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Dr. Seenarine is an expert in development and its effects on local communities. He is the author of Meat Climate Change: the 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming, and Who’s (H)Eating Earth? Memes on Climate, Food and Hope. He has written dozens of articles on women, race, caste, migration, the environment, animals, and climate change. Dr. Seenarine’s work has been cited by the FAO, UNESCO, Human Rights Watch, Anti-Slavery International, the Institute for the Study of Labor, World Council of Churches, and many others.
Caryn Hartglass: My next guest is Moses Seenarine and he is an expert in development and its effects on local communities, he’s the author of a book we are going to be talking about called Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming, he’s also the author of Who’s (H)Eating Earth? Memes on Climate, Food and Hope, he has written dozens of articles on women, race, caste, migration, the environment, animals, and climate change. Dr. Seenarine’s work has been cited by the FAO, UNESCO, Human Rights Watch, Anti-Slavery International, the Institute for the Study of Labor, World Council of Churches, and many others. Welcome to It’s All About Food.
Moses Seenarine: Thank you, thank you Caryn.
Caryn Hartglass: Did I pronounce your name right?
Moses Seenarine: You did.
Caryn Hartglass: Good! Well, first of all, it’s an honor to be speaking with you. I’ve read Meat Climate Change and it’s such an important book and I’m glad I had a chance to read it, I would love everyone to. So we’re just going to start right there. You put in a great deal of work to write that book.
Moses Seenarine: Thank you, I think there was really a need for something that was comprehensive and so I took that task on.
Caryn Hartglass: That was a giant task! So at some point early on I think you mentioned that there are some tens of thousands of scientific articles that have been written, by scientists, and most of the time all we get, and unfortunately what most people want to get, are these brief little sound bites. And climate change is such a complicated issue that a sound bite, ten minutes, a half hour, we don’t have enough, we can’t even touch the surface, that frozen melting surface. It’s just so huge and yet you dug deep and you organized the book into some great chapters citing essential nuggets from so many different sources, it is really comprehensive. And, I don’t know, are you hopeful?
Moses Seenarine: Well, you know, Caryn, I think that the problem is serious and the challenge of raising awareness is also huge. However, you know one of the things that I’m always fighting is apathy and I think the main cause of that is just because we are lacking information. I, myself, was very concerned about climate before I did this book, but I didn’t feel as if I knew enough to really understand all of the research and all of the studies and all of the sound bites. And as I gained more and more knowledge of this topic, I sort of became more empowered and I started claiming the issues in a more personal way. And so I wrote this book with the idea that if people had the information they would not feel so helpless and they would really gain a really good grasp of the challenges that we’re facing.
Caryn Hartglass: There’s so much in this book, we barely have any time, I’m just going to pick out a few things that we can touch on. One on them is the Food and Agricultural report from 2006, Livestock’s Long Shadow, it’s been quoted and repeated and misquoted and taken out of context by so many people. In some ways it put the concept of animal agriculture creating green house gases on the map. A lot of vegetarian and vegan groups have quoted this report even though the numbers have been reexamined and are different depending on who you talk to, and I don’t even think they understand that the Food and Agriculture Organization is really there to promote animal agriculture. So you went into detail numerous chapters about it and I think gave a lot of clarity, and I would like to see groups really read this before they themselves start sharing information.
Moses Seenarine: Unfortunately there is a lot of critical study on the larger intergovernmental groups that are based in the UN and that have governance over very large issues like climate change and Food and Agriculture policy. And so we took a lot of time taking apart the work of the intergovernmental panel on climate change, the IPCC, as well as the Food and Agriculture Organization, the FAO. We wrote this book basically as a way of expanding the work of somebody who’s fundamental in the field of environmental studies, environmental assessments, environmental economics, who is Dr. Robert Goodland. Dr. Goodland was a long time member at the World Bank and he was a biologist in training and he brought in a lot of the social scientists to start to look critically at development projects that the Bank was funding. Dr. Goodland became known as the conscious of the World Bank and he has really helped to develop many major important fields in environmental assessment. So what we are doing here is expanding on the work of Dr. Goodland in critically assessing the work of the FAO, of the IPCC, and the way they are presenting climate change as well as the solutions they are suggesting for mitigating climate change.
