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Climate change and meat: Media coverage falls short: Study

Is lab-grown meat better for the environment?

Despite the urgent need to address climate change and the crucial role of animal agriculture in contributing to global emissions, a recent study reveals a significant gap in media coverage linking the two. The research, conducted by Faunalytics and Sentient Media, sheds light on the lack of attention paid to the environmental implications of animal agriculture when reporting on climate issues.

Climate change and meat

A recent data analysis found that animal agriculture is grossly underreported, with only 7 percent of climate articles mentioning this major contributor to climate change. The analysis reviewed the 100 most recent climate articles published in top publications like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, for a total of 1,000 articles.

The study reveals that while animal agriculture is responsible for between 11.1 and 19.6 per cent of global emissions, it is one of the least discussed causes of climate change in the media. In stark contrast, mining, manufacturing and energy production were mentioned in 68 per cent of articles, with fossil fuels in 53 per cent.

Within the limited coverage of animal agriculture, the focus tends to focus on climate impacts on livestock rather than highlighting meat production as a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. This missed opportunity prevents readers from understanding the connection between their dietary choices and climate pollution. For example, stories about how drought conditions endangered livestock populations missed the opportunity to inform readers about the role of beef consumption in driving emissions from the food sector.

Media overlooks animal agriculture’s impact

According to the study, which analyzed more than 1,000 climate articles from major US media outlets, only 7% of articles mentioned animal agriculture, with a conspicuous absence of discussion of its impact on climate change.

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In the handful of articles that addressed animal agriculture, few delved into the emissions and environmental degradation caused by the industry or emphasized the importance of reducing meat consumption and transitioning to plant-based diets as a strategy to combat climate change.

The findings underscore a puzzling trend of portraying the animal agriculture industry as a victim of climate change rather than a significant contributor. Instead of highlighting the negative environmental impact of the industry, climate articles often focus on how climate change affects animal agriculture.

The study reveals that while the devastating effects of floods, droughts and heat waves on farmers and livestock are discussed, the articles do not address the role animal agriculture plays in exacerbating the climate crisis.

Opportunities to discuss animal agriculture in the context of climate change are often missed. Climate coverage predominantly highlights topics such as energy, transportation, emissions, and fossil fuels, with up to 68% of articles mentioning these topics.

However, the connection between these sectors and animal agriculture, which share similarities in terms of emissions and environmental impact, is rarely explored. Despite transportation being responsible for comparable emissions to the animal agriculture industry, only 8% of climate articles that mention transportation refer to animal agriculture.

The study reveals that the livestock subsectors that have a significant impact on emissions receive inadequate attention from the media. Livestock, responsible for approximately 62% of emissions from animal agriculture, was mentioned in only 30% of the articles. Likewise, methane, responsible for 54% of the sector’s emissions, was mentioned in only 22% of the articles.

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In light of these findings, the research provides recommendations for journalists and animal and climate advocates to bridge the gap between scientific consensus and media coverage. Journalists are encouraged to lead with the consensus of scientific evidence, expanding coverage by exploring the connection between food and agriculture and climate change in various contexts.

They are urged to present to readers the clear link between dietary choices and climate emergencies, avoiding framing issues that pit one sector against another. Scientific literacy and fact-checking are also highlighted as essential practices.

The study emphasizes the importance of incorporating an environmental perspective into promotional efforts. Animal advocates can use their platforms to educate the public about livestock’s contributions to climate change, influencing people’s behavior and building support for sustainable practices.

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