Response to Earthling Ed's "debunk" of Eating less meat won’t save the planet. (See attached PDF)

I was glad to see that so many people are quite interested in the topic of meat and the environment. There were tons and tons of commenters on my video Eating less meat won’t save the planet. Here’s why offering their perspective or asking questions. It’s been really fun writing this out, as I usually don’t get to flesh out all the info that pops up in the course of my research. This topic in particular I’ve been interested in for a while, ever since meeting Peter Ballerstedt three years ago. Thanks to the various critique videos made, I had an excuse to spend more time getting deep in the weeds on this topic.

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, FYI this is in response to a video from youtuber "Earthling Ed".

I had many requests to respond to a particular video claiming to have “debunked” my video so I’ll address it here.  I’m not really interested in some sort of back and forth battling over youtube culminating in a documentary similar to Beef (which is about hip-hop feuds), so let’s call this person Gerald for now.

Gerald brings up 36 points in an organized fashion which gave me a framework for once again diving into this really interesting and complex topic, culminating in this eye-glazingly long PDF. I tried to organize it as much as possible to make it easy to get to a specific section you may have wanted to see addressed.

Let’s get started.

First, we need to review the points of my video so we can understand what Gerald was attempting to refute and whether he was successful in “debunking” my video or not. (FYI my name is Joseph)

Main points of Joseph’s video

The point of the video was not that livestock don’t have an impact. They do.

Despite the titles in the video being simply phrased: “Do cows really take all the land,” “Do cows really take all our food,” I hope it was clear that the main points were actually:

(1) The proposed effects on GHG emissions if people went meatless are overblown.

(2) The claims about livestock’s water usage are misleading.

(3) The claims about livestock’s usage of human edible feed are overblown.

(4) The claims about livestock’s land use are misleading.

(5) We should be fixing food waste, not trying to cut meat out of the equation.

*By the way, my video is not anti-vegan. Some seem to have interpreted it that way which appears to have lead to misunderstanding some of my points.

(Hyperlinked numbers will take you to those sections of my video)

Breakdown of Gerald’s video:

・Gerald made 36 points in his video that we will address.
2 points we agreed on
2 points weren’t at odds with my claims.
5 are Irrelevant to the discussion.
9 Misrepresent what was presented in my video
5 lack evidence to support the point.
The remaining 13… are either misleading, based on unrealistic scenarios, or lack important info or nuance.
・Gerald employs several ad hominem attacks, i.e. “attacking the arguer rather than the argument,” I comment on this at the bottom of the document.

Table of contents:

  1. Claim: We shouldn’t measure edible and inedible feed in terms of weight, but calories.
    ・Disagree, but I can see where he’s coming from. We should measure in weight as calorie content isn’t particularly useful for farmers when talking about amounts of livestock feed. However, I suppose knowing how many calories of human-edible feed livestock are eating would be useful to know for these types of discussions.

2. Claim: Animal farming uses a lot of land, and that land that should be used in other ways.
Misleading. Animal farming may use plenty of land, but you can’t grow crops on most of that land.

3. Claim: 127M acres is used to grow food exclusively for animals.
・False. Land is used to grow crops. The crops that take up the majority of the acreage (corn and soy) are not grown “exclusively” for feeding animals.

4. Claim: We could take cropland used for animals and grow food for 350M people.
・Data provided does not support this claim. The suggested replacements for beef, pork, chicken and eggs in the study cited would not be adequately nourishing.

5.  Claim: Grazing land would be better suited for something else.
・Unrealistic. The current use of grazing land is very likely the best use for reasons explained in detail below.

6. Claim: We could compost 43 billion kgs of crop residues instead of feeding them to animals.
・Unrealistic, overly optimistic scenario. This drastically underestimates how massive of an undertaking this would be. It would require 8,600 new large scale composting operations.

7.  Claim: Authors of a study Joseph cited assumed an overly grain-rich diet for Americans in their simulation and this calls into question their credibility.
・Irrelevant. Nutrient adequacy was not discussed in my original video. Misses the objective of the study. While this may seem odd at first, there was a reason this assumption was made in the study.

8. Claim: We could grow something else with the land in Hall and White’s scenario.
・Feasibility remains to be proved. How much of that land is actually suitable for growing other things is debatable and irrigation limitations need to be considered as is explained in Hall and White’s paper.

9. Claim: Hall and White assuming a very high calorie diet for Americans in their simulation calls into question the credibility of the study.
Irrelevant. Misses the objective of the study. The large calorie consumption actually reflects the objective of the study. Explained below.

10. Claim: Hall and White’s assumption that crop residues would be burned in their simulation is nonsensical.
・Gerald misses important information. See point #6 above. What are we to do with 43 million tons of residues per year? There is sound reasoning behind the incineration scenario.

