Former Vice President Al Gore is well known for his advocacy work on climate-change issues. But a new interview with Gore is making waves—and not just for his comparison of climate-change skeptics to racists. Politico reports on Gore’s super-serial indictment of farming:
"Industrial agriculture is a part of the problem,” Gore said Friday during an interview with FearLess Revolution founder Alex Bogusky. “The shift toward a more meat-intensive diet,” the clearing of forest areas in many parts of the world in order to raise more cattle and the reliance on synthetic nitrogen for fertilizer are also problems, he added.
Synthetic nitrogen isn’t a mere problem, as reported—Gore flat-out stated that “the reliance on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is a Faustian bargain, kind of like steroids.” Well, that clears things up: The former vice president believes that modern farming is a deal with the devil. We wonder what millions of people in the Midwest think about that. (But we digress.)
Let’s humor him for a moment and assume that we overhauled the entire farming sector by reducing the number of livestock raised for food as well as stopping crop farmers from using synthetic nitrogen, which are suggestions that usually only come from fringe environmental activist groups.
For one, if synthetic nitrogen didn’t exist, animal manure will be used as an organic source of nitrogen. And agronomist Vaclav Smil has calculated that in order to replace synthetic nitrogen with organic nitrogen, the U.S. alone would need an additional 1 billion livestock (for manure) and 2 billion acres of forage crops (for the livestock).
Yes, that’s the irony: We’d have to cut down swaths of wilderness to make room for all these animals (if we could), plus make room for crops to feed them. In the case of the US going completely organic, we’d need landmass roughly the size of the lower 48 states. (Smil elsewhere argues that the Haber–Bosch process enabling development of synthetic nitrogen is the most important development of the 20th century. And it’s no wonder why.)
Moreover, the entire agriculture sector is responsible for just 6.4 percent of domestic greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. Animal agriculture specifically provides just 4 percent of emissions.
Perhaps Gore should adopt a new mantra: Everybody else should farm as efficiently as Americans. Meanwhile, we’re going to enjoy a nice steak. We're super-duper serial.