KYSO Flash
Knock-Your-Socks-Off Art and Literature
Issue 12: Summer 2019
Nonfiction: 1,761 words
Footnotes: 256 words
Climate Crisis

Another Inconvenient Truth:
A Review of the Documentary Film Cowspiracy

by Jack Cooper
Sometime during the summer of 2012, I stopped eating meat. I had been nibbling around the edges of vegetarianism for decades but never bit the bullet, so to speak. I’d scarf down an occasional hamburger, slice of bacon, chicken filet, or share of sushi, although I always drew the line at lamb, venison, and rabbit—nothing cute and cuddly for my tummy.

In that year of the Mayan Long Count calendar, when the world was supposed to end, I moved the line closer. For some reason, I woke up one morning on a globe still spinning along nicely and decided the day would not end prematurely for cows, pigs, chickens, or even fish—not on my plate anymore. If I couldn’t kill it, I wouldn’t eat it. I had no idea that by going meatless I had just begun my best single contribution to counteracting the climate crisis.
Poster for the documentary film, Cowspiracy

A.U.M. Films & Media (2014)

That’s according to Cowspiracy, the powerful documentary film, released in 2014 and updated the following year. The film won several prestigious international awards but encountered an aggressive pushback led by Big Beef, something called The Farming Truth Project,1 and others, efforts that may have gotten it banned from Facebook and debunked on the Internet.2 I had never even heard of Cowspiracy until a friend recently gave me a copy.

To my surprise, however, the 90-minute documentary feels as contemporary and relevant as if it were made yesterday. After all, its central question, “What’s the main cause of climate change?” is timely—even the military establishment and presidential candidates are declaring that something imminent must be done to avert catastrophe.

If the title of this visionary work, directed by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn, and produced in the updated version by Leonardo DiCaprio, implies a conspiracy, it is obviously intended. But the film’s greatest strength is its storytelling, centered around Andersen’s personal journey to find the truth about what’s happening with our weathervanes, a journey punctuated with both the startling facts he unearths and the telling reactions he gets from people who know better.

First, five Cowspiracy facts (from

  1. Animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (both CO2 and methane), more than the combined exhaust from all transportation.

  2. Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US, while only 5% is consumed by private homes.

  3. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef and almost 900 gallons of water to produce one pound of cheese.

  4. Livestock covers 45% of the earth’s total land, with 2-5 acres used per cow.

  5. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead-zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.

As the film opens, Kip Andersen is frustrated by the continuing rise in global temperatures and greenhouse gases, but despite his dedicated recycling, biking, water conservation, and other lifestyle changes, the situation only seems to worsen. He feels, like many of us do, that something else must be behind it all. Driven by relentless curiosity, dogged questioning, and careful research, he takes us around the world to environmental organizations, slaughterhouses, dairy farms, chicken factories, universities, and science labs. Rather than confront the people he interviews, he initiates innocent-sounding conversations, like this one with Bruce Hamilton, deputy executive director of the Sierra Club:

Kip: Hey, how’s it going? With the climate change, what’s the leading cause of that?
SC: Well, it’s basically burning too many fossil we have this greenhouse effect where the heat is getting trapped...and the temperatures are a rate that has never existed in the history of the Earth.
Kip: And what about livestock and animal agriculture?
SC: Well, what about it? I mean.... But I’m afraid we’re not going to be able to help this time. Thanks again, and we wish you the best of luck.3

It’s hard to believe, but time after time, the world’s largest environmental organizations—including Greenpeace, Amazon Watch, and Oceana—fail to address what the scientists, ranchers, and experts in the film say is the single most destructive force facing the planet today: animal agriculture.

Andersen’s interview with a spokesperson from Amazon Watch was hair-raising.

Kip: The most biologically and culturally diverse place on the under attack right now. The Amazon rainforest itself could be gone in the matter of the next 10 years. What is the leading cause of rainforest destruction?
AW: I would say...well, just to put it in the context of what Amazon Watch works on...there’s many, many drivers of deforestation, as we call them...many different reasons and ways that rainforests are destroyed.... The ones that cause the most damage...and are the most widespread are mega projects...such as oil and gas pipelines, such as mining projects...such as mega dam projects.3

At this point, Kip feels as if he were “stuck in some cowspiracy twilight zone, where no one could talk about cows.” He asks the question again. Finally, after much hemming and hawing, she opens up.

