing evidence that twentieth-century CO2 emissions caused an over 30% increase in
Global Terrestrial Gross Primary Production .
Figure 2. Modeling deforestation-born emission intensity (kg CO2 emied per kg of carcass weight produced).
Former IPCC author and reviewer Indur Goklany  estimated the global fertilization value
of manmade CO2 in the atmosphere to 140 billion US$ every year. Therefore, anthropogenic
CO2 contributes considerably to global food security. There are dozens of studies corroborating
the eciency of CO2 as a fertilizer of our crops, pastures, and forests . Nevertheless, UNEP
projects (United Nations Environmental Program) such as the initiative TEEB (The Economy
of Ecosystems and Biodiversity for Agriculture and Food) categorically ignore the obvious
benecial eects of manmade CO2 emissions in their economic assessments. So do the authors
of a recent assessment of potential economic damages under UN mitigation targets . The
well-established desirable eects of manmade CO2 are entirely disregarded, whereas the global
warming thresholds of future emission scenarios, as proposed by the IPCC, are fully accepted
and related to potential economic losses, dierentiated by regions. However, this widely
accepted approach does not represent an objective and trustworthy method (see Chapter 3.2).
During most of the geological eras, atmospheric CO2 concentrations were higher than today. At
the last glaciation maximum, however, 18,000 years ago, CO2 concentration reached as lile as
180 ppm, low enough to stunt plant growth . Therefore, quite a number of authors celebrate
the recirculation of CO2 by fossil fuel burning to secure long-time survival of life on earth. Taking
into account that CO2 is essential nutrient for life, is the only carbon source of all biomass, is
fertilizing our crops and pastures, and is greening our deserts as it improves water use eciency
and therefore drought resistance of plants , this trace compound in the air (0.04% vol.) quali-
es for being the most important, however limiting, nutrient for life. It is not the air pollutant as
which it is seemingly exposed in the media and even by members of the scientic community.
CO2 is a transparent and odorless trace gas of which we are respiring about 5 kg every day.
3.1.2. Non-CO2 GHGs: methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O)
Other agricultural GHGs such as methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) also form part of
natural cycles, just like CO2. An easily understandable overview on methane and nitrous oxide
dynamics in the atmosphere has been worked out by Stephen Zwick in LA Chefs Column
. There are natural and manmade sinks and sources for CH4 and N2O (Figure 3); there is,
however, some confusion in the quantication of the manmade part of their emissions from
agro-ecosystems. The IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories  meticu-
lously provide instructions, emission factors, and formulas to estimate the emissions from
the various sources in managed ecosystems. Emissions from pristine or native ecosystems
are explicitly not taken into account, as they are not manmade. However, all managed agro-
ecosystems replaced native ecosystems at some stage in history which also had been sources
of considerable methane and nitrous oxide emissions.
In order to get the eective manmade part of the emissions from managed ecosystems, one has to
subtract the baseline emissions of the respective native ecosystems or of the pre-climate change-
managed ecosystems from those of today’s agro-ecosystems (Figure 4). Omiing this correction
leads to a systematic overestimation of farm-born non-CO2 GHG emissions. Scientic publica-
tions generally do not take this consideration into account, as farm-born CH4 and N2O emissions
are consistently interpreted at a 100% level as an additional anthropogenic GHG source, just like
fossil fuel-born CO2. As the mentioned IPCC guidelines  are taken for the ultimate reference,
this severe methodological deciency propagated through scientic literature.
Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change 5
Figure 3. Natural and anthropogenic sources and sinks of the non-CO2 GHGs methane and nitrous oxide.
Figure 4. How to estimate correctly manmade non-CO2 GHG emissions from agro-ecosystems.
Temporarily waterlogged or ooded pristine ecosystems or those with a high density of wild
ungulates might have emied the same amount or even more methane per hectare and year
than they did after land reclamation and utilization. So net anthropogenic methane emissions
from certain agro-ecosystems could be zero or even assume a negative value.
The same applies to nitrous oxide, particularly in farming systems where no or lile synthetic
nitrogen fertilizer is used such as most pastoral systems: ecosystem management and herbage
consumption by livestock might increase somewhat the turnover rate of nitrogen but does
not increase the quantity of nitrogen in circulation from which N2O is emied as a by-product
from nitrication and denitrication.
