Fallacious Reasoning

 The YouTube algorithm decided this short video was worthy of my attention. It was entitled Farmer DESTROYS VEGAN ACTIVIST in debate. You should watch the video first and then apply your critical thinking skills to see whether the farmer's argument was sound:

Did you spot the fallacious argument of the farmer? There are many types of fallacies and we are all guilty of using them because everyone likes to win an argument or debate. However, if we are after the truth, rather than just point scoring, then it is incumbent on both sides of a debate to avoid using these rhetorical devices.

In this case, the farmer is guilty of using the fallacy of suppressed evidence with a little added misdirection for good measure. While we cannot be sure what the debate was about, it appears to centre around the pros and cons of a vegan vs meat diet. The farmer presumably rears cattle, hence the reference to leather, and is getting some grief from the "vegan activist". Unfortunately, his retort equating the carbon footprint of artificial leather with a long-distance car journey (misdirection) ignores the obvious question. What is the carbon footprint of real leather? And is it more or less than vegan leather?

This well-balanced study goes with 17 kg CO₂e/m² for leather production if we ignore the 110 kg CO₂e/m² from the cattle rearing process itself. Intuitively, it seems reasonable to assign a proportion of the cattle rearing emissions to leather production - but how much? Taking a somewhat simplistic view by comparing the global market value of beef (USD 468 billion in 2021) with that of leather (USD 419 billion in 2021), somewhere between 40-50% would be a good first approximation. Even if you compare the global meat market (USD 897 billion in 2021), which includes fish products, the leather industry should still bear a significant proportion of the carbon emissions from animal husbandry. Leather and beef must be considered as co-products based on their similar market values and hence must share the carbon emissions attributed to the rearing of cattle. 

For comparison, vegan leather (aka faux, artificial and synthetic leather) made from fossil fuels has a lifetime carbon footprint of 15.8 kg CO₂e/m². This is slightly less than the quoted 17 kg CO₂e/m² for leather although a carbon footprint nearer 50 kg CO₂e/m² might be a more realistic value for real leather (i.e. including 30% of the animal husbandry carbon emissions). Plant-based 'leather' (e.g. hemp or fungi) has the potential for much lower carbon footprints.

Of course, it is a bit more complicated than that. Other factors to consider are water usage, animal welfare, land acreage needed, amount of wastage, ease of disposal, biodegradability, longevity, etc. Beyond the scope of this article, I'm afraid.

My personal preference, beltwise, is woven polyester; lightweight (40 g) compared with a leather belt (150 g) and last a lifetime (at least 40 years in my case). However, I must admit that I do also have two leather belts (one brown and one black) that see occasional use on more formal occasions.

In conclusion, the farmer was caught with his pants down (the wrong type of belt!) using a fallacious argument (suppressed evidence) and misdirection (car journey).

[Added note: it turns out the farmer is not a beef farmer but a goat farmer. Doesn't change the fact that his reasoning is fallacious but it is important to acknowledge errors] 


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