Caryn Hartglass: We love Dr. Goodland; I spoke with him years ago on this program. I remember my program at the time I had guests on for a full hour rather than a half hour and he was like “I don’t think I can talk that long,” but he had so many wonderful things to say and we definitely miss him and I’m glad you brought him up because I was going to. His work was groundbreaking and came from such a place of love. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to be part of a debate; it was actually the evening before a bull sale, and it was sponsored by a small feed lot owner, and it was on animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change. I was the lone vegan and you know one of my other panelists was the Frank Mitloehner and he clearly had blinders on and really didn’t want to take in all that you’ve taken in in this book and all the concepts that Robert Goodland began and started putting out. He was adamant that respiration was taken care of by photosynthesis, for example, and I just want the listeners to understand, determining greenhouse gases by the different industries is a very complicated process. Just getting information from all the different countries in a way that you can utilize it in the same manner, because not everybody’s looking and measuring the same way, and every industry overlaps with the other industries so it’s really hard to piece out what belongs to what in order to make something sensible. Understanding the power of the different greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane and nitrous oxide, is also such a crazy complicated calculation and we keep modifying it and changing it as we have more understanding. It’s complicated. And then Goodland added that we’re not really looking at it in a way that would give us an even better understanding.
Moses Seenarine: Indeed. I mean it is complicated but I think it’s also simple as well. I mean, if we look at the inputs as well as the outputs in terms of effects, we can say that compared to animal-based protein, plant-based protein would be about a tenth or ten percent of the greenhouse gas as animal protein on average. And across the board, if we take a look at that idea of reducing our dietary greenhouse gas by 90% by adopting plant-based diets, it because simpler in how to address our footprint. And this is critical. We all have to do this and it’s not just diets it’s overconsumption, in general by the people who live in the global north. The people in the global south, billions of them, by and large are not responsible for global warming. We are the ones, and the major changes have to come from us and we can do that very, very effectively by going with a plant-based diet.
Caryn Hartglass: You know there are different ways to look at the power of different greenhouse gases, and we look at it over 20-year period or 100-year period and the outcomes are very different because each gas responds differently. Methane isn’t in the environment as long as carbon dioxide. And I’m just thinking here, talking to you, we should have some sort of, and maybe we do have it, determination going back in time not just future in time in terms of who has decimated this planet and caused an outpouring of greenhouse gases for the last 100-200 years because the United States, I mean we’re the winner clearly but we don’t pay the price for it and is there a way to determine what we’ve done from a hundred years back to compare countries in terms of their impact?
Moses Seenarine: Yes, there have been several studies that look at this, and you’re right, the countries in the north, primarily European countries are the ones responsible. Interestingly enough we could also talk about an Anglo-sphere of emission because when we look especially at diet and its link to race we see that countries like Australia where the consumption of animal products are at the top. So not only is there a geographic and an economic part of it, there’s also a racial component as well, especially when we look at the people who will be suffering from the effect of global warming. These are primarily the people of color in the global south who live along the equatorial belt. And it saddens me to see that a lot of the other PRN hosts who look at intersectional issues, like Glen Ford, Utrice Leid, Mark Riley and others, they do not point out the danger that people of color’s diets in the north have on disadvantaged communities in the global south. So there’s many different ways of looking at this and we need to address all of the aspects, not only effects on the environment but also the effect on the poor in the world who are really by and large not responsible for this problem.
