In the 1960s, the tobacco industry portrayed smoking as an act of elegance and sophistication - even as in the US, in 1964, the Surgeon General report officially recognised the health risks of tobacco, and cancer deaths soared.
The Harvard Gazette stated that “even within the walls of ExxonMobil there was never any doubt about climate science”. ExxonMobil scientists accurately forecasted climate change back in the 1970s. But even in 2023, they still allegedly foster doubt in the public with denial.
When large profits are on the table, the industrial denial machine kicks into overdrive. Those with vested interests at stake will, in my view, grab on to any form of cognitive dissonance available.
No matter how many times one presents the report by the OECD in 2017 that New Zealand produced the “second-highest level of emissions per GDP unit in the OECD and the fifth-highest emissions per capita”, the dissonance becomes ever-higher, the denial more pronounced.
The OECD scientists suggested that the livestock agriculture industry is shown to be a major factor in the 49 per cent of emissions produced by agriculture - through an extraordinary amount of land use per protein unit plus copious amounts of nitrates and methane production.
Frank Mitloehner of the Clear Center at UC Davis, California holds a counter-argument. He and local supporters have been suggesting that the level of climate damage caused by methane had been vastly overstated due to new metrics.
Mitloehner has taken part in useful research on feed additives that can reduce methane and the use of crossbreeding and reproductive technologies. However, the New York Times recently released a report on the Clear Center at UC Davis (October 31, 2022) showing that Dr Mitloehner’s academic group “receives almost all its funding from industry donations and co-ordinates with a major livestock lobby group on messaging campaigns”.
It doesn’t necessarily mean he is wrong. Mitloehner has always disclosed that he receives industry funding. He also receives independent academic support.
Nevertheless, most scientists are telling us that it is far worse than expected under new methane measuring metrics, not better.
“Methane concentrations are not just rising, they’re rising faster than ever,” said Rob Jackson, a professor of earth system science at Stanford University.
The study comes on the same day as a new UN report that says the world’s governments haven’t committed to cutting enough carbon emissions, putting the world on track for a far-higher-than-hoped increase in global temperatures by the end of the century.
Although farm workers now comprise about 1.7 per cent of our population, livestock agriculture is a crucial part of our culture and a significant portion of our export profits.
For this reason, this commercial sector here has been let off the hook from regulating greenhouse emissions for decades. Therefore, we need to find a just and efficient solution soon.
The Washington Post recently wrote that the latest “UN report found the world is barreling toward a future of unbearable heat, escalating weather disasters, collapsing ecosystems and widespread hunger and disease”.
Solutions are available to carry our fair share, with government support for just transitions to sustainable energies and food, but we need to do so without compromising the livelihoods of farmers or their communities. The solutions are affordable. Many estimate that the cost is only 3 per cent or so of global GDP. Meanwhile, GDP would grow with the transition to new technologies. These crucial issues can be addressed in a calm and rational national discussion.