AW: I think it would definitely be agriculture...cattle grazing and soy production, in particular.
Kip: ...Why isn’t anybody doing anything about this?
AW: I think in Brazil, in particular, when we look at, you know...what happened after the Forest Code was passed... and people who were standing up against the lobbyists and the interests...the special interests, the cattle industry, the agribusiness industry...
Kip: What was happening to them?
AW: People who were speaking out got killed.... A lot of people just keep their mouths shut...because they don’t wanna be the next one with the bullet to their head.3

My friend and I felt the same: we hoped she didn’t just put herself in the crosshairs.

The film includes several reassuring voices: Howard Lyman, a fourth-generation cattle rancher; Michael Klaper, a physician and practicing vegan; and, especially for me, Dr. Richard Oppenlander, an expert in animal agriculture and author of two acclaimed books on the subject, Comfortably Unaware and Food Choice and Sustainability.

“The primary cause of the loss of species on our earth that we’re witnessing,” Oppenlander says, “is due to over-grazing and habitat loss on our land, and over-fishing, which I call fishing, in our oceans.”

I was glad to see that Andersen also talked to Michael Pollan, the book author who famously said, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”4

Kip: That’s the thing, too, is they say: “Use less coal, ride your bike.” What about “eat less meat”?
MP: I think they focus-grouped it, and it’s a political loser. Yeah, because they’re membership organizations, you know, a lot of them. They’re looking to maximize the number of people making contributions. And if they get identified as being anti-meat...or challenging people on their everyday habits...something that’s so dear to people, that it will hurt with their fundraising.3

Cowspiracy is not a solitary voice in the jungle. The same year the documentary was made, a UN report came out with the conclusion that small, organic farms were the key to feeding the world.5 Two years later, the Oxford Martin School published a study that basically confirms what Cowspiracy claims. “What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the global environment,” says Dr. Marco Springmann, who led the study.6

While the film cites the nutritional and environmental advantages of a plant-based diet, it focuses on meat and fish consumption and does not address the alarming practices inherent to growing commercial food crops, such as the reliance on chemical fertilizers and fungicides, and GMO foods like Roundup Ready corn and soybeans. (For more on that topic, I recommend a new film, Secret Ingredients, that deals extensively with the need to move toward organic, locally grown, and non-GMO produce.)

A fair criticism of Cowspiracy is that it downplays the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis. The filmmakers’ answer on the website echoes my own thinking:

We absolutely need to stop producing and using fossil fuels, but given the timeline we are on, even if we stopped burning all fossil fuels, we would not see a mark in the atmosphere for close to 100 years. If we stopped producing methane from livestock, we would see effects within a decade because methane has a global warming potential 86 times greater than CO2 but a lifespan of only about 25 years.

In other words, cutting meat from our diet is something we can do tomorrow when we make breakfast, and we don’t need to wait until we repurpose the military for environmental restoration or can afford to erect a windmill.

Making a fine point of the matter, The Guardian wrote the following year:

While energy generation, transport and buildings have long been a target for governments, businesses and campaigners looking to reduce emissions, the impact from food production has often been left out. But on current trends, with intensive agriculture increasingly geared towards livestock rearing, food production will be a major concern.7

Although some moments in the film are given to substitutes for animal-based foods, like Beyond Eggs, it offers few system-wide solutions, such as raising animals on marginal land to save our water and best soils for vegetables and fruits; redesigning the government food chart to recommend eating far less meat and dairy (on the order of once or twice a week); cleaning up the land and strengthening industry regulations; or taxing heavy-transport vehicles for the distance a product is shipped, so a truer environmental cost can be determined, as is currently being done in the EU.8

It’s also true that Cowspiracy mostly concerns people who have enough, or even too much, to eat. According to the UN, 793 million people in the world are starving or malnourished,9 and climate change is devastating low-lying farms and causing climate migrations.10 Can’t grow leafy greens in hardpan, or eliminate meat that you don’t even have.