Caryn Hartglass: You know I was at a conference at the UN a few weeks ago called Eat X and there were some great speakers and experts. I was really looking forward to the Q&A but they ran out of time so we didn’t have an opportunity, because what I wanted to do was bring up the elephant in the room which was the cow. Nobody was talking about reducing animal agriculture; they were talking about important issues like reducing waste and improving access for food. And one of the speakers, Karen Washington of a group here in New York called the Black Urban Growers; she brought up the concept that areas that we call food deserts, she said they’re not food deserts this is all about food apartheid. I’m sure you’ve heard that used as an expression before, but there is a lot to it.
Moses Seenarine: Right and when we look at how the consumption of animal products it’s largely market driven. We really see that part of the systemic oppression relates to diet as well. And the confirming systemic oppression and then of opposing systemic oppression we really need to include diet and environment as one aspect of our intersectional analysis.
Caryn Hartglass: I mentioned sound bites earlier and some of the sound bites or quick topics we hear about that some people use to kind of make this idea that reducing meat consumption isn’t that important will throw out the idea that 60 million bison were ranging across North America, plus 100 million antelope. You mention that in the book that Bill McKibben has argued this and a lot of people use that, and I was happy to see your response to that.
Moses Seenarine: Yeah, I mean there’s a multitude of aspects looking at the prehistoric versus current levels of livestock. Certainly the numbers of livestock we have now, 70 billion are slaughtered annually for animal protein. That is way, way ahead of anything we had preexisting to industrial revolution. So there is really no comparison. And people like Savory also take this argument further to suggest that we need to bring back livestock on grassland and semi-marginal areas in order to reduce global warming. This is unscientific, has been disproven many times, and it’s still being touted over there by quote unquote environmentalists as a solution, where as it has no base in fact.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I’m going to quote you many times now that I’m armed with this information and that’s what’s great about this book. It arms us with lots of very compelling excellent information from all over the world on so many different subjects. And another wonderful thing I really appreciate, we have a tendency in all aspects of science to focus on one thing, we have this reductionist attitude, it makes it a lot easier to study something, it makes it a lot cheaper to do tests, but everything is interconnected and you brought that out beautifully in this book. And I especially appreciated the quotes that you had at the beginning of each book, many of them from women, and we don’t have enough of that. I was looking in your table of contents because I think my favorite chapter title was Meat is Neo-colonialism. That is a big mouthful.
Moses Seenarine: Yes. So colonialism was a process that happened, the European occupation of land outside of Europe across the globe and we had an independence movement that supposedly replaced the colonial powers. However, a lot of the European multinational corporations are still in a way colonizing the vast tract of land in this quote unquote undeveloped world. We see this especially in South America, with Argentina, with Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia, all parts of the southern continent where huge huge areas are being taken over by multinational local as well as international corporations and they’re displacing millions of indigenous people. So across the continent where you had maybe 90% of the people being independent landholders, small scale farmers, subsistence agriculturalists, surviving pretty much on their own, 90% of those people are now displaced and are homeless which leads to an incredible migration crisis. A lot of the migration crisis you see, we also spoke about this in Syria, was caused by livestock and the displacement of local agricultural practices. So the neo-colonial aspect is going to show the corporations, like Monsanto with their GMO and GM products, are now becoming the dominant landowners and land occupation of the vast tract of underdeveloped world.
Caryn Hartglass: Which is something I like to point out when people are talking about GMOs and trying to decide whether they’re safe or not. I don’t even go there about safety because it’s so hard to figure out whether they are or not, there are so many other issues involved with Monsanto and GMOs, the one that you brought up is a big one and another reason why we don’t want to support it, big agriculture in general.
Moses Seenarine: Ninety-some percent of the soy being planted is being planted solely for animal feed. This is something that is unsustainable. We’re converting vast tracts of forests, grasslands, savannas, semi-marginal areas into deserts basically. We’re also leading to a major crisis in topsoil loss, as well as water pollution, water scarcity, a lot of the nitrogen leaks to run-off and that leads to ocean acidification, the process of acidifying the ocean, as well as eutrophication, which is deoxygenating of local environment and rivers. These economic and environmental effects are long-term and they are having catastrophic impacts upon the ocean. Major as they are, are being affected by soil erosion, by the leaking of nitrogen into the water streams.
