Kip Andersen of Cowspiracy Gets It Wrong

The website has just published an excerpt from the book, The Sustainability Secret: Rethinking Our Diet to Transform the World. This book, by Keegan Kuhn and Kip Andersen, complements the documentary Cowspiracy. In the excerpt, Kip Andersen writes:

In 2009, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, two environmental advisors to the World Bank Group, released an analysis on human-related greenhouse gases (pdf), concluding that animal agriculture was responsible not for 18 percent as the FAO stated, but was actually responsible for 51 percent of all greenhouse gases. Fifty-one percent. Yet all we hear about is burning fossil fuels.

This difference in the figures is due to factors that the FAO didn’t take into account, such as the massive loss of carbon sinks from clear-cutting rainforests for grazing in addition to the respiration and waste produced by animals. Goodland and Anhang used the Greenhouse Gas Protocol, the global standard for measuring emissions set by the World Resources Institute and World Business Council on Sustainable Development, to reach the figure of 51 percent. According to their calculations, animal agriculture is the number one contributor to human-caused climate change.

On the Cowspiracy website Keegan Kuhn makes the same claim, linking to the GHG Protocol for Cities. The single largest source of “uncounted” emissions, according to Goodland and Anhang, is animal respiration. However, a quick perusal of the GPC Standard reveals the following guidelines, which directly contradict claims that Goodland and Anhang’s analysis is consistent with the Protocol:

CO2 emissions from livestock are not estimated because annual net CO2 emissions are assumed to be zero—the CO2 photosynthesized by plants is returned to the atmosphere as respired CO2. (page 120)

In addition, the Greenhouse Gas Protocol Agricultural Guidance is available online and states:

The carbon incorporated into animal tissues or lost through animal respiration should not be reported in an inventory. (pg.62)

Goodland and Anhang obtain their second largest source of “uncounted” emissions by converting methane from the livestock sector into tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) using the 20-year Global Warming Potential (GWP), while continuing to express methane from other sectors in CO2e using the lower 100-year GWPs. On this point, the Protocol indicates:

Individual GHGs should be converted into CO2e by multiplying by the 100-year GWP coefficients in the latest version of the IPCC Guidelines or the version used by the country’s national inventory body. (page 50)

The initial estimate of emissions of 41,755 MTon CO2e (for the year 2000) that is used by Goodland and Anhang is from the World Resources Institute (WRI) and follows IPCC guidelines for national GHG inventories. In this estimate, GHGs are converted to CO2e using 100-year GWPs. The GHG Protocol that Kip Andersen refers to is a standard for organizational and business (not national) inventory reporting. The WRI is one of the organizations that supports the Protocol. The claim that Goodland and Anhang’s analysis complies with the GHG Protocol is not supported by the Protocol’s own documents.

I have previously outlined various problems with the Goodland and Anhang analysis elsewhere on this site.

Appendum The Greenhouse Gas Protcol website summarizes the project as “A series of tools for calculating GHG emissions inventories based on 2006 IPCC Guidelines for National Greenhouse Gas Inventories.” It should not be surprising that the 2006 IPCC Guidelines also explicitly state the respiration should not be included (first paragraph of the introduction to Chapter 10).

Last edited on March 6, 2016 to include mention of the GHG Protocol support for the use of 100-year GWPs.


18 thoughts on “Kip Andersen of Cowspiracy Gets It Wrong

  1. Would you explain in more detail why respiration is not counted? I understand the balance between respiration and the CO2 sink of growing animal feed, however this seems to ignore the more significant loss of true sequestration due to lost forest land. That is, remove one steer, grow 100 trees, remove vastly more CO2 than animal feed crops would. What am I missing?


