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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Cut the meat to curb global warming

Planet meatWhat is, by far, the biggest thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint? Stop driving your cars? Reduce your heating and cooling? Those are all generally touted as big tickets items to reducing your impact. But what about reducing or eliminating how much meat you eat? What affect does that have on the environment? This has come up a number of times, not only in the comments of this blog, but also in the news. In a recent article in Scientific American, How Meat Contributes to Global Warming:

Pound for pound, beef production generates greenhouse gases that contribute more than 13 times as much to global warming as do the gases emitted from producing chicken. For potatoes, the multiplier is 57.

Beef consumption is rising rapidly, both as population increases and as people eat more meat. Producing the annual beef diet of the average American emits as much greenhouse gas as a car driven more than 1,800 miles.

Basically, current production levels of meat contributes between 14 and 22 percent of the 36 billion tons of "CO2-equivalent" greenhouse gases the world produces every year [1]. That's a veritable shitload of gas. Beef is the biggest offender, followed by pork and chicken. In other words, producing the world's beef and pork intake creates more greenhouse gases than all of the planet's cars, planes and boats combined [2].

Of course, the concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) animals are going to have a much bigger impact than those raised in a more environmentally friendly way, so if you have to eat meat, choose pasture raised, pasture rotated, sustainably raised and local animals. All of the above, if possible. Just think: more chicken, less beef. Use less quantities of meat per meal and think of it as being a "seasoning" over the main part of a meal. This will save not only money, but greenhouse gases as well.

But, all this begs the question: do you have to eat meat? No, not in modern society [3]. There are a number of alternatives to eating meat where you can have a very healthy, and tasty, diet.

So, if you ate a vegetarian diet, your reduction in greenhouse gases is along the lines of 1.5 tons of carbon dioxide a year [4]. Switching to a hybrid vehicle won't even gain you that much of a decrease.

What do you think of the meat issue? Are you willing to reduce or eliminate meat to reduce your carbon output? If you aren't and the statistics are correct, how do you defend your meat-eating?

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