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A Meat Tax is the Smart Answer to Cut Methane Emissions

A Meat Tax is the Smart Answer to Cut Methane Emissions

You’ve probably heard that methane from cows, sheep, goats and buffalo — that is, ruminant farts — has been linked to global warming. There are 50 percent more cows and similar animals today than half a century ago (3.6 billion) and methane released from their digestive systems is the biggest human-related source of this greenhouse gas.

So, to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases cows and the like produce, we need to tax meat.

That’s what some scientists have recently proposed in an analysis in Nature Climate Change. Only by in effect increasing the price of meat so people consume less can we cut down on the amount of methane emissions and halt the warming of the planet.

As the scientists say,

“Influencing human behavior is one of the most challenging aspects of any large-scale policy, and it is unlikely that a large-scale dietary change will happen voluntarily without incentives. Implementing a tax or emission trading scheme on livestock’s greenhouse gas emissions could be an economically sound policy that would modify consumer prices and affect consumption patterns.”

Others including members of the United Nation’s climate science panel have called on people to eat less meat to cut down on the rate at which the earth is warming. Just like taxes on sugar, fat and soda, a tax on meat is a measure meant to get humans to, like it or not, change their ways.

“Because the Earth’s climate may be near a tipping point to major climate change, multiple approaches are needed for mitigation,” says William Ripple, a study author and a professor in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry.

Such a tax, if anyone ever did propose it, would likely cause a huge outcry. You can already hear multinational hamburger and chicken wing purveyors complaining that a meat tax would unfairly penalize them and consumers, as they’d have to charge higher prices.

While a more short-lived greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, methane is about 30 times more potent in heating up the Earth. Livestock account for 14.5 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle-raising alone contributes 65 percent of the livestock sector’s greenhouse gas emissions. They could be cut by 30 percent if farmers used improved techniques in feeding (such as better quality feed), health, husbandry and manure management.

The number of livestock need to be reduced not only to cut methane emissions but also to cut CO2 emissions. The latter have been in part on the rise as more and more forests have been cut down to clear land for cattle to graze on.

The livestock sector supports thousands of people worldwide and proposals for a meat tax and for reducing the number of cattle are not going to be welcome. Nick Allen of Eblex, which represents beef and lamb producers in England, calls a meat tax a “simplistic and blunt suggestion that will inevitably see a rise in consumer prices” and says that livestock have become the “easy scapegoat for emissions.”

It’s fair to say that Allen is correct on both points. But the fact is that the earth’s temperature is increasing at an accelerated rate. Meat consumption is up in many parts of the world including in the highly populated countries of China and India. It has declined very slightly in the United States as more people forego eating so much meat or even cut it out of  their diets entirely.

With greenhouse gas emissions from sheep and cattle 19 to 48 times greater than beans or grains per pound of food produced, something that sounds as outlandish as a tax on meat may actually be not only common sense but necessary if we are going to be serious about fighting climate change.

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Photo via Thinkstock

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253 comments

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6:16AM PDT on Oct 11, 2014

thanks for sharing

3:02PM PST on Feb 25, 2014

Joseph B states: "This is patently absurd - Only could a leftist wacko kook could come up with this!"

I disagree, as my politics are left of centre and I am an omnivore, so you can put that teabagger or republi-con thinking in the compost heap as not all progressives are vegan or vegetarian. Yes, there is such a thing as global warming but not everyone gets meat from a factory farm or will accept a tax being put onto meat by the Meat Temperance Union crowd who think that they can clone the entire world into either vegans or vegetarians.

Agreed, Joseph E F. They cannot impose their way of life onto the rest of the world and it is hubris for some to expect every single person on the planet to think as they do. Then, the endless churning out of article after article declaring the end to the consumption of the Demon Meat is not going to change people either. The world is too complex to suggest and impose uniform single-minded ideas. But, some keep trying to impose their unwanted agenda onto the rest of us because some will never accept that the world is a diverse and complicated place which does not attempt to fit us all into the same cookie cutter shapes.. Many of us already avoid factory farmed meat as it is and opt for organic.

12:11PM PST on Feb 4, 2014

@ Melania P. quote; I´d love to see that!!! ( a Meat tax) What about plastic?? We should, because we are killing the planet!!

Are you barefoot, or perhaps wear wooden clogs OR perhaps CROCS (chemical reaction on consumers skin) as your footwear statement Because last time I checked if you