Caryn Hartglass: Your book is crammed many many different studies and so many different huge numbers about the devastating impact of animal agriculture on our climate, on our health, on the environment. There are so many different things you could grab and quote all over the place in this book, which is great, but you also mention how conservative our government organizations are and even some scientific reports tend to report very conservatively, and we don’t have time to be conservative anymore. We need to be extremely radical if we’re going to make timely change and I appreciate you bringing out Robert Goodland’s message in a really clear way which is, sure our energy systems need to change into renewable energy sources but to mitigate climate change today we all need to be eating plants and not animals.
Moses Seenarine: I think the take away from animal agriculture has to be this, and that is we are leading the short-term effects. CO2 is very powerful but it has a half-life of 100 years. Methane and Nitrous Oxide are many times more powerful than CO2; Nitrous Oxide is 300 times more powerful than CO2. And they are having a major short-term impact. Now the reason why short-term impacts are important is because they can get us to a tipping point beyond which there’s no return. So, also, if we reduce these short-term impacts we have a good way of mitigating climate change. So it represents a threat as well as an opportunity and we really need to look at this as the short-term effects of animal agriculture. Now, even if we went fossil fuel free by 2100, the increasing consumption of animal products will continue to cause catastrophic global warming. Animal consumption is expected to rise by 70% by the year 2050 and even more. So we need to address consumption and demand in a big way.
Caryn Hartglass: Do you think that’s going to happen?
Moses Seenarine: I think we need to look at it at a policy level. Unfortunately a lot of the activity that is done by local plant-based activists are not going to be able to change thinking up around quickly enough, because we’re already at 400ppm in terms of CO2 and we’re going to be going higher. So in order to make drastic changes we have to look at policy at the national, as well as the international level. I have done an analysis of the Paris Climate Agreement and looked at the solutions and changes that national governments are suggesting and critiqued that to show that it is not enough, and besides, animal agriculture is not addressed in any of the plans.
Caryn Hartglass: Never. Are you going to run for some kind of office, government office? We need you.
Moses Seenarine: Thank you. No, I think we really need to get the message out and I want to think that the key shareholders, the key stakeholders here, are the ones that really need to come on board. The scientists, the progressive organizations and non-profit advocacy groups, if they could come on board with this issue it would have a way of turning it around. Unfortunately many of the other PRN hosts, say McPherson, Michio Kaku, they don’t talk about diet. I mean they talk a lot about climate and I really appreciate the work they do, however, they’re missing the second leading cause of global warming and they’re failing to warn the public about the dangers that their diets can have.
Caryn Hartglass: Well I will see what I can do to talk to them about including this very important piece of this very crazy puzzle, because I am right there with you, I agree. I think changing from meat to plants can solve so many problems.
Moses Seenarine: For more information please contact the website its meatclimatechange.org, the book is available on Amazon as well as on Kindle, and I look forward to sharing anything else you may have in the future.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, Dr. Moses Seenarine thank you so much for writing Meat Climate Change: the Second Leading Cause of Global Warming and thanks for joining me today on It’s All About Food. Stay cool.
Moses Seenarine: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, that was a very important book everybody and I hope you take the opportunity to get it. Take the time to read it, there’s so much information in there but it’s important and we all need to be talking about it. Well, that’s the end of the program. I wanted to say I wish I had swamped my guests so that we could have talked about inspiring kids to take on this giant task that we’re leaving them with, but inspiring and enabling children to choose lean and green foods, plant foods, and learning about how important they are is the only way we’re going to save the plant, period. Thank you for joining me today, I’m Caryn Hartglass, you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food, find me at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit me at responsibleeatingandliving.com, and please, have a delicious week!
Transcribed by Lydia Dearie 10/20/2016