As some critics claim, Cowspiracy’s numbers could be off. Maybe industrial-strength animal agriculture doesn’t contribute as much to climate change, dead zones, water pollution, rainforest destruction, erosion, guilt, and heart disease as Kip Andersen and his handpicked doctors, scientists, and ranchers claim. But what if it does?

When the credits rolled, I stood up knowing that I could never go back to eating animals, and that I’m fast becoming one of those annoying vegans who, as the joke goes, you never have to ask what to serve for dinner—they’ll always tell you. I also understood that saving civilization and all we hold sacred could start with breakfast tomorrow. I’ll have an omelet, please. Make mine with tofu—organic, of course!



[All links in this review were retrieved on 8 July 2019 and tested as valid on 22 July 2019.]

  1. Author unknown. The Farming Truth Project: “A Complete Debunk of Every Cowspiracy Statistic”:

  2. “Response to Criticism of Cowspiracy Facts” (23 November 2015):

  3. Full transcript available at Scraps From the Loft (16 April 2019):

  4. Michael Pollan. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual (Penguin Books, 2009). See also the review at his website, “How to Eat: Diet Secrets from Michael Pollan (and your great-grandma)”:

  5. United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Sixty experts world-wide weighed in on the problem in Trade and Environment Review 2013: Wake Up Before It Is Too Late:

    Report includes commentary from IATP (Institute for Agriculture & Trade Policy), “From Dumping to Volatility: The Lessons of Trade Liberalization for Agriculture” (19 September 2013):

    See also “New UN Report: Small Scale Organic Is the Only Way to Feed the World” by Christina Sarich (Natural Society, 11 March 2014):

  6. Dr. Marco Springmann. “Plant-based diets could save millions of lives and dramatically cut greenhouse gas emissions” (21 March 2016), Oxford Martin School, University of Oxford:

  7. “Eat less meat to avoid dangerous global warming, scientists say” in The Guardian (21 March 2016):

  8. The AS 24 Network. “The Kilometric Tax in Belgium”:

  9. Francesca Colella. “How Many People Are Starving Around the World?” in The Borgen Project (20 January 2018):

  10. Bill McKibben. Falter: Has the Human Game Begun to Play Itself Out? (Henry Holt, 2019):


Publisher’s Note:

See also the follow-up book by Kip Andersen and Keegan Kuhn (with an introduction by cultural critic and best-selling author Chris Hedges), The Sustainability Secret: Rethinking Our Diet to Transform Our World. Published in 2015 by Insight Editions (San Rafael, California), the book expands upon Cowspiracy, with extended transcripts, updated statistics rooted in science and research, tips on becoming a vegan, and effective ways to offset planetary damage through personal dietary choices:

Jack Cooper
Issue 12, Summer 2019

is the author of the poetry collection Across My Silence (World Audience, Inc., 2007). His poetry, flash fiction, essays, and mini-plays have appeared in more than 70 publications, including bosque, Bryant Literary Review, Connecticut River Review, North American Review, Rattle, Santa Fe Literary Review, Slab, Slant, The Briar Cliff Review, The MacGuffin, The Main Street Rag, and The South Dakota Review.

Recent awards include Grand Prize Winner in Crosswinds Poetry Journal’s 2016 poetry contest. The poem was published in their Spring 2017 issue in addition to receiving a cash award of a thousand dollars. Cooper’s poetry has also been selected for Ted Kooser’s “American Life in Poetry” and Tweetspeak Poetry’s “Every Day Poems,” and his work has been nominated four times for a Pushcart Prize.

One of his micro-fictions (Options, re-published here in Issue 3) was selected in April 2015 as winner of the annual String-of-10 Contest, sponsored by Flash Fiction Chronicles. His play, That Perfect Moment (with co-writer Charles Bartlett), was a headliner at the NOHO Arts Center in North Hollywood and The Little Victory in the 2009-10 seasons. Cooper has been a contributing editor at KYSO Flash since 2015, and he accepted the role of Co-editor in 2016 (beginning with Issue 6).

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