Animal agriculture and climate change news coverage is too low with reporting on animal agriculture in relation to climate change missing the mark.

For many years now, climate researchers have been warning that the world can’t meet its Paris Agreement climate goals of limiting global warming to 1.5°C without reducing meat consumption. Multiple studies have affirmed that between 11.1 and 19.6% of global emissions come from meat and dairy production, and leading global food and climate agencies are also in agreement, recommending that people, particularly those in the Global North, reduce meat consumption in favour of a plant-rich diet.

The effects of animal agriculture on the environment and climate are vast: It is a leading cause of deforestation, it’s responsible for significant biodiversity loss and pollution, and emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, particularly methane. Methane alone is the cause of over 25% of global warming, for which reason reducing methane emissions is critical. If emissions continue as they are now, the food sector alone is enough to push global warming past that 1.5°C limit, while just reducing meat consumption could get the world much closer to our emissions goal. In the United States, this reduction would mean that the average person would consume about 70% fewer animal products on a daily basis, with the greatest reductions coming from red meat and chicken – 92% less red meat and 81% less chicken, according to EAT-Lancet Commission recommendations.

Despite the extensive research supporting the reduction of animal product consumption, there’s long been a disconnect between what the research shows and what the public understands. According to a recent consumer study conducted by Purdue researchers: “The belief that ‘eating less meat is better for the environment,’ which is strongly supported by many climate and environmental researchers, is at an all-time low” (Lusk & Polzin, 2023). The reason for this disconnect is multifaceted, but at least one factor is the information the public receives regarding the connection between animal agriculture and climate change.

Given the role of the media in informing the public about important issues like climate change, this partner project between Faunalytics and Sentient Media sought to understand how the media communicates the environmental implications of animal agriculture to readers. By analyzing recent climate articles from top U.S. media outlets, we drilled down on how often the media makes the connection between animal agriculture and climate change when reporting on climate issues, and how reporting on animal agriculture in relation to climate change misses the mark.

Key findings

  1. Only 7% of climate articles mentioned animal agriculture and they rarely discussed its impact on climate change. Across the 1,000 articles we examined, only a handful of stories reported in depth on the connection between consuming animal products and climate change. Most articles that mentioned animal agriculture failed to discuss the emissions and environmental degradation caused by the industry, let alone the importance of reducing meat consumption or switching to a plant-based diet to fight climate change. When diets were discussed, the effectiveness of plant-based diets was sometimes downplayed or, more often than not, presented almost as an afterthought rather than a legitimate strategy to mitigate climate change.
  2. The animal agriculture industry is often portrayed as a victim of climate change rather than a significant cause. Our qualitative analysis revealed that instead of citing animal agriculture’s negative environmental impact, climate articles that discussed the industry in any depth generally focused on how climate change is impacting animal agriculture. Multiple articles discussed how flooding, drought, and heatwaves have caused livestock losses both in the U.S. and abroad, and how this affects the livelihoods of farmers, while failing to mention the role that the animal agriculture industry plays in the climate crisis.
  3. There are countless missed opportunities to discuss animal agriculture in the context of climate change. Energy, transportation, emissions, and fossil fuels were given the spotlight in climate coverage: These topics were mentioned in up to 68% of climate articles but were rarely tied to animal agriculture, despite the connections and parallels between them. For instance, transportation is responsible for roughly the same amount of emissions as the animal agriculture industry and is part of that industry, yet just 8% of climate articles mentioning transportation also referenced animal agriculture.
  4. Impactful subsectors of animal agriculture are also not given enough attention by the media. Cattle farming is responsible for about 62% of animal agriculture emissions (FAO, 2022), yet cows were mentioned in just 30% of animal agriculture articles. Similarly, methane came up in 22% of animal agriculture articles despite accounting for 54% of the sector’s emissions.

Original source: https://faunalytics.org