Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret – Film Review

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Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a documentary by Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn. Leonardo DiCaprio was one of the producers of the film helping its release on September 15th, 2015 on Netflix. The documentary explores the multi-billion dollar cattle industry, specifically focusing on cows. For years, environmental organizations and government officials have encouraged society to carpool, ride bikes, conserve electricity, compost, and recycle. But is this enough? What if cows in actuality are the leading cause of global warming?

According to the film, “Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.”  This means planes, trains, cars, and boats collectively still account for less pollution than animal agriculture. Surprisingly, transportation exhaust only accounts for 13 percent. The film begins by asking why we are only focused on cutting down exhaust from cars, recycling, composting, and preserving water when in reality the quantity of meat required to satiate the world’s consumption is literally destroying the planet.

To explain the impact cows have on our planet, one must first understand methane. According to the film, cattle emit 150 billion gallons of methane per day and produce 130 times more waste than all humans collectively. Unlike human waste, most of it has no use and cannot be used for “waste treatment.” This waste causes dead zones where no life exists anymore. Cow farts are literally destroying the planet.

The other important focus of the film is water consumption. According to the documentary, fracking in the United States used 100 billion gallons of water in order to drill into the ground over the span of a year. What’s even scarier, though, is that in the United States we use 34 trillion gallons of water for animal agriculture every year. A staggering 30 percent of the world’s water is used for the livestock industry.

There are other domino effects of livestock grazing as well. For example, the government offers livestock ranchers public land for a significantly decreased price. In the process, wildlife in the United States becomes a casualty of animal agriculture. Wolves, bears, coyotes, and mountain lions are trapped, shot, and brutally killed just for living in their natural environment. Thus, wildlife is being destroyed for the sake of livestock grazing.

What Kip Anderson ultimately realized is that environmental organizations aren’t speaking about this. Kip speaks with several agencies, including Sea Shepard, Rainforest Action, Amazon Watch, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Oceana. Many of the interviews Anderson has with these agencies consists of environmentalists and officials dodging and ignoring the very question he wants answered. It was both painful and bewildering to watch people from organizations like Oceana refusing to acknowledge the detriment of overfishing and the excessive population of livestock. But why?

Leila Salazar-Lopez from Amazon Watch finally shed some scary insight. People have been murdered for speaking out. An example of this is American-born nun Dorothy Stang. She lived in the Brazilian rainforest making its preservation her life purpose. She spoke out against the depletion of the rain forest and on her way home one day she was shot down and murdered. A staggering 1,100 activists have been killed in Brazil over the last 20 years. The deeper Anderson dug, the more resistance he was met with, and he realized his life too could be at stake – all over cow meat.

Some of the footage is very hard to watch. Watching defenseless fish and animals killed for the world’s excessive desire for flesh and dairy is tragic. There’s no getting around the fact that, collectively, we need to consider the future of our civilization. According to specialists, if we stopped feeding livestock there would be enough food to feed the entire world. What seems like magical realism is the true and startling story of how cows have managed to massively destroy our ecosystem and damage the ozone layer.

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