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Home > Politics
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret ... and Capitalism
by Bob Powell, 9/23/14
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The film informed me of something about which I had no idea: animal agriculture is the number one factor fueling global warming. I knew it played a role, but not that big. In this article I describe the role of the economic externalities inherent in "free market" capitalism. Vegetarians and vegans are described in the most venomous terms: terrorist, treasonous. That's because, if you're one, you're a threat to the fundamentalist religion of capitalism itself. And, you're a threat to the profits it allows. That global warming is an existential threat to life of earth be damned.

Make no mistake, the very idea of ending the redistribution of costs onto the public by way of negative externalities is a threat to capitalism itself. Ironically, "conservatives" call that "socialist."

Note: I did get an e-mail from someone knowledgeable about the Sierra Club's position on animal agriculture saying that it has not ignored the issue. I'm still reading and will post comments on it soon.

This article is about the film Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret. The key message (synopsis) of the film is that animal agriculture is the number one factor fueling global warming. Yes, it is Number 1.

That fact is so threatening that most environmental organizations won't talk about it. As Vegan Future Now writes, "large environmental organizations, such as Greenpeace and the Sierra Club, who have so far refused to acknowledge the role played by animal agriculture in man-made climate change, deforestation, water scarcity, and a host of other environmental exigencies." Hence, the conspiracy in plain sight.
From VeganFutureNow.com

Some facts from the Cowspiracy website: Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, while transportation -- the issue that gets the most focus -- is responsible for less: 13%. "Animal agricuture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction." This may be a low estimate: A World Watch analysis shows that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least ... 51 percent
of annual worldwide GHG emissions. Whoa!

Yes, we must also reduce greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels ... yes, this alone is enough to wreck the climate. And, it's not just CO2, methane from fracking is a major threat. Fossil fuel use is a major problem that I call An Inconvenient-to-Understand Truth.

Many "conservatives" promote the idea of "Drill, Baby, Drill" and "Drill Here, Drill Now" because the U.S. must have independent sources for energy security. This rhetoric is a lie, because what's happening has little, if anything, to do with energy for the U.S. More & more of this U.S. oil is being exported and less & less is being imported to keep gas prices high in the U.S. This is fact: see US Oil Exports Soar and Oil Drilling Deception.

My reaction to the the film was a feeling of loss, social and personal. It's tragic that animal agriculture of all kinds are unsustainable. It's tragic for the ranchers in the film who have adopted more humane practices and allow their cattle to range free.

Another example of good practices is Callicrate Beef here in Colorado that practices humane treatment of their animals to reduce stress and prevent, eliminates the use of sub-therapeutic antibiotics, growth promoting steroids and hormones in their feeding program. While these are examples of attempts to manage herds in an environmentally sustainable manner; it's just not possible. Those who just cannot give up meat would do well to shop there.

I'm not a vegan or even a vegetarian ... yet. Personally, it's going to be a major loss to give up eating meat. Damn, I just gave up eating bread (mostly ... I've had occasional tortillas). Now meat!? Well, yes, if I'm to be a moral person. Damn!

It's wasn't until I got my first dog, Scuba (her picture playing Frisbee is above), that I realized that humans and animals are different in degree, but not in kind. I had no idea they were so intelligent, playful, forgiving, and loving creatures. I've often asked myself, "What would Scuba do?"

See things like these and tell me I'm wrong. Cows That Never Saw the Outside of Barn are Given First Freedom, Metaspoon sheet metal fun, Cows Have Best Friends and Suffer When Separated. For contrast: Animal Abuse in Factory Farms is the Norm, Not the Exception.

This is gonna be hard ... but necessary. Also from VeganFutureNow.com
And this article is about capitalism. Because of the enormous negative impacts associated with animal agriculture (and fossil fuel use), it is an unsustainable approach to supporting human life on earth and maintaining the viability of other species.

The broader message of the film is about the impact of these negative economic externalities -- that is, costs associated with producing a product or service that are not borne by those producing the product or service. These costs, the negative externalities, are passed on to the public at large, enabling enormously-increased corporate profits.

