Thursday, December 24, 2015

"Cowspiracy": the open secret about raising animals for food, and climate change

So, if your family and friends want to watch a movie online at home this Christmas Eve on a big new plasma Internet TV screen, here’s a present. But you may have second thoughts about what you just ate for Christmas dinner. (I've never been much for a Christmas ham or pork, but yes, I do consume turkey and dressing.) 

Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” (2014), directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, unveils a dirty secret apparently hidden by policymakers and agribusiness in plain sight:  that human meat consumption (at current population levels as established during the past century) may be responsible for most of the climate change problem. 

The film (92 minutes) tells its story from the viewpoint of Kip, who had done everything as an individual he thought “you are supposed to do”, including riding his bike instead of driving as much as possible (and risk getting struck by cars, something I can’t chance). His attention to the problem started with Al Gore’s 2005 film “An Inconvenient Truth”, which had led to his changes in his own personal living habits, driven by karma. One day, he found a story on the web about the role that raising animals for human consumption has toward climate change and global political instability.
Part of the problem is methane from flatulence, but most of it is from exhaustion of resources and the chain reaction in other energy consumption.

Kip and Keegan decided to make the film.  Soon they talked to Al Gore himself, who said the public shouldn’t be confused about carbon dioxide by adding the concerns of methane.  Actually, methane has a much bigger greenhouse effect per mole, but depletes much more easily.  One danger (not covered in the film) is the possibility of rapid methane release from the permafrost or from the oceans as a secondary step of warming.

Kip found that most major environmental organizations, including Greenpeace, Ocean, and the Sierra Club, were downplaying the importance of animal consumption when compared to the use of fossil fuels for electricity and transportation, to protect their funding sources.   A surprising finding was the exhausting of fish populations by large scale fishing practices that ensnare animals like dolphins. (Ocean conservation organizations have instead talked about issues like plastic waste, of course important, and have sometimes said that eating more fish actually helps oceans – the “free fish” argument.)  He interviews people like Michael Pollan (“The Omnivore Dilemma”), Howard Lyman who, along with Oprah Winfrey, was sued for comments disparaging to the cattle industry in the 1990s, Will Anderson, and Will Potter, author of “Green Is theNew Red”.   Kip learns that people criticizing the food industry have been bullied or threated, and that Sister Dorothy Strong was shot after her activism concerning Amazon rain forest clearing. Kip becomes concerned that he could be targeted for making the film, but after a conversation with himself, decides to continue.  He also exposes the “fallacy” of grass-fed animals.

There’s a brutal scene near the end of a “beheading” of a duck. There are also some intimate scenes showing the raising of farm animals, where business decisions determine which female cows live to produce milk or are sold; remember the 1995 movie "Babe". 

Other interviewees include Lindsey Allen (Rainforest Action Network), Michael Klaper (physician), Chad Nelsen (Surfrider Foundation) and Demosthenes Maratos (Sustainability Institute).
At the end, the film makes a strong moral case for everyone’s adopting a vegan diet (not just vegetarian). Bill Clinton has adopted such a diet after his heart problems, and actor Reid Ewing has promoted it recently on Twitter.
A physician says that cow's milk (and dairy in general) is actually bad for adult humans, and can actually cause breast enlargement in men and feminize them.

Leonardo DiCaprio is an executive producer.
The official site is here (A.U.M., First Spark, and Netflix).

Picture: Farmland in central Ohio (my picture, 2012). 

No comments: