Updated: Apr 17
Initial release: 26th June 2014
Director: Kip Anderson and Keegan Kuhn
Summary: From executive producers Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Davisson, Cowspiracy highlights the devasting impacts of the animal agriculture sector on our climate. The documentary highlights some of the most pressing consequences of meat consumption and uses impactful statistics to demonstrate the severity of the issue, such as ‘55% of water used in the US is on animal agriculture’. Cowspiracy also delves into our own personal impact as meat consumers, explaining to viewers that one quarter pounder hamburger requires over 660 gallons of water to produce.
“The world’s climate scientists tell us that the highest safe level of emissions would be around 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. We’re already at 400."ᶦ – Bruce Hamilton, Sierra Club Deputy Executive Director
The documentary also touches on the effects that animal agriculture has on our beloved rainforests. An acre of the amazon rainforest is lost every second to accommodate animal agriculture, everyday nearly 100 plant, animal and insect species are lost due to deconstruction. With animal agriculture being responsible for 51% of human-caused climate change, Cowspiracy reiterates the urgency of this pressing issue and calls for action.
“Raising animals for food is responsible for 30% of the world’s water consumption, occupies 45% of earth’s land, is responsible for up to 91% of Brazilian Amazon destruction, is a leading cause of ocean dead zones, habitat destruction and species extinction”ᶦᶦ - Howard Lyman
Cowspiracy: The sustainability secret, opens the documentary with a confrontation between the narrator, Howard Lyman and Bruce Hamilton, the Deputy Executive Director of Sierra Club— an environmentalist organization. The discussion starts with Hamilton expressing great concern for the current levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere— yet when Howard asks the Deputy Executive Director “What about livestock and animal agriculture?” Hamilton responds “Well... what about it?”ᶦᶦᶦ. This was an interesting choice for the opening conversation about the impacts of animal agriculture as this exemplifies the exact issue with current environmentalists, refusing to acknowledge the real contributors to climate change.
An interesting point raised by the documentary was that a lot of environmentalist groups are membership organizations, looking to maximise fundraising efforts. Organizations like Greenpeace or Sierra Club do not want to address the issue of animal agriculture because they are, first and foremost, businesses who want to ensure that they have a reliable source of funding to carry on their operations. This point of contention quickly addressed the current lack of concern for the impacts of animal agriculture and conflicted with the missions of some of the world’s biggest environmentalist charities.
Like Seaspiracy (2021) (another Netflix original documentary), Cowspiracy chronologically documents the narrator’s findings and personal development through research and interviews with experts in the field. There are moments which specifically target accountability amongst viewers by using examples such as that “animal agriculture is responsible for 51% of human-caused climate change”ᶦᵛ. My only criticism of the documentary would be that sometimes the information provided can be too vague and easily misconstrued, such as where the statistics are given without a breakdown of the sources of animal agriculture which can be mitigated to produce a positive impact. This could lead to a feeling of helplessness in the viewer upon being presented with a myriad of problems without proper weight lent to approaching any solutions. While Cowspiracy is informative to any viewer, some of the information is not always representative of animal agriculture in the United Kingdom.
ᶦ Bruce Hamilton, 0:43, Cowspiracy ᶦᶦ Howard Lyman, 12:5, Cowspiracy ᶦᶦᶦ Bruce Hamilton, 1:55, Cowspiracy ᶦᵛ Howard Lyman, 11:55, Cowspiracy