    • The loss of carbon sequestration due to clearing forests for cropland or pasture is included in the land use change and forestry (LUCF) component of GHG inventories. When the forests were cleared, these showed up as positive emissions. If cropland or pasture was actually allowed to revert to natural vegetation, the resulting sequestration of carbon would show up as negative emissions. You can see LUCFs as a share of total emissions in this graphic, which is from the World Resource Institute (and is the same emissions estimate used by Goodland and Anhang). One of the innovations of the FAO’s Livestock’s Long Shadow was to attribute a certain amount of LUCF emissions to animal agriculture.


  2. Thanks for the clarification. I wonder, though, is the carbon sink due to overall farmland, including that used for animal feed, included in the overall carbon sink estimation (forests, grassland, cultivated land, etc)? If so, wouldn’t the zero-net assumption which assumes respiration is absorbed by the feed crop plant that fed the cow, be double counting this sink?

    In addition, Goodland and Anhangs follow-up article states:
    “we found no published calculation for carbon absorption foregone in land cleared for livestock and feed production.”
    They therefore used respiration as a proxy for this unaccounted for deforestation.
    These guys are meticulous and highly respected analysts – is this a weak spot in the IPCC data or am I misunderstanding this statement?


    • The absorption in the graphic doesn’t include surface sequestration of vegetation for existing cropland and pasture, which is part of the zero-net assumption. However, estimates of losses in soil organic carbon are included.

      Have you read my full critique of Goodland and Anhang’s analysis? Goodland and Anhang originally asserted that respiration was to be included in inventories under the Kyoto convention. However, under the zero-net assumption, it was already included in the WRI inventories underlying the FAO analysis (the FAO isn’t estimating total emissions, but rather livestock’s share of the total). Forgone sequestration is consistent with what economists refer to as a opportunity cost…i.e. *if* land was reverted to natural vegetation, how much CO2 would be withdrawn in a year? In the follow-up you refer to in World Watch, Goodland and Anhang make this clear, stating: “If respired GHGs are counted as a proxy for foregone carbon absorption, then most of the 22 billion tons of emissions that we claim were previously not counted can be understood as a potential carbon sink rather than an actual carbon source.” However, GHG inventories measure actual emissions and absorptions, as the graphic in my previous response indicates. Once Goodland and Anhang include potential absorptions, they are no longer working with what is commonly understood as an inventory. Also, this potential exists as a result of past land use changes. Using the same methodology that the estimate of 41,755 Mton CO2e for the year 2000 was based on, these emissions were already recorded for previous years, so Goodland and Anhang are the ones engaged in double-counting.

      If you haven’t seen it already, I recommend the following article by Danny Chivers. I also recommend comment #37 by Duncan Noble, as it highlights the inconsistencies and conceptual muddiness of the Goodland and Anhang analysis.


  3. dear oncejolly,

    all your great energy in clearing the picture is so valuable, thank you!

    so after all what is the conclusion? is there a yet-best sum-up of the question?

    greetings from switzerland,
    boka tummtukote, ecological economics student


  4. The FAO looks at “carbon debt” when evaluating the effects of land use change from carbon soil emissions when it is assessing biofuels. (See Adrian Whiteman from the FAO explain here. Given that it seems logical that they would consider soil carbon emissions when they are calculating the effects of animal agriculture as the amount of land used for animal agriculture is far greater than the land used for biofuels. Why don’t they do that?


    • The FAO is doing an attribution of the share of net emissions (using IPCC methodology) due to the livestock sector for a single year (2000 in Livestock’s Long Shadow and 2004 in Tackling Climate Change ). The “carbon debt” that you’re referring to only makes sense when looking at a particular activity over a period of time. Elke Stehfest and coauthors use methods that apply this kind of framework to livestock agriculture. See Stehfest et al. (2009) for an exercise that considers the GHG savings of various dietary shifts relative to a benchmark scenario [1] and Schmidinger and Stehfest (2012), which considers the lifecycle emissions (including land use) for individual animal products produced in various parts of the world using three time horizons [2].



