Friday Food Blogging July 31, 2009Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink.
Tags: beef consumption, global warming
Ezra Klein wants you to eat your vegetables. And I think that is good advice, not only because vegetables are good for you but because the consumption of meat makes a substantial contribution to global warming.
According to a 2006 United Nations report, livestock accounts for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. Some of meat’s contribution to climate change is intuitive. It’s more energy efficient to grow grain and feed it to people than it is to grow grain and turn it into feed that we give to calves until they become adults that we then slaughter to feed to people. Some of the contribution is gross. “Manure lagoons,” for instance, is the oddly evocative name for the acres of animal excrement that sit in the sun steaming nitrous oxide into the atmosphere. And some of it would make Bart Simpson chuckle. Cow gas — interestingly, it’s mainly burps, not farts — is a real player.
But the result isn’t funny at all: Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week.
I am not a vegetarian and don’t intend to become one; I love my meats. But cutting back to 1 or 2 meat meals a week is not much of a sacrifice, especially because chicken and fish contribute little to climate change compared to beef.
According to a recent study by Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews of at Carnegie Mellon University (funded by the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Science Foundation):
The production phase is responsible for 83 percent of the average U.S. household’s greenhouse-gas burden with regard to food, while transportation accounts for only 11 percent, the new study found. The production of red meat, the researchers conclude, is almost 150 percent more greenhouse-gas-intensive than chicken or fish.
As Klein argues:
It’s also worth saying that this is not a call for asceticism. It’s not a value judgment on anyone’s choices. Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it’s better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.