The thing about negative externalities is that, even if you do purchase the product or service, you end up paying for these costs ... that is, you are in many ways burdened by them because the costs are socialized (redistributed onto the public). Costs like

  • environmental protection of air and water, including runoff from farming and ranching, to avoid the tragedy of the commons),
  • the use of antibiotics in farm animals that weakens antibiotic effectiveness,
  • the use of homones in farm animals that affects the health of those who eat meat,
  • workers being sickened, injured or killed or the job,
  • not requiring a minimum wage that a living wage that covers the costs of basic necessities and health care. Many must rely on government assistance to get by and must go to emergency rooms with costs passed on to the public.
  • ... and lots more ...

An example in the movie that a $5 hamburger would actually cost $14 were all negative externalities to be paid (I'm not sure of the exact number cited). Think about it. This is enormous redistribution. Not the "redistribution of income" about which "conservatives" are so quick to complain when they're taxed, but the "redistribution of costs".

This redistribution is everywhere. Another important example is urban growth where infrastructure backlogs grow and grow and there are calls for "fees" (read taxes) on the public to pay for what developers and others who benefit from growth should have paid for all along. See Colorado Springs: A Broken Region, Growth, Potholes, and Farm & Ranch Lands, and City for Champions vs City for Developers.

As long as we live by what's called "free market" ideology and do not require "internalizing the costs of doing business", we do not allow "market forces" to function properly in guiding choices to effectively & efficiently balance supply & demand.

Why is this? Because, if the full costs of products & services do not include the negative externalities, then people will make choices that they otherwise could very well not make. They may buy something else or indeed not buy anything at all.

It's for this same reason, contrary to "conservative" assertions, that corporations must pay federal taxes to pay for the government services they require (federal court system, military "defense", "homeland security", coast guard, etc.) in order to do business. Much of what' classified as military "defense" is actually used to protect oil supply to the U.S. but that cost is not included in the cost of petroleum products ... we all pay for it in taxes.

Allowing the costs of negative externalities to fall on the public at large, instead of being internalized, is one of the many situations in which the "free market's" "invisible hand" fails ... in this case because the market does not have the information necessary for properly balancing supply and demand ... it drops the ball. 'Free Market' Fundamentalism ignores this and many other economic realities.

Libertarian "free market" ideology is a form of blind fundamentalism. At Mental Models & Beliefs I have an excerpt from a paper in the Winter 2002 System Dynamics Review by John D. Sterman, Professor of System Dynamics and Engineering Systems and Director, MIT System Dynamics Group: "All models are wrong: reflections on becoming a systems scientist."

And how are we to make decisions if all models are wrong? The concept that ... there is no ultimate, absolute foundation for our beliefs, is so deeply counterintuitive, so threatening, that most people reject it as "obviously false" or become so dizzy with doubt that they run screaming as fast as they can to someone who claims to offer the Truth. Much of the misery people inflict on others arises from the arrogant belief that only we know the True Path, and the resulting intolerance and fear of any who profess beliefs different than ours. Fundamentalism, whether religious or secular, whether the unquestioning belief in an all-powerful deity, the all-powerful state or the all-powerful free market, breeds persecution, hatred and war. (my italics and bolding)

When hearing calls for deregulation, and eliminating what "conservatives" call "burdensome regulations", we should hear that as calls for "lawlessness."  Indeed, regulations are burdensome -- and they should be -- otherwise the burden falls on us all! And that's even when we don't utilize the product or service ... we still pay.

Having others pay the costs of doing business is one of the major flaws of capitalism. It is, in fact, the other kind of socialism: redistribution of costs rather than income.

Because Profit = Income - Expense, there are two ways to increase profits:

  1. Reduce, or prevent, any redistribution of income ... which is why "conservatives" decry this standard kind of socialism.
  2. Increase the redistribution of costs onto the public ... the other, more prevalent, kind of socialism.

Make no mistake, the very idea of ending the redistribution of costs onto the public by way of negative externalities is a threat to capitalism itself. Ironically, "conservatives" call that "socialist."

This is why vegetarian and vegan practices are demonized. If this cost redistribution is stopped for animal agriculture, what's next? It would be everywhere and the profits of capitalism depend on cost redistribution.

Any mention of stopping this is met with venomous cries labeling people as Socialist! and Communist! It's ironic that taxing corporations or regulating them is met with similarly venomous cries of, "This is theft!" and "Get your filthy hands out of my pocket!" Think I'm kidding? I'm not. This illustrates why Green is the New Red ...