Dung patches concentrate the nitrogen ingested from places scaered across the pasture.
Nichols et al.  found no signicant dierences between emission factors from the patches
and the rest of the pasture, which means the same amount of nitrous oxide is emied whether
or not the herbage passes livestock’s intestines. However, the IPCC and FAO do consider
mistakenly all nitrous oxide leaking from manure as livestock-born and therefore manmade.
Comparing, for instance, sown grassland with native bushland in the Gran Chaco, which con-
tains many leguminous species, it becomes evident that nitrogen stocks are higher and more
nitrogen is circulated annually in native bushland than in sown pasture (Figure 5). Therefore,
in spite of the presence of grazing animals in the grassland, there is likely more nitrous oxide
produced from bushland than from grassland after bush clearing and pasture establishment.
Figure 5. Ecosystemic nitrogen stocks in grassland and bushland (Chaco, Paraguay).
Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change 7
Hence, instead of charging the emission intensity of South American Beef with 23 kg of CO2-
equ. kg−1 of CW (carcass weight) for nitrous oxide emissions from animal feces (Figure 1),
there should rather be a negative value when corrected for the emissions from the respective
pre-land use pristine ecosystem. Similar thoughts can be made for the enteric fermentation
and deforestation part of emission intensity charges.
3.1.3. Global methane emissions and livestock
The rise of methane emissions beginning around 1850 coincides perfectly with the progres-
sive use of fossil energy. But the methane growth rate fell to zero at the turn of the millennium
as shown by Quirk , cited from . The stabilization of methane emissions in the 1990s is
very likely associated with the adoption of modern technology in fossil fuel production and
use, particularly the replacement of leaking pipelines in the former Soviet Union .
Between 1990 and 2005, the world cale population rose by more than 100 million head
(according to FAO statistics). During this time, atmospheric methane concentration stabilized
completely. These empirical observations show that livestock is not a signicant player in
the global methane budget . This appreciation has been corroborated by Schwieke et al.
 who suggested that methane emissions from fossil fuel industry and natural geological
seepage have been 60–110% greater than previously thought.
When looking to the global distribution of average methane concentrations as measured by
ENVISAT (Environmental Satellite)  and the geographical distribution of domestic animal
density, respectively , no discernible relationship between both criteria was found .
Although the most recent estimates of yearly livestock-born global methane emissions came
out 11% higher than earlier estimates , we still cannot see any discernible livestock n-
gerprint in the global methane distribution (Figure 6). The idea of a considerable livestock
contribution to the global methane budget relies on theoretical boom-up calculations. Even
in recent studies, e.g., , just the emissions per animal are measured and multiplied by the
number of animals. Ecosystemic interactions and baselines over time and space are gener-
ally ignored . Although quite a number of publications, such as the excellent most recent
FCRN report (Food Climate Research Network) , do discuss extensively ecosystemic
sequestration potentials and natural sources of GHGs, they do not account for baseline emis-
sions from the respective native ecosystems when assessing manmade emissions of non-CO2
GHGs from managed ecosystems. This implies a systematic overestimation of the warming
potential, particularly when assuming considerable climate sensitivity to GHG emissions.
However, even LA Chefs Column , in spite of assuming a major global warming impact of
methane, came to the conclusion: “When methane is put into a broader rather than a reductive
context, we all have to stop blaming cale (‘cows’) for climate change.”
3.2. About the climate response to manmade GHG emissions
Having shown considerable benecial eects of manmade CO2 emissions on nature, agricul-
ture, and global food security and having shown severe IPCC and FAO deciencies in the
quantication of the manmade part of non-CO2 GHG emissions, we need to have a closer look
to the alleged evil human emissions of natural GHGs are accused of: causing climate change
through global warming.
There is, however, a growing divergence between observed and modeled temperatures. In
spite of steadily increasing CO2 levels, observed temperatures are ways below most published
temperature projections (Figure 7).
Critical scientists are not surprised of this reality, showing that model validation has pitiably
failed. In Table 2.11 of the Fourth IPCC Assessment Report AR4 , 16 variables were identi-
ed as global warming-forcing agents and used for modeling. The level of understanding
for 11 of them is specied as “low to very low.” Under such premises, reliable modeling is
impossible. Yet the IPCC comes up with a 90–95% certainty that human activity has been the
main single driver of the slight warming observed during the past century.