      • In the spirit of accepting commonsense assumptions, let’s examine how reasonable it is that Chapter 3 of the FAO’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” proposes that livestock are responsible for: (a) 28 million tonnes of soil carbon emissions per annum from arable land; and (b) 100 million tonnes of soil carbon emissions from pasture.

        First, those FAO figures for soil carbon emissions appear in the same chapter as a table that pegs soil carbon emissions worldwide at 61-62 billion tonnes per year. The rationale for proposing that soil carbon emissions from cultivated soils used for livestock are a miniscule fraction of total soil carbon emissions is unexplained by the FAO.

        In fact, it appears that FAO’s figure of 61-62 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions per year may be significantly undercounted. For example, 76.5 Petragrams – meaning 76.5 Gigatonnes or 76.5 billion tonnes – of soil carbon emissions were counted in 1995.

        Anyway, agriculture in the U.S. alone has been said to be responsible for 1.5 trillion pounds of soil carbon emissions per annum, which is the same as the figure elsewhere written as 750 million tons of soil carbon emissions per annum. 750 million tons is equivalent to 680 million tonnes – and that’s for the U.S. alone.

        Figures for soil carbon emissions from cultivated soils in other countries are scarcely available. However, let’s say it’s reasonable to use the rate of U.S. soil carbon emissions from cultivated soils as a proxy for the worldwide rate of soil carbon emissions. If so, then with 10.4 times as much cultivated land in the world as in the U.S., one can extrapolate that there are 10.4 x 680 million tonnes of soil carbon emissions per year worldwide, or 7.1 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions from cultivated land worldwide.

        The next step is to consider that livestock production is said to account for 70% of all agricultural land. This suggests that cultivated land used for livestock may account for 70% of 7.1 billion tons of soil carbon emissions per year, or 5.0 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions per year.

        In addition, grazing livestock are said to account for 34 million square kilometers of the world’s land area; that’s 3.4 billion hectares. Chapter 3 of the FAO’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” indicates that the FAO has assessed soil carbon emissions from that land.

        In fact, Chapter 3 (p. 93) states that “the rate of desertification has been estimated to be higher under pasture than under other land uses… Considering only soil carbon loss (at about 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare), pasture desertification-induced oxidation of carbon would result in CO2 emissions in the order of 100 million tonnes of CO2 per year.” Using simple math, it appears that the FAO estimates that 10 million hectares of pasture per year are being desertified.

        But 10 million hectares of pasture per year is a strikingly small amount of land to consider is being desertified. Elsewhere, it’s said that 2.6 billion hectares of pasture are being degraded but not officially recorded. Even if those 2.6 billion hectares of pasture are responsible for only 10% of FAO’s estimate of 10 tonnes of carbon per hectare from soil carbon emissions, the result would be that 2.6 billion tonnes of carbon emissions per year are attributable to soil carbon emissions from grazing land.

        Adding the abovementioned 2.6 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions from grazing land to the abovementioned 5.0 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions from cultivated land used for livestock, the sum is 7.6 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions per year attributable to livestock. That’s almost exactly the same as the amount of carbon emissions from livestock respiration according to Goodland and Anhang.

        So there appears to be solid evidence that Goodland has been correct to suggest that carbon emissions from livestock respiration can be used as a proxy for carbon absorption forgone on land used for livestock and feed production.

        The idea that land degradation is a widely-overlooked and major source of emissions responsible for climate change has been proposed by scientists elsewhere too In fact, scientific literature indicates that soil is eroding 16 times faster than it can form in the U.S.–5y21MbMAhXCdx4KHcg0An0Q6AEIKzAC#v=onepage&q=%22eroding%2016%20times%20faster%20%22&f=false

        Why on earth would the FAO estimate soil carbon emissions attributable to livestock to be much less than data show elsewhere? Well, there appears to be plenty of evidence that the FAO strongly skews data to favor the expansion of livestock production.

