What I learned from this:
This was an extremely well done presentation. It was not light entertainment, but was compelling and thought-provoking and quite disturbing. Even better, all of Nichola Donovan’s powerpoint slides and written notes are available online at the Lawyers for Animals website. Because these notes are available, there's no need for me to provide my own, but I'll still mention two key things which I learned from Nichola's paper.
We like to think we live in a fairly enlightened and humane society. One example of this is that we have laws preventing cruelty to animals, the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Acts (known as “POCTAs”). Nichola examined these POCTA laws and associated Codes of Practices and showed that they are extremely limited in their scope. Farm animals are generally excluded. Nichola argued that these laws don’t seem to be about preventing cruelty but establishing how much cruelty is allowed by the law. For example, the law says it is ok for a broiler chicken to live its life in just 22 x 23 cm of space, less than an A4 piece of paper. She provided numerous other examples of legalised cruelty.
The other eye opener for me than learning about the role of methane in contributing to global warming. Quoting from Nichola’s notes, “The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change advises that methane is around 72 times more potent than carbon dioxide in heating the Earth's atmosphere in the short-term.” Australian cows and sheep and goat and other livestock animals produce 3.1 megatonnes of methane per year. That causes more short-term global warming than “Australia's total annual carbon dioxide from electricity generation.” Yet these agricultural emissions are set to be excluded from the initial Emissions Trade Scheme in Australia. They may be included in 2015.
The role of methane in global warming was recently profiled in the ABC science programme Catalyst. For a more detailed look at this issue, Geoff Russell, Peter Singer and Barry Brook have written about this in the Melbourne Age as well as in a submission [link to pdf] to the Garnaut review.