Dede's Green Scene: Cowspiracy by Dede Tabak, January 13 2016, 0 Comments

Golden globe winner Leonardo DiCaprio is no stranger to environmental causes. He spoke to the United Nations about climate change, is building an eco-friendly resort, created the Leonardo DiCaprio foundation, which raises funds and awareness for pressing environmental issues. Lately, DiCaprio is using his fame to helped environmental documentaries reach global audiences. First, he brought the documentary Virunga to Netflix. Now, he’s bringing the 2014 documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret to Netflix audiences.

Cowspiracy is directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn (a new cut was released this fall with Leonardo DiCaprio as an executive producer) and in the film Andersen shares his journey of investigating why environmental organizations aren’t spreading the word about the number one cause of climate change – animal agriculture.

Inspired by Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, Kip Andersen changed his lifestyle in order to help the planet and slow climate change. He only rode his bike, swapped out his lightbulbs for eco-friendly ones, conserved water – all the tips that environmental organizations tell us it the best way to make a difference. One day, a friend shared with him a report from the United Nations stating that animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all of transportation emissions combined. Also methane, which is released during livestock’s digestive process, is 86 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Raising livestock for food not only has a major impact on global warming, but is the leading cause of resource consumption and environment degradation. This took Andersen by surprise. How come environmental organizations don’t share this information with the masses? He couldn’t find this information on any of their websites – that diet affects climate change. Andersen started contacting the organizations for answers, yet he was met with unresponded emails and unreturned phone calls. Then he realized that there was something more to this story and that the world needed to know.

Throughout the film, Andersen meets with environmental organizations, Greenpeace, Sierra Club, Oceana, etc. to discuss what they think the number one cause of climate change is. None of them even mentioned animal agriculture and when Andersen blatantly asked about it, he was met with ambiguous answers and information that was quite different than what he was finding in his research. Andersen met with environmental activists who emphasized that raising livestock for food is the biggest factor in destroying the planet. According to their findings, animal agriculture uses 34 trillion – 76 gallons of water per year. It covers 45% of the earth’s total land. It’s the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution and habitat destruction. It has destroyed 91% of the Brazilian Amazon. With all of this information out there, one has to wonder, why aren’t these environmental organizations talking about this?

“Environmental organizations not addressing this is like health organizations trying to stop lung cancer and not addressing cigarettes” Andersen narrates in the film.

Andersen and Kuhn stumble upon a few theories for why. One, people are afraid to speak out against the animal agricultural industry. Over 1,100 activists who have spoken out against the cattle industry destroying the Amazon have been killed in the last 20 years in Brazil. They give the specific example of Dorothy Stang, a US born nun living in Brazil who was outspoken about protecting the rainforest. She was shot and killed by a hired gunman. The other reason is that the Animal Agriculture Alliance is one of the most powerful groups and lobbyists in the country. The film interviews Howard Lyman, an ex-cattle rancher turned animal activist who appeared on the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss his views on the cattle industry. After his appearance, both he and Oprah were sued by the cattle industry. The lawsuit alleged Lyman and Oprah had violated a Texas law which forbids someone from knowingly making false statements about animal agricultural business. Although Lyman fought the suit and was found not guilty, thirteen states, including Texas, have passed food disparagement laws which make it a crime to criticize food and how it is produced. Andersen and Kuhn realized for the first time that this film was actually a big risk and could potentially be life threatening, something they never thought before. When one of the film’s major backers called up Andersen to pull its funding due to the controversial nature of the film, the duo had to take a moment to think about whether or not to pull the plug. They pushed forward though and received crowd funding from Indiegogo instead. They felt that this message was too important not to tell.

By the end of Cowspiracy, Andersen has met and interviewed environmental organizations, activists, small-business cattle and dairy farmers, and a backyard farmers, and he concluded that the best option for our planet to be sustainable is moving towards a plant-based diet. As Howard Lyman said in the film “You can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products.”

Renewable energy is a great idea, but it will take a long time to implement and it is quite costly. A vegan diet is something you can do now and is free. According to the film, by going vegan you can save up to 1,100 gallons of water, 45 lbs. of grain, 30 square feet of forest, 10 lbs. of carbon dioxide and one animal’s life per day. By transitioning to a more plant-based diet you can drastically cut your carbon footprint and could even end world hunger. Considering that animal agriculture emissions are project to increase by 80% by 2050, we as a global population has to seriously think about how our diet affects the planet, before it’s too late.

“You can change the world. You have to change the world.” – Howard Lyman