        For example, many activists have suggested that the FAO’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow” promotes less livestock production; but it doesn’t. In fact, the main prescription in “Livestock’s Long Shadow” was for more intensified livestock production (on page 236): “The principle means of limiting livestock’s impact on the environment must be… intensification.” The lead author and a co-author of that 2006 FAO report wrote to confirm in 2010 that they prescribed no limit on meat consumption.

        Elsewhere, the FAO’s forecasts for an increase of more than 70% in meat consumption by 2050 have been called “a big fat lie” by the Soil Association. That forecast has also been contradicted in a report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), projecting that demand for livestock products may decline through at least 2030 (on page 6) IFPRI co-published with the FAO a report 15 years ago that kicked off the ‘Livestock Revolution,’ projecting inevitably more livestock; so it’s particularly striking to see IFPRI now projecting such a different future.

        After “Livestock’s Long Shadow” estimated in 2006 that livestock were responsible for 18% of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, a new FAO report in 2013 reduced that 18% estimate down to 14.5%. The reduction has never been well-explained by the FAO. Mind you, in between those 2006 and 2013 FAO reports, the FAO established a partnership to count greenhouse gas attributable to livestock with all of the world’s major livestock industry associations. That’s a clear conflict of interest, which has been summarized by Robert Goodland in an article published by The New York Times.

        Following is another example of evidence that the FAO’s numbers can’t be trusted. The FAO’s 2013 report on livestock and climate change ( claimed, for the first time, that livestock emissions can be reduced at least 30% ( via technical means. But that estimate contradicts what even FAO staff themselves had previously projected. Indeed, Henning Steinfeld – one of the co-authors of the FAO’s 2013 report – had previously co-authored a 2010 estimate that technical means could reduce livestock emissions by only 6%.

        The FAO’s bias for livestock traces back to its founding. For example, John Orr, FAO’s first director-general, co-authored a book in 1940 stating (on p. 48): “The maximum amount of food energy would, of course, be obtained by devoting all the agricultural land to the production of plant food… But this would involve both a revolution in agriculture and a serious deterioration in diet. Great increases can be obtained by making economies in animal conversion”.

        The FAO’s promotion of livestock seems to have evolved beyond Mr. Orr’s vision. For example, you can hear FAO staff (apparently not from FAO’s livestock division) saying at FAO headquarters: “There’s science which tells us a certain message about the importance of protein… The point is not only to look at the scientific debate, the point is also to look at the question of who is behind the financing of the science… spread[ing] biased information… Who are the actors behind the scenes?”

        The FAO also appears strongly to exaggerate the number of people whose livelihoods depend on livestock. For example, the FAO’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” asserts that the number of poor people alone who are engaged in livestock activities is 987 million. Elsewhere the FAO estimates that almost 1.3 billion livelihoods depend on livestock. Yet Richard King at Oxfam has explained how even a figure of 500 million may be exaggerated.

        Finally, the authors of “Livestock and Climate Change” is far from the only source that proposes carbon in livestock respiration should be counted. Another article uses different language that I suppose you might find easier to digest; here are the most relevant parts of that article:

        “Direct and indirect metabolic CO2 release by humans has been increasing through time from a calculated value of 0.44 Gt C year−1 in 1800 to an expected 4.4 Gt C year−1 by year 2050… The realized increase may well exceed this estimate, since changes in diet and consumption habits are leading to a rapid increase in human body weight and food ingestion, and therefore per capita metabolic CO2 release… This is a component of the CO2 flux that must be recognized in future analyses of global CO2 dynamics and that must be considered to represent a component of the perturbed C cycle, as human population has increased – and will continue to increase – greatly since preindustrial time. Yet, the direct and indirect metabolic CO2 emissions by humans is not considered explicitly in the scenarios conducted by the IPCC (2001), and is not incorporated, therefore, into current strategies to mitigate the climatic consequences of greenhouse gas emissions.”


