Cowspiracy’s Misleading “Infographic”

Summary: The Cowspiracy website includes an “Infographic” that provides misleading information. Under the Climate Change section, it indicates that 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock and their byproducts, while 13 percent are from transport. These numbers are clearly meant to be compared, but anyone familiar with how they were obtained will realize that such a comparison is inappropriate. The infographic also fails to clarify that studies looking at dietary changes focus only on the portion of the CO2 footprint that can be attributed to diet (rather than the total).

I’ve already indicated elsewhere on this site why the 51 percent estimate from Goodland and Anhang is meaningless. However, ignoring this issue for a moment, it is worth considering where this number and the estimate for transport come from. The 13 percent figure is from the World Resource Institute. Indeed this percentage can be seen in the linked chart. The total emissions estimate (41,755 MtCO2 equivalent) is also the starting point for the Goodland and Anhang analysis. This estimate, combined with the attribution, implies that the transport sector accounted for approximately 5,600 MtCO2e in the year 2000. Goodland and Anhang go on to argue that the estimate of total emissions undercounts livestock emissions by 22,048 MtCO2e, implying that the actually GHG inventory should be 63,803 MtCO2e.

If someone believes that the Goodland and Anhang analysis is valid, this implies that the share of emissions from the transport sector should be adjusted accordingly. Doing so implies that transport’s share of the total would be 8.8 percent (5,600/63,803 x 100%).

The Cowspiracy Infographic also claims that “A Carbon Based Diet Cuts Your Carbon Footprint by 50%”. The correct claim, which is made elsewhere on the Cowspiracy site, is “A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food.” However, this qualification is inconsistent with the earlier claim that livestock accounts for 51 percent of total GHG emissions.

Last edited on March 12, 2017.