Response to Happy Healthy Vegan's "debunking" of my Meat & The Planet video

Robert Response

There's been a lot of youtube videos so far trying to "debunk" my most recent video. I'll get to them as I have time, but here's my response to the first one.

Edit: A lot of people were asking what video it is I'm referring to and it being confusing not being able to see the original video. So, FYI this is in response to a video from youtuber "Happy Healthy Vegan".

A youtuber released a video criticizing my most recent video called “Eating less beef won’t save the planet. Here’s why.” Here is my response to his criticisms. I want to defend my position but not publicly criticize people and encourage some sort of back and forth criticizing... so I’ll not mention their channel name for now. Let’s call him Robert.

Robert happens to be a vegan and his video interprets my video as being anti-vegan (this is expressed in the title of his video). Him being vegan has no bearing on the validity of his points, I only bring it up because I think him thinking my video is anti-vegan causes him misunderstands the video's thesis. You’ll see what I mean as you read below. (My video is not meant to be anti-vegan.)

(1) Robert has issues with the nutrition comments on a paper I referenced.
・Irrelevant.

He refers to the Hall, White, PNAS, 2017 paper I reference and says that because their simulation found a plant-based diet would result in nutrient deficiencies, the authors must be biased. This is irrelevant to the video’s topic and I in fact chose not to mention that their simulation lead to deficiencies.

(2) He says a study he found contradicts the 0.26% reduction I mentioned at the start of my video.
・In fact, the study he references seems to bolster my point.
At the start of the video, I refer to the Hall, White, PNAS, 2017 paper to say that 10% of the United States going meatless would result in a 0.26% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.

He references a University of Michigan report (Heller, Martin, Gregory Keoleian, and Diego Rose. 2020) that says “Relative to the status quo, scenario 3 –replacing 50% of all animal-based foods with plant-based alternatives – leads to an emission reduction of 224 million metric tonnes of CO2eq. (MMT) in 2030, a reduction equivalent to the annual emissions of 47.5 million of today’s average passenger vehicles (US EPA 2019a)”

This study actually fits well with the study I presented.

If you read further, it says: “Assuming a linear transition from the baseline diet in 2016 to the scenario 3 diet in 2030 results in a total cumulative reduction in emissions of 1634 MMT over 15 years.”

-1634 MMT over 15 years would average out to 108.9MMT per year. However, they are considering these 15 years a "transition period," so it's not until 2030 that we arrive at achieving the full 50% reduction until 2030. The reduction in 2030 would be 224MMT as mentioned above.

-In 2017, the U.S. emitted 6.5 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases (CO2e).(S)

-So, this UofM study found a reduction of about 3.4%  in the year 2030 if 50% of meat was switched to plant based foods.  

-UofM study suggests 10% meat swapping would then be a 0.69% reduction from U.S. total emissions. The number is higher than the figure I offered of 0.26%, but it is still less than 1% and unmeasurable. (And if we consider the fact that it probably would take more than 15 years to get everyone to transition this far per the cumulative figure presented above the average annual reduction over 15 years would be 0.34%)

*Sure, it’s a back of the envelope calculation to say “Well swapping 50% of meat for plants resulted in this amount, so… 10% should be this amount,” but this study also supports my point: Why would 33 million people going meatless have such a low impact?

(3) Claims a study on water footprint I referenced weakens my argument.
・It does not.

He shows this quote from the study I referenced when talking about cow’s water footprint: “The study shows that from a freshwater resource perspective, it is more efficient to obtain calories, protein and fat through crop products than animals."

This is accurate but does not refute anything I presented. My point in the video still stands as the point was that yes, beef requires more water, but not nearly as much freshwater as documentaries, Vox videos and News outlets lead us to believe.

-I think he misinterpreted me as saying that beef uses less water than crops in general. This was not my point. I even say in the video something like “Yes, at 122 liters of non-green water per quarter pound, beef uses more water than rice which is 90 liters or bread which is 55 liters.” (I think he misinterpreted the video in general as an attack on veganism, considering the title of his video is “worst vegan debunking ever.” The video is not meant to "debunk" veganism.)

(4) Robert says he doesn’t understand why rainwater is less significant than irrigated water.
・I'm not sure what to tell him. This is rain that would fall on the land whether the cattle or the feed that they eat are on that land or not. It’s been raining quite a lot lately in Tokyo, but no one would accuse me of having a huge water footprint because tons of rain fell on my garden. Nor are we concerned about rainfall being used by trees to grow.

(5) Says he does not know of a process where urine can become water again.
・It’s called the water cycle. Rain. 

(6) Point on feed for cattle being irrigated in California.
・He uses an outdated study and misses some important nuance.

(1)He displays the below chart which is from a 2005 study: Implications of Deficit Irrigation Management of Alfalfa.

