Complexifying the connection between animal agriculture and climate change

A rather tame image of a Confined Animal Feeding Operation compared to what you can find with a basic google search
Allan Savory’s 2013 TED Talk, “How to fight desertification and climate change,” has over 5 million views and 1,600 comments
An example of management intensive grazing, or ‘mob grazing’ in action. From Holistic Management International.

It’s not what you eat, it’s how you eat it

Written by Alex Heffron, this article expands on how agricultural management is ultimately what influences the social and environmental footprint of all food, be it livestock, grains, legumes, or vegetables.

Ariel Greenwood, via Civil Eats

‘Eat Less Meat’ Ignores the Role of Animals in the Ecosystem

A popular piece of writing from grazer and dedicated grazing advocate Ariel Greenwood, which responds directly to the popular sentiment that meat is bad for the environment. Greenwood shares on the managerial nuances of grazing animals from her own experience as a rancher in California.

Can Dirt Save the Earth, Moises Velasquez-Manoff for the New York Times

Written by Moises Velasquez-Manoff for the New York Times, this story features the work of Peggy Rathmann and John Wick with the Marin Carbon Project, a California-based initiative to research and demonstrate the viability of carbon farming — a suite of agricultural management practices which includes animal grazing and is specifically focused on carbon sequestration.

Instagram: Diana Rogers, @Sustainabledish

Diana Rogers is a licensed nutritionist and outspoken advocate for the important role that animals play in our food system, both nutritionally and ecologically. Active on Instagram, she is the host of the Sustainable Dish Podcast, and is currently working on a film called Sacred Cow. As a Dietitian with authority on food and health, Rogers is also committed to making the nutritional case for animal protein in the human diet.

Podcast: Down to Earth, Quivira Coalition

This podcast features on-the-ground efforts from farmers and practitioners committed to transforming the food system and using animal agriculture for social and ecological benefit. It is produced in part by the Quivira Coalition, a New Mexico based organization founded on the premise that “well managed working rangelands and forests are two of the most effective, efficient, and immediately viable paths to remedy the devastating impacts of climate change.”

Film: Soil Carbon Cowboys

Produced by Peter Byck, Soil Carbon Cowboys features a group of ranchers working to implement properly managed grazing systems on their farms. The film falls under the umbrella of a larger, multi-stakeholder research project on Adaptive Multi-Paddock grazing (or AMP) and its affects on land restoration, biodiversity, and soil carbon sequestration.

Hawthorne Valley Farmers Reflect on the Future of Regenerative Agriculture, Field Guide to a Regenerative Economy

I wrote this piece as a profile of Hawthorne Valley Farm, a 900 acre biodynamic farm in New York’s Hudson River Valley. I include it here because it details the unique perspective that biodynamic agriculture has on the role of animals in the nutrient management of farm systems (in line with Firth’s post below), as well the important economic benefits livestock can have for diversified farm operations.

Dairy products like milk, cheese, and yogurt are an important source of income for farms like New York’s Hawthorne Valley, a farm that sees animals and their manure as fundamental to the ecological sustainability of their farm system.

Why Livestock Are Necessary For Food Production To Be Sustainable

Here Sheldon Firth makes the case that animals are essential for sustainable food systems because of the important role they play in bringing fertility to the soil food web. It provides an in depth overview of how animals support the nutrient cycle, and why grazing animals in particular are necessary for this process. Firth’s website is a robust resource for understanding the many nuances of what animal agriculture looks like when done properly.

Cowspiracy, Allan Savory and Holistic Management: A Collection Of Rebuttals

Any post about the complexity of livestock and climate would be incomplete without tapping into the larger controversy of Allan Savory’s work, as touched on in this Slate article. Here, again, I cite Sheldon Firth, who actually wrote an entire post in which he catalogs the various rebuttals to common critiques of holistic management and planned grazing.

Cowspiracy: the film that sheds light on the horrors of animal agriculture while missing the point about its potential for ecological restoration and soil carbon sequestration.



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Mark Phillips

Mark Phillips

Writer, Educator, and Consultant working in Food, Fermentation, and Regenerative Agriculture. See for writing and affiliations.