11. Claim: Cattle emissions are too large considering the amount of calories they provide.
Misleading. Beef is not prized for its calorie content but for a wide variety of key nutrients.

12. Claim: A scenario where Americans obtain 100% of their calories from beef would be environmentally damaging.
Irrelevant. While many are discussing the environmental benefits of an entirely plant-based diet these days, no one is suggesting environmental benefits from a 100% beef diet.

13. Claim: Half of all agricultural land is used for beef production.
Misleading. Most agricultural land is not suitable for crops, but is for animal agriculture.

14. Claim: A scenario where Americans obtain 100% of their calories from beef would require far too much land.
Irrelevant. For similar reasons as point #12.

15. Claim: Beef-related emissions aren’t 2% they’re 3.7% according to life cycle analysis.
・Very nuanced topic that requires more discussion. This is discussed in detail in section C  titled “Poore and Nemecek study Flaws and the difficulties with life cycle analyses.”

16. Claim: Methane emissions from animal agriculture may be higher than official data suggests.
・Speculation. Top-down models for measuring methane are not yet sophisticated enough to pinpoint the reason for the discrepancy with bottom-up models, this is an unresolved question.

17. Claim: Agricultural emissions could be reduced 61 to 73% by a plant-based food system.
Insufficient evidence for this statement considering the many flaws listed in point #21

18. Claim: We can expect a 6.4 to 7.7% reduction in emissions if everyone went vegan.
Insufficient evidence. See section C

19. Claim: We can discontinue animal agriculture and “rewild” the freed-up land; we don’t need it for food production.
Doesn’t consider the magnitude of the challenge of feeding an expected 9.5 billion people.
・Well-managed cattle can provide food while improving soil health and the soil’s carbon sequestration ability. This will be invaluable going forward. Explained in detail in section C.

20. Claim: We could sequester 8.1 billion metric tons of CO2 - 15% of our emissions if we went plant based globally.
Insufficient evidence. See section C.

21. (14:58) - Says a plant-based food system would address 21.4 to 22.7% of emissions.
Insufficient evidence for this statement considering the many flaws listed in section C.

22. Claim: Because the amount of agricultural land per person in the U.S. is double the world average, the carbon capture potential of rewilding U.S. agricultural land may be higher than other areas.
・Non sequitur. More agricultural land per person doesn’t mean more agricultural land…

23. Claim: Joseph’s description of the carbon cycle is wrong.
It's not. After saying the explanation in my video is wrong, he goes on to explain pretty much exactly what was described and showed on-screen.

24. Claim: Methane is 86 times more potent over a 20-year period, therefore we must therefore scrap animal agriculture ASAP.
・Technically correct if looking at “in vitro” data, but atmospheric methane’s effect on actual warming depends on many factors. Methane is discussed in detail in section D.

25. Claim: Joseph did not explain that the reason ruminants are bad is because they take carbon dioxide and turn it into methane, a gas with a higher warming potential.
Misrepresents my video as this information was indeed presented. You can find it at 16:48 in my video.

26. Claim: Joseph’s food waste discussion proves his understanding of the carbon cycle is questionable because food also decays and releases methane.
・Misrepresents that section of the video, misses important information and claims something was said in the video that was not.

27. (19:21) - Says: I’m sure Joseph and I will agree that food waste is something that needs addressing.
I do agree.

28. Claim: Joseph created a false dichotomy by saying you can’t care about food waste and be plant based.
Misrepresentation. I did not say this.

29. Claim: Joseph didn’t discuss the blue water consumption of beef.
・Misrepresentation.  I did in fact discuss the blue and gray water consumption of beef which is a less flattering presentation of beef than if I just mentioned blue water consumption.

30. He agrees that almonds are water intensive and that we should drink oat milk.
・Nice to agree on the almonds. I’ve never had oat milk. Maybe I’ll try it.

31. Discusses: irrigation of hay production in California, similar to another video I made a post about.
・I discuss this in another post. You can find that one here.

32. Says: Where 80% of the world’s almonds come from California, only 20% of the U.S.’s milk comes from California.
・Point unclear. If his point is that people drink a lot of milk, he’d be right.

33. Explains: Why plant-based foods are actually more efficient
・Misrepresentation, exaggerates my point. My point wasn’t that beef is less resource-intensive than plants, just that the claims against cattle are way overblown.

34. Says: Joseph justifies blue water usage of beef by saying beef is more nutritious than rice.
Misrepresents my point (and apparently assumes I don’t respect the audience’s intelligence.)

35. Says: Plants are actually better from a water perspective.
・Misrepresents (exaggerates) my point.

36. Claims: my video said you get 200g of liver with 200g of beef.
・Misrepresents (blatantly) what was said in my video to make conclusions about my intentions.

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