      • I should have guess from your comments around Prairie and Duarte (2005) that you have no idea how the carbon cycle works. Soil respiration doesn’t necessarily represent a net loss of carbon from the soil. Respiration includes energy usage in roots and decomposition of plant litter. Much like animal respiration, most of the carbon that is released to the atmosphere via soil respiration was recently removed from the atmosphere via photosynthesis. The GHG inventories are based on a net analysis of a *system.* You have to consider all the pieces – both the removals and additions – to determine if there is a difference. Sadly I don’t think you even understand what Goodland and Anhang are claiming to proxy for (though their original claim, which is easily refuted, is that inclusion of respiration is required under Kyoto).


    • You are selectively quoting Prairie and Duarte (2005), who do *not* construct a complete GHG inventory or claim that respiration is a net flux, noting: ’…anthropogenic metabolic CO2 release may be considered just an intensification of cycling processes between the atmosphere and the biosphere via enhanced crop and pasture production. This is an important distinction. In an equilibrium situation, the calculated emissions do not represent a new, unaccounted flux to the atmosphere.’

      I will reply to your other comments as time allows.


  5. “Sadly I don’t think you even understand what Goodland and Anhang are claiming to proxy for (though their original claim, which is easily refuted, is that inclusion of respiration is required under Kyoto).”

    Firstly, what Goodland and Anhang were claiming to proxy with livestock respiration was carbon absorption foregone in land set aside for livestock.

    “Livestock respiration merits counting in part because if pasture were not grazed, in most places it could regenerate forest and absorb large amounts of carbon. Everywhere else, without being grazed, grass can keep growing higher and absorbing more carbon. When it dies, some of its carbon gets sequestered in the soil beneath rather than released to the atmosphere, as it surely does when chewed up by livestock directly or in the form of feed.

    Also, carbon flowing into the atmosphere from animal respiration and soil oxidation exceeds that absorbed due to photosynthesis by 1–2 billion tons per year. In many cases, livestock drive soil oxidation, with livestock’s mass weighing about eight times that of wild animals. If respiration and soil oxidation exceed photosynthesis, then counting respiration seems necessary.

    Further, we believe that counting a foregone reduction of any magnitude is valid because it has exactly the same effect as an increase in emissions of the same magnitude. Moreover, carbon reduction available from land used for livestock and feed production is the only feasible way to absorb a significant amount of today’s atmospheric carbon in the near term.

    For those who consider counting respiration GHGs overly controversial, they can consider respiration GHGs as a proxy for carbon absorption foregone in land set aside for livestock and feed production. Part of why our article counted respi- ration GHGs was that it enabled us to reference a published calculation, whereas we found no published calculation for carbon absorption foregone in land cleared for livestock and feed production.

    If respired GHGs are counted as a proxy for foregone carbon absorption, then most of the 22 billion tons of emissions that we claim were previously not counted can be understood as a potential carbon sink rather than an actual carbon source. Otherwise, the 8.8 billion tons of emissions attributable to live- stock respiration have indeed been present in GHG inventories, but usually explained away by invoking the so-called “carbon cycle.” Another large portion of previously uncounted GHGs results from our use of a 20-year timeframe for methane rather than the usual 100-year timeframe.”

    Secondly, they say “The FAO asserts that livestock respiration is not listed as a recognized source of GHGs under the Kyoto Protocol, although in fact the Protocol does list CO2 with no exception, and “other” is included as a catchall category. For clarity, it should be listed separately in whatever protocol replaces Kyoto.”

    They never said respiration was required under Kyoto. They said that respiration need to be specifically mentioned in whatever replaces Kyoto.