-This paper is quite old - from 2005. California used 680,000 acres for almonds in 2005. (Used over 1 million acres for alfalfa in 2005)

In 2015 there were 1,110,000 acres of almonds, but in 2015 there was between 800,000 and 1 million acres of alfalfa. (I chose 2015, because in my video, I mentioned that the heavily irrigated almond counties were the driest and most lacking groundwater, based on a 2015 article.)

(2) Remember that my video said America produces 18% of the world’s beef with 6% of the beef herd, and that animal foods provide 48% of our protein but only 24% of our calories. We make a lot of meat. With that in mind, when you look at it on a per-acre basis, alfalfa and pasture are less water intensive than the above data makes them seem. (Chart below from 2015 paper)

(3) Some nuance is required because per the above 2005 paper, alfalfa is “actually a fairly efficient water user,” and can withstand droughts whereas almonds need a constant supply of water. So while almonds must be constantly irrigated, other water saving strategies can be applied.

(4) Some of this alfalfa production doesn’t actually relate to America’s beef demand. Per the 2015 Vox article: “…many farmers in southern California still grow water-intensive but low-value alfalfa shipped to China as feed for dairy cows. But why are they growing such a low-value crop? Partly because those farmers can't easily trade their water rights to other Colorado River users who can find better uses for that water. So they may as well grow something with it.” My point is that this is yet another nuanced issue where you eating less beef in the United States probably wouldn't affect whether Californian farmers irrigate alfalfa to sell to China or not.

(5) Remember, this is California, not the whole United States. California does not receive much rainfall, so farmers must resort to heavily irrigating their crops. And, ironically, Alfalfa is a good choice because as expressed above (a) It is very drought resistant and (b) there is demand for it overseas. Also, this person stopped their clip of my video before I showed the map that shows that  California's Almond Counties are its driest-and most over pumped.

I think my thesis on water has been misunderstood here. Again, this video is not an anti-vegan video. I’m not trying to say we should replace all almonds and rice with beef. (However some people are saying let’s completely replace beef.) So, it’s important to know these fantastical numbers like 1,650 liters of water per quarter pound hamburger include the huge amounts of rainwater used to grow the feed as explained in the video.

As mentioned at the very start of the video, livestock do have an impact, it’s just not nearly as high as we’re led to believe. Again, I’m trying to explain that livestock are not as huge of an impact as we’re lead to believe by mainstream media.

・Ad hominem points
I decided to save these for last because I don’t think ad hominem attacks should be prioritized.

(a) Robert does not think a person with a degree in animal science is suitable for this discussion.
・I find this an odd critique considering the topic of the video is livestock’s effect on the environment. I thought it appropriate to interview someone who’s research is on …livestock’s effect on the environment.

(b) He questions Mitloehner’s integrity because his research has received funding from the livestock industry.

Robert shows on screen that Mitloehner has received money from the National Pork Board and the National Cattleman Beef Association.

-First, everything Mitloehner says is backed up by research that is not his own. Check the description of my video, all links are provided.

-Second, we should be considering what is presented on its merit, not look for a reason to assume bias so we can chuck out the presented information (and spare us the time and effort necessary for actually understanding it.) As you will see below, his research is not saying anything like “our measurements find that actually GHG emissions from livestock are lower than other sources report! “ But even if somebody were to publish such research, the methods for finding that should be investigated, we shouldn’t just lazily assume bias.

-Third, this data is all publicly available on Dr. Mitloehner’s resume... it's not some hidden data dug up with careful investigation (nor does it warrant clickbaity phrases like "...doesn't want you to know!" Only 5% of his total research funding is from agricultural commodities groups, such as beef producers.(S)

-Fourth, the research in question is, in fact, irrelevant. It in no way downplays livestock’s contribution to GHG emissions.

(1)Here’s the research apparently funded by the Pork Board: Acute and chronic effects of ammonia on inflammation, immunology, endocrine function, performance, and behavior of nursery pigs

What did it find? That if ammonia levels are too high, pigs indeed experience inflammation, their cortisol goes up, and their feeding behavior goes down. (Scandalous!)This is simply useful information on pigs feeding behavior. It doesn’t paint the livestock industry in a good (or bad) light …but it’s good information for the pork people so they can know how to optimize the living conditions so the pigs eat more and fatten themselves up more.

(2)Here’s the research apparently funded by the National Cattleman Beef Association: Direct measurements improve estimates of dairy greenhouse-gas emissions

You might be suspicious of this study because  it’s talking about emissions. But let's take a closer look:

-The study matter of factly presents existing data on livestock greenhouse gas emissions and says that yes livestock’s emissions have an impact on the environment. Why? To explain the necessity of their research
-They then describe a process for measuring emissions from dairy cows.
-What is the purpose of this process? It will allow them to get accurate feedback on whether their efforts to reduce emissions are working or not.
-The end of the paper lists multiple strategies for reducing emissions.

Funny, this paper seems to illustrate exactly what Mitloehner said he does: Researches ways to reduce livestock’s environmental impact.

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