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The effect of livestock on global warming and its relation to world politics

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The effect of livestock on global warming and its relation to world politics

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Authors: Majsa Storbeck, Lucas Machlein, Jeanne Robert,

                Dongyun Kim, Vanessa Hautle

Class: World Politics

Tutor: Adriana Melissa Ávila Loera

Date: 24th of November 2017


  1. Introduction

One of the most pressing global issues we face today is global warming, one of the effects of human activity on the environment (Smith & Zeder, 2013). Global warming results in climate change: as the earth heats up, sea levels rise and as a consequence countries below sea-level have an increasing chance of floods (Schiermeier, 2011). Gas emissions caused by use of fossil fuels are indicated as leading cause of global warming by the public (Smith & Joffe, 2012).

Notably, the public is not aware that livestock makes up for 18% out of the total of gas emissions (Rosenthal, 2008). According to Rajendra Pachari, the head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, livestock is largely overlooked as a generator of gas emissions (Rosenthal, 2008). A reason for this might be that non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and policymakers hardly address the environmental consequences of livestock (Steinfeld, Gerber, Wassenaar, Castel, & de Haan, 2006). This ignorance is problematic since research has shown that livestock emissions, methane and nitrous oxide, contribute more to global warming than carbon dioxide (Rosenthal, 2008; Steinfeld et al., 2006; McMichael, Powles, Butler, & Uauy, 2007). Furthermore, livestock emissions are projected to increase by 80% by 2050 as a result of the increasing demand for animal products in emerging economies such as China and India (Steinfeld et al., 2006).

To reduce the threats of global warming, 175 nations agreed to an international agreement during the COP21, the United Nations Climate Conference of 2015 in Paris (Oncirculation, 2016). The Paris Agreement forms a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol of 1992. Policy makers nowadays realize that global warming is irreversible. Therefore, the Paris Agreement does not only encompass the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, but also active adaption of current national and international policies to minimize global warming. In contrast, the Kyoto Protocol did not mention adaptation of local, national and international policy at all (Tang, 2016).

 Besides international agreements such as the COP21, NGOs also actively seek influence global politics (Knegtering, Hendrickx, van der Windt, & Uiterkamp, 2002). In times of globalization, this has become more feasible as dynamics of globalization have put every country on the same path towards capitalist economic growth (Castells, 1999). In particular, NGOs have the ability to influence personal habits, such as meat consumption (Laestadius, Neff, Barry, & Frattaroli, 2013). A higher public awareness is associated with higher potential to change (Bailey, Froggatt, & Wellesley, 2014).

Therefore, Laestadius et al. (2013) argues that in order to reduce one’s meat consumption, campaigns by environmental NGOs should contain clear messages regarding the environmental consequences of meat consumption. This is the outcome of their research conducted on NGOs in the United States, Canada and Sweden and their domestic campaigns regarding meat reduction. Considering these conditions, it is surprising that the current literature on livestock is not focusing on the effects of globalization. For the purpose of this study, the following research question was developed: To what extent is livestock mitigated in global politics under the framework of globalization?

This article will start with a literature review, where the concept of globalization will be critically analyzed. Secondly, an overview of the environmental consequences of livestock will be given. Furthermore, the ways governmental organizations and non-governmental organizations are able to change this process are examined. Finally, this will be put under the phenomenon of globalization.This way, we intend to formulate an accurate answer to our research question, which will form the conclusion of this paper. Lastly, we will evaluate our study by discussing limitations and give suggestions for future research.


Literature review

Part A: The Globalization Game

Globalization is a way of understanding  the world. It is a tool that can be used, just like a pair of glasses, to observe one’s surroundings in order to see more clearly. Almost all aspects of life today are subject to globalization. National economies, cities, people, cultures, and languages have become interwoven in one heterogeneous whole that is characteristic of today’s interconnected processes. This assemblage of countries’ economies, cultures, values and customs can be called a network. In other words, to speak of a globalized world is to see our world as one large network comprised of many smaller networks (Castells, 1999).

However, globalization is not a neutral term. It is not a mere account of late trends that has pushed all countries into one coherent network. Indeed, one could say that globalization has existed for ever, countries have been trading for centuries. Today, globalization entails the integration of a country’s economy into one global economy that rests on a capitalist system which ultimate goal is to make profit. This global economy governs and determines the good functioning of all countries, whether or not they take part in this system (Castells, 1999).

Friedman (2000) describes globalization as a high-speed train. People either manage to catch it or they miss it, and the only option left is a crowded bus. This metaphor illustrates the fact that globalization functions on an exclusion/ inclusion basis as many do not have what it takes to catch the global train (Castells, 1999). It does not mean that globalization is all bad, but it does raise concerns over how many people it leaves behind on its frenetic race towards economic progress.

Everything that has value in the global economy is included and the rest is discarded (Castells, 1999). What happens to the excluded? If countries played the game of globalization on a football pitch, we could not find the ‘excluded’ on the substitute players’ bench because they are not going to participate in the game any soon.  They are not even in the stadium because they do not get to watch the game. They are outside, in the back street next to the stadium, illegally selling fresh water bottles to tourists and visitors. Thus, the excluded are trying to survive but the only way they can survive is by resorting to marginal processes because they do not have access to the official competition (Aksikas, 2007).

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