This religious belief in "free market" libertarianism results in accusations that it's terrorism to oppose this externalization of costs. "The No. 1 domestic terrorism threat is the eco-terrorism, animal-rights movement," according to John Lewis, a top FBI official. The Texas state Agriculture Commissioner called the Meatless Monday program "treasonous" and said that USDA employees who have promoted it are "the enemy" and should be fired.

To the contrary, the real terrorism is denying global warming is happening, denying it's caused by humans, and working to oppose what's causing it. It's terrorism because global warming is an existential threat to life on earth ... now that's terrorism. Seriously, what could be more terrorizing?

It's chilling to realize that the Beef Industry has compared the Humane Society of the United States to the Islamic terrorist group, ISIS. Though comparisons to ISIS have been removed, originally in BEEF Magazine, 8/28/14, there was this:

HSUS argues livestock production isn’t environmentally sustainable, and is immoral and inhumane, and blames factory farming for contributing to nearly every ill in America.

The terrorists [ISIS] are dangerous no doubt, but they tend toward a naiveté that almost ensures their ultimate defeat. HSUS, on the other hand, is extremely sophisticated in its attacks. HSUS attacks on many fronts. It uses legislation and public policy where possible; the judicial system to sue people into submission; has a huge public relations machine to blackmail businesses to fall in line; and effectively wields the ballot initiative to circumvent the legislative and judicial branches when those avenues fail them.

HSUS advocates for vegetarianism and works to shape general public opinion using a well-coordinated and planned effort. The organization also takes a long view, acknowledging that while changing the opinions of mature Americans might not be possible, children are fertile ground for indoctrination.

OMG, the HSUS uses democratic processes. It doesn't educate, but indoctrinates children. Pray tell, what is it that beef industry lobbying does?

In an interview on Democracy Now! on her new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate, Naomi Klein, stated,

"... the fossil fuel companies are planning to dig up five times more carbon than [allowed to limit global temperature change to 2 degrees C] ... so they’ve essentially declared war on life on Earth."

Here's the complete paragraph from the interview:

... what Carbon Tracker showed and what Bill laid out so well, right, is we know how much carbon we can emit and still give ourselves a 50-50 chance of staying below two degrees’ warming. The science on this isn’t controversial. And what the Carbon Tracker people did is they added up what the fossil fuel industry already had in reserves. Now, these are the pools of carbon they’ve already laid claim to, that are already counted towards their stock price. They’ve essentially already spent the money, right? And that added up to five times more carbon than our atmosphere can absorb and still have that chance of staying below two degrees’ warming. Two degrees is already a dangerous target. You know, as you guys know, it’s very controversial at U.N. meetings when they set that two-degree target. You know, I remember in Copenhagen -- and, Amy, I’m sure you remember, as well -- African delegates were saying that this was a death sentence. But this is what our governments agreed to. The U.S. government agreed to it. The Canadian government agreed to it. And yet, the fossil fuel companies are planning to dig up five times more carbon than that. So they’ve essentially declared war on life on Earth, and they’re also saying, "We don’t believe these politicians are serious when they set that two-degree target." So, that’s where the fossil fuel divestment movement comes in, which is, it’s clear that, left to their own devices, you know, they will bring us towards this catastrophic warming.

So this is war! Think about it this way: If aliens were doing to the planet what fossil fuel and animal agriculture corporations are doing, we'd be dedicated to killing every damn one of them ... and their collaborators.

Those who call themselves "conservative" maintain that increasing costs by, say, increasing the minimum wage or wages in general or increasing costs of any kind will cost jobs. Yes, some jobs, but overall not the number of jobs. They maintain it's a "job killer." That is a lie because it's based on ignorance of economic reality. See The Complaint: A Higher Minimum Wage Is a Job Killer.

The U.S. has lost millions of low-tech and high-tech jobs because of what's called "free trade", but corporations never complained about that .. because they profited from it! See: Job Loss Data Summary: National, Colorado, Colorado Springs since their peaks. WHen corporations complain that certain policies will cost jobs, they're lying. Their real concern: profits.

Finally, I must say that this is enormously depressing. That we're causing global warming. That we must stop it. That there's so much opposition to stopping it. That some people will have to change employment. That we must change our economic system. That we have to give up eating animal products. That we have to change at all!


URL: http://www.exponentialimprovement.com/cms/cowspiracy.shtml

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