What do you think is the number one catalyst of climate change? Much of the population may almost immediately think of burning coal, but according to Kip Andersen’s documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, it’s animal agriculture and factory farming. Throughout the documentary, Andersen seeks out answers to important questions such as how much of an impact the massive animal agriculture industry has on the environment, how much the corporations and environmental organizations know about the damage being caused, and what can be done to avert and solve this issue. By utilizing reliable sources and people in the industry and asking the audience ethical questions throughout, Andersen’s documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret speaks to an audience of concerned viewers who may or may not already care about climate change and animal agriculture. While the film seeks to explain the logic and facts surrounding the environmental impact of factory farming on the environment, it also presents an appeal to the audience’s emotions with heart-wrenching footage. Therefore, it primarily seeks to persuade viewers to make a change in their lifestyle in order to fight against not only climate change, but also animal cruelty.
Throughout the course of the documentary, extensive statistical information is presented on the impact of animal agriculture on the environment, including the levels of methane and carbon dioxide gases produced, the amount of water and land utilized, and the impact of excessive waste flowing into waterways. Immediately, the severity of global warming is addressed by Andersen, who lists out the current or future effects on the planet “from monster storms, raging wildfires, record droughts, ice caps melting, acidification of the oceans to entire countries going underwater” (Andersen). This fear-inducing information, accompanied by dramatic music and footage, quickly grabs the audience’s attention and sets up Andersen’s introduction of the role of animal agriculture. He cites an article put out by the United Nations entitled “Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns” (Andersen), and Andersen follows that initial finding with even more information that he’s found and compiled. According to his research, animal agriculture is responsible for “30% of global consumption” and takes up “45% of Earth’s land” (Andersen). In order to establish the legitimacy of his claims and to persuade the audience on the issue at hand, Andersen provides scientifically-backed research. If he were to solely claim that animal agriculture has the greatest impact on the environment and didn’t support this claim with scientific evidence to prove it, the audience wouldn’t take much of anything out of the documentary. However, by supporting his statement with information and citing that information’s source, the audience can see and hear that this claim is legitimate and deserves attention. The statement that “animal agriculture produces 65% of the world’s nitrous oxide,” which is “a gas with a global warming potential 296 times greater than carbon dioxide per pound,” is startling information that, along with its scientific source, lends validity to the issue being discussed. By providing well-researched and accredited findings in the scientific community, Andersen is able to employ logos to persuade the audience that this is an issue that they should pay attention to.
In addition, Andersen’s documentary includes in-person interviews with professors, scientists, representatives of environmental organizations, and well-known authors, such as Michael Pollan. Each interview provides the audience with a multi-dimensional perspective on the connection between climate change and animal agriculture. While some representatives from organizations such as Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, and Oceana neglected to acknowledge animal agriculture’s impact or even refused an interview, various scientists, authors, and professors openly admitted and discussed the issue. By seeking out the information from many sources that clearly all have different ideas about the impact of animal agriculture, Andersen establishes an ethical, unbiased approach to his personal investigation that appeals to everyone in the audience despite differences in opinion. As he makes his way from interview to interview and from one environmental revelation to another, he also asks questions to keep the audience thinking and engaged. He asks “how can they [the environmental organizations] not know” about the massive environmental impact of animal agriculture? (Andersen). Should humans give up meat altogether to save the environment? The answer, logically and based on the research in the documentary, is yes. However, as it is pointed out in the documentary, “people don’t want to hear it” (Andersen). Hearing information and knowing deep inside that there’s something tangible that can be done is “uncomfortable” and pushes people away from making a change (Andersen). When many people are confronted by something that they do that goes against their intrinsic principles, they either overlook it and pretend to not see it or they make a change, and this is the case when it comes to many different issues. Similarly, most people are willing to take simple steps to save the environment, like recycling and conserving water and electricity, but when it comes to eliminating a major food group from the diet, a lot of people ignore the option. By utilizing varied scientific resources and interviews with many sources and presenting ethical questions throughout the course of the documentary, Andersen informs and persuades the audience with ethos and keeps them engaged and personally connected to the issue.