    • In their original World World article, Goodland and Anhang use the bio-fuel scenario to proxy for foregone sequestration (“Overlooked land use” in Table 1 on page 11). “Overlooked respiration” is kept as a separate category. Goodland and Anhang *are* claiming in the original that respiration should be included under Kyoto, and only retreat from this position and claim respiration as an additional proxy for land use when asked in the follow-up in World Watch magazine why their inventories are so much higher than those reported elsewhere. They are correct that foregone sequestration (letting forests grow instead of pasture and cropland) isn’t an actual carbon source (and isn’t included in GHG inventories that follow the UNFCCC guidelines). They are wrong that foregone sequestration is equivalent to actual emission (which is what they are doing by adding the two). The latter involves adding emissions to the atmosphere (a net increase) over the course of the year, while the former involves not removing (or adding) emissions from (to) the atmosphere (no net change). Whatever they are measuring (ignoring various inconsistencies around the use of period, GWP or livestock figures) is not recognized by the IPCC (or Kyoto) as an inventory and is not what is commonly referred to as emissions. Of course, Kyoto also formally adopts the 100-year GWPs for reduction targets.


  6. I never said a word about soil “respiration”. If you look back you will see that I wrote about soil carbon “emissions”. Emissions are what is released from the soil not what stays in. See many dictionary definitions. Here is one example.

    That said, when the animal agriculture industry group International Livestock Research Institute whose slogan is “Better lives through livestock” publishes an article by Mario Herrero et al of the FAO’s “Livestock’s Long Shadow” fame among others that says “Livestock systems occupy 45% of the global surface area with a value of at least $1.4 trillion.” We should all take note that a huge percentage of soil carbon emissions are going to be due to animal agriculture.

    As stated previously “Adding the abovementioned 2.6 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions from grazing land to the abovementioned 5.0 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions from cultivated land used for livestock, the sum is 7.6 billion tonnes of soil carbon emissions per year attributable to livestock. That’s almost exactly the same as the amount of carbon emissions from livestock respiration according to Goodland and Anhang.”


    • Respiration involves the oxidation of organic carbon into CO2. Your distinction is meaningless. What do you suppose happens to the CO2 resulting from decomposition of organic material by microbes in the soil? The FAO emissions of 61-62 GTons include soil respiration.

      Some of your links from your previous extended message (where you don’t mention soil respiration) don’t open (in particular, the one ending with “5lb-5.html”). In any case, you seem undecided. Does the 10.8 Gton estimate of animal respiration (remember that they increase this number by 10 and 12 percent to account for alleged undercounting of animals and after-the-fact increases in animal tonnage) proxy for underestimated emissions or foregone sequestration? They’re not the same thing.


  7. You state “Goodland and Anhang *are* claiming in the original that respiration should be included under Kyoto, and only retreat from this position and claim respiration as an additional proxy for land use when asked in the follow-up in World Watch magazine why their inventories are so much higher than those reported elsewhere.”

    Either the proxy is reasonable or it is not. The whole reason proxies and models are used is to fill in when other data are missing. That is what proxies and model are for. Whether the argument is actually fully made in their original 2009 Livestock And Climate Change or in Robert Goodland’s follow up in 2010 is irrelevant ESPECIALLY in the case of anyone that works for the World Bank like Jeff Anhang did at the time and still does for that matter due to the World Bank’s strict rules on employee public statements which aren’t even public. You can see those rules referenced in a statement from their archives, on page 15, which references AMS 14.20 on Public Statements of Staff Members. The actual rules on public statements are not even public. Notice that the 2010 follow up is authored only by Goodland who no longer worked at the World Bank by that time NOT Anhang. I would speculate that between November/December 2009 when “Livestock and Climate Change” was published and March/April 2010 when Robert Goodland’s follow up was published that there simply wasn’t enough time for the World Bank to clear the statement hence Jeff Anhang’s name is not on the 2010 follow up.

    If you want to get into it, then I’d refer you to a statement by Herman Daly, the “godfather of ecological economics”; he may be the only World Bank staff member who’s ever been willing to mention publicly the existence of AMS 14.20, and you can see he did so only after he retired.