According to Gervais , published estimates of climate sensitivity to CO2, as dened as
temperature rise with CO2 doubling, are in rapid decline since the turn of the millennium. The
logical implication of this nding is that, in the past, climate models systematically exagger-
ated temperature projections into the future. Moreover, for the time between 1993 and 2015,
when about 40% of total CO2 was emied since the beginning of the industrial revolution,
Gervais could not nd any discernible correlation between atmospheric concentration of CO2
and mean global temperature anomaly in the low stratosphere (as measured by satellites),
where according to the radiative-convective models, the most marked signature of tempera-
ture change was predicted . Recent investigations support the idea of biases in IPCC cli-
mate model simulations, most of which show spurious warming associated with its alleged
impacts such as glacier melting and sea level rise [32–36].
Furthermore, a growing number of peer-reviewed papers give evidence of pronounced warm
periods during the Holocene, since the end of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago, in spite of
the preindustrial atmospheric CO2 levels in those times . Gernot Paelt from Innsbruck
Figure 6. Domestic livestock-born methane emissions are of negligible importance for the global geographical methane
distribution [25, 26].
Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change 9
University  recovered ancient tree trunks conserved in moors and glaciers well above the
present day tree lines, all across the Alps (Figure 8).
Paelt irrefutably concluded that 65% of the Holocene summer temperatures had been
warmer than today because the tree lines were at higher altitudes than today. Other studies
Figure 8. These tree trunks uncovered from retreating glaciers are irrefutable witnesses of extended preindustrial warm
periods as they grew up well above the present-day tree lines .
Figure 7. Midtropospheric temperature variations: observations (by satellite and balloons) versus IPCC models .
from stalagmites in the Alps  and tree line investigations in Lapland  gave similar
results, just as did ice core analyses from Greenland  and from the Antarctica .
The IPCC faces considerable problems of explaining the numerous preindustrial warm peri-
ods: among the radiative forcing components as published in the latest IPCC report in 2013
, anthropogenic CO2, methane, and nitrous oxide emissions are represented with promi-
nent bars and hence are supposed to be the key drivers of global warming. On the other hand,
the solar inuence has been reduced to a tiny eect, just representing the observed small
variation of direct solar irradiation (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Natural and anthropogenic global warming forcing agents as dened and quantied by the IPCC (Figures 8-17
from ). These are incompatible with the well-documented prominent warm periods, which occurred in spite of
preindustrial CO2 levels.
Domestic Livestock and Its Alleged Role in Climate Change 11
These global warming forcing agents dened by the IPCC  obviously ignore the potent indi-
rect solar inuences produced by solar magnetic activity associated with sunspot occurrence.
Lockwood et al.  clearly showed the relevance of solar activity indicators for the heliospheric
cosmic ray modulation potential and the associated cooling and warming of the earth during
the past 400 years. The causal chain between solar magnetic activity, cosmic ray ux hiing the
earth, cloud formation potential, and mean global temperature has been shown by Svensmark
and Friis-Christensen  and was convincingly defended against premature critics .
There is no need for anthropogenic emissions of GHGs, and even less so for livestock-born
emissions, to explain climate change. When looking closely to published scientic data and
facts, we conclude that
• eternal climate change, also the present one, is most likely driven by natural factors,
• the warming potential of anthropogenic GHGs has very likely been exaggerated by the
IPCC and the media, and
• benecial impacts of anthropogenic CO2 emissions for nature, agriculture, and global food
security have been systematically ignored.
Furthermore, we exposed important methodological deciencies in IPCC and FAO instruc-
tions and applications for the quantication of the manmade part of non-CO2 GHG emissions
from agro-ecosystems. Finally, we could not nd a domestic livestock ngerprint, neither
in the geographical methane distribution nor in the historical evolution of the atmospheric
Consequently, in science, politics, and the media, climate impact of anthropogenic GHG
emissions has been systematically overstated. Livestock-born GHG emissions have mostly
been interpreted isolated from their ecosystemic context, ignoring their negligible signicance
within the global balance. There is no scientic evidence, whatsoever, that domestic livestock
could represent a risk for the Earth’s climate.
The author wants to thank Prof. Emeritus Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner, Stockholm University, for
inspiring ideas, stimulating conversations, and providing with relevant references.
Conict of interest
The author has no conict of interest to declare.
Address all correspondence to: email@example.com
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