Another important aspect to consider is Andersen’s approach to writing, directing, and editing in Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret and how it reveals his connection to his values. At the beginning of the documentary, Andersen informs the audience of Al Gore’s impact on his environmentalism prior to learning about animal agriculture. He was already an avid recycler and water conserver, so as he learns about the impact of animal agriculture and eating meat throughout the course of the documentary, his existing personal values show through. However, Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is formatted not only to inform and persuade the audience of the importance of this issue, but also as a personal journey for Andersen. His down-to-earth writing and speaking style as he explains the issue and his own thoughts and questions speak to the audience on another level. He’s a person who wants to make a difference just like the rest of the audience. As he works his way through the potential solutions to the current state of animal agriculture, the audience has the potential to feel what Andersen himself is feeling in this process. Looking at Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret through this lens of a personal journey and Andersen’s own search for unbiased answers is another way to evaluate the effect of ethos on audience.
While discussing the impact of animal agriculture on the climate, the documentary also addresses and utilizes footage of animals in order to appeal to the audience’s emotions. Videos of massive amounts of fish bleeding and flopping around in commercial nets, dairy cows being separated from their calves, and other forms of animal cruelty feature throughout the documentary. Although these videos were related to the context of factory farms in the documentary, there was an underlying message against animal cruelty for the audience. It’s in human nature to react strongly to suffering and pain that we can see and hear, so invoking emotion with visuals and audio makes the audience more likely to care and feel strongly about the topic or issue being presented. Strong visuals also leave the audience with a lasting image, and there’s now an existing connection between animal suffering, animal agriculture, and climate change. Andersen’s documentary takes advantage of emotions and feelings such as suspense, fear, guilt, and anger in order to incite empathy, passion, zeal, and activism for the welfare of the environment and animals and persuade the audience through pathos to make them care about this issue with their hearts.
In addition, the appeal to pathos in the documentary plays to those in the audience who are already inclined to care deeply about animal agriculture, animal cruelty, and climate change and to those who, perhaps, aren’t. The inclusion of Andersen’s conclusion to go vegan certainly caters to other vegans, vegetarians, and those already inclined to agree with Andersen. However, the aspects of the documentary that address animal cruelty and switching to a vegan diet to save the planet could also been seen as targeting any concerned individual who perhaps wants to make a change in their lifestyle. At the same time, the documentary, as a whole, targets everyone in the audience. Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is an exposé of the factory farm system, environmental organizations, and political lobbyists that protect the system by voting in protectionary laws. This makes the documentary’s target audience any individual who is unaware of the issue, the implications, and why it’s not widely considered the number one catalyst of global warming. By creating an extensively researched and well put together documentary on such a pressing issue, the number one focus is to target all groups of a population to enact the greatest change. For this reason, Andersen addresses rainforests and deforestation, ocean toxicity and bycatch, excessive waste, land use, animal cruelty, sustainable meat eating, alternatives to meat, human overpopulation and world hunger, species extinction, and funding of environmental organizations all in one documentary. One of these topics is bound to target a specific group within the audience, such as people who eat meat and people who don’t, and capture their attention and support.
Throughout Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret, Kip Andersen speaks to an audience representative of the population as a whole by citing researched statistics, interviewing experts in the scientific, agricultural, and environmental fields, using dramatic music and footage to convey and invoke emotions, and asking questions to keep the audience engaged and involved in Andersen’s own process of discovery. As a result, the audience is hopefully left feeling informed and awake to this reality and that they can make a difference just by altering their diet. At the end, the audience is left with a message that sums up the purpose of the entire documentary. “You can change the world. You must change the world” (Andersen). Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a call to action, and by utilizing logos, pathos, and ethos, it fulfills its purpose of inciting change to save the world.