    • There are three issues with the proxy. Is it necessary? The work by Stehfest et al.(2009) suggests that research efforts are being made to directly estimate the quantity of interest. Is it reasonable? In retrospect we can compare it with the estimate obtained by Stehfest et al. and others. But the other question is whether it is used correctly. And again, foregone sequestration is not an emission. Others have been able to emphasis the mitigation possibilities through land use change without constructing an incoherent (and poorly explained) alternative GHG inventory.


  8. You stated “They are wrong that foregone sequestration is equivalent to actual emission (which is what they are doing by adding the two). The latter involves adding emissions to the atmosphere (a net increase) over the course of the year, while the former involves not removing (or adding) emissions from (to) the atmosphere (no net change). ”

    Foregone sequestration would not be equivalent to emissions ONLY if the amount of net emissions, the amount emitted minus the amount sequestered, were not increasing which is clearly not the case and is in fact why climate change is such a huge issue. We need all the sequestration we can get! The only realistic way to get that is to plant more trees. In order to plant more trees we will need to drastically scale back animal agriculture which “occupy 45% of the global surface area” according to the animal agriculture industry itself (see Mario Herrero et al mentioned previously at

    Since animal agriculture is completely unnecessary for human existence we need to drastically cut back on it. Every day it becomes more and more clear that animal products are also bad for human health as well as the environment (See the peer reviewed research out there on that topic from Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s “The China Study”. See also Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn, Dr. John McDougall, Dr. Dean Ornish, Dr. Neal Barnard, Dr. Michael Greger, Dr. Michael Klaper and on and on and on. As the planet’s population moves toward 9.5 billion people in 2050 there is no way that animal agriculture can continue to expand as the FAO would have us believe.


    • Look, I’m sympathetic to the idea that the FAO attribution isn’t especially useful, particularly if one is interested in thinking about mitigation. But the potential to sequester carbon isn’t an emission, no matter how many times you repeat it.

      Think of a bathtub with four drains, each of which will drain a gallon a minute. Two are blocked with stoppers, leaving a drainage of 2 gallons a minute (i.e. removals). The tap is emitting 5 gallons a minute (gross emissions). The net accumulation of water in the tub (GHG inventories) is 3 gallons a minute, though of course *if* we realized the foregone drainage (sequestration) of the remaining two drains, we could reduce the net accumulation to 1 gallon/minute. (A counterfactual, which if realized, *decreases* emissions).

      The issue around land use isn’t exactly the same. Instead the two blocked drains are connected to finite containers (land that is currently dedicated to agriculture is an empty container, or at least not full container, while land that is forested is a full container. Only the first drain represents unrealized sequestration. However, the second container can be emptied into the tub (land use change), creating a one-time increase in accumulation. Now the empty container can be replaced (with the plug in place), in which case there is no further addition beyond the original emptying of the container. The problem is not the unrealized sequestration, but the original land use change, which has already been accounted for in GHG inventories when the clearing took place. Of course the potential exists to reverse the original emissions (unlike fossil fuel emissions), but to measure both the emissions for the original land use change and the subsequent forgone sequestration amounts to double-counting.

      Official inventories estimate the actual net fluxes over the course over a year. Can you provide with an explanation of what the 22 Gton CO2e of uncounted emissions that Goodland and Anhang claim represent?

      You’re also fixated on the biases of the FAO, but I don’t see any reflection on your part about Goodland and Anhang’s selective use of the 100 vs 20-year of the GWP for methane. Or their evidence-free claim that the FAO undercounted livestock inventories.

      In any case, there is better analysis available. I’ve mentioned the work by Stehfest et al. (2009), which uses a spatial model to estimate the carbon that can be sequestered in land use change resulting from dietary change (including a “no animal products” scenario). The paper was published in the same year as Goodland and Anhang’s original analysis and is highlighted in the IPCC’s AR5 report on mitigation.

      Edited at 21:38.


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