Cowspiracy, a feature-length environmental documentary shot by amateur filmmakers Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, sheds outrageous light on the one single industry that is responsible for the greatest amount of environmental destruction and resource depletion on earth.
And what they found was astonishing. Head’s up for those who care—there are *SPOILERS* in this post!
Instead of analyzing and sharing all their statistics—which I was aware of thanks to Dr. Richard Oppenlander’s book “Comfortably Unaware“—I will share some of my favorite parts of the film.
After an array of setbacks during filming, including loss of a major donor and Greenpeace’s refusal to be interviewed, Andersen reports that animal agriculture produces more greenhouse gases than cars, trucks, ships, and planes combined across the whole planet. That results in a grand total of about 51% of greenhouse gases caused by “cow farts.”
But what Cowspiracy reminds audiences repeatedly is that it’s not just “cow farts,” which Ann Nothoff, California Advocacy Director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, thought was just hilarious.
(It was at that point in the film I realized how most of these environmental organizations seem to just sort of show up for their 9-5 shift, spout out some stats about fossil fuels, and then go home without giving two shits about what’s really happening out there. Maybe that’s incorrect. But that was the impression I got.)
Cowspiracy shows us that the raising, slaughter, and distribution of these animals is tied to every other greenhouse gas emitting industry on the planet.
Viewers learn that cow shit is responsible for 130 times the waste that humans produce, and this excrement runs completely untreated, directly into our oceans, streams, fields, forests, and backyards.
Viewers also learn that there are about 70 billion land animals being raised by humans for food each year across the world. Considering that these animals consume between 10-40 gallons of water per day and up to 90 pounds of grain and grass per day each, that’s so many times the consumption of humans that it hurts my brain to even number crunch that.
Luckily, Cowspiracy does it for you in these hilarious shots of Andersen musing concertedly while the numbers float above his head. Cowspiracy definitely has a sense of humor, which is why critics will be hard-pressed to be seriously offended (unless you’re Tiffany Do). Andersen even discusses his reluctance to go vegan and his hesitation regarding health and veganism, but eventually he reveals his newfound “relief” in adopting a cruelty-free lifestyle.
At one point, just when you thought the ignorance of these environmental organizations couldn’t reach more embarrassing nadirs, something incredible happens.
Andersen and Kuhn head over to Amazon Watch to interview program director Leila Salazar Lopez.
She goes into her spiel about the Amazon being the holding place of the largest percentage of biodiversity on Earth, and how it is “under serious attack right now” from a host of industries. She highlights oil, tar sands, mining and other “mega-projects” as the major industries responsible.
When asked specifically by Andersen, what is the leading cause of rainforest destruction, she doesn’t have a solid answer. Her eye twitches momentarily. Her frustration seems palpable but her patience is obvious; her reluctance to come out and say the words is painfully, embarrassingly clear.
But finally she says it. In terms of land use, the industry that causes the most trees to fall, is animal agriculture. She says agribusiness, cattle, and soy bean production to feed the cattle are the largest contributors to Amazon rainforest destruction, especially in Brazil.
Then Lopez sets her chin in her hand and listens to the filmmakers tell her what they have learned. She confirms all their findings. They ask her why no one is talking about this serious injury to the Earth.
Her entire demeanor changes into bafflement and finally true sincerity—Lopez is equally as shocked and upset by the fact that no environmental organizations seem to be addressing this issue. Even in her own work at the number one place responsible for Amazon protection and preservation, they do not truly address cattle ranching and its deleterious effects on the Amazon.
“After the Forest Code was passed, and people were standing up against the lobbyists and the interest groups,” Lopez explains, “a lot of people started speaking out against agribusiness, the cattle industry, and a lot of those people speaking out got killed,” she reveals with newfound earnestness. Lopez was no longer peddling her PR pitch. She was having a real conversation with people who wanted to know the truth.
“If you look at the people who were putting themselves out there and saying, you know, cattle ranching is destroying the Amazon—look at Dorothy Stang, the nun who lived out there was killed,” explains Lopez.
“A lot of people will speak up,” she admits. “But a lot of people just keep their mouths shut because they don’t want to be the next ones with the bullet to their head.”
The film goes on to reveal that over 1,100 activists have been killed in the last 20 years in Brazil for speaking out against the cattle industry.
NEWS FLASH! How did we not know about this?
I was equally shocked to learn that a noteworthy figure in the sustainability and global environmental movement is a heavily-awarded and lauded man named Allan Savory. Cowspiracy mentions Savory to underscore the fact that, just as increasing fishing does not help increase fish populations (which Oceana suggested doing), increasing cattle grazing does not decrease desertification.
Cowspiracy reveals that they would “not want to take ecological advice” from a man who once ordered 40,000 elephants to be rounded up and killed so as to reduce desertification of grasslands in Africa. This guy—who in 2003 was awarded the Banksia International Award for helping to improve the environment on a global scale—blamed desertification on elephants in Africa. Elephants.
Andersen says, “after 14 years of relentless slaughter” there was found to be no major difference before and after elephants had been removed.
Cowspiracy considers (momentarily) that maybe backyard farming will be the answer to meeting future demands for meat and dairy. Andersen witnesses one backyard slaughter of a female mallard duck. At this point I closed my eyes, plugged my ears. My boyfriend held my arms and said, “Oh it’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen. It’s worse than the pigs. It’s terrible…”.
Andersen walks away from the slaughter, does some more of his mental math behind the barn while taking a long couple of breaths, and a few tears stream down his cheeks.
Backyard farming still will not work on a global scale.
The best part of this scene takes place when Andersen decides he is not going to witness another backyard slaughter of a dried up laying hen. I’ll let you experience this part for yourselves, though.
Go Vegan to Save the Planet
As I expected, the film ends with a call to action: adopt a vegan lifestyle today and remove yourself from this epically outrageous war on the Earth. It’s the only way to guarantee that your actions make a difference. Donating to environmental organizations is good for your conscience, but at the end of the day, you’re just patting yourself on the back for laurels you did not earn.
By going vegan, just like the filmmakers did, you take responsibility for your toll on the planet, your diet, your health, and the welfare of animals by not contributing to as few of its negativities as possible.
Since completing Cowspiracy, Kip Andersen has created Animals United Movement, a non-profit that strives to promote the sustainability of the planet and the welfare of all beings on Earth through creative enterprises: journalism, movies, books, and plays.
I am excited to see what’s next for these guys. And I encourage all of you to see Cowspiracy for yourselves. If you’re vegan, it will make you happy to know you don’t have to contribute to any of this madness. If you’re not vegan, it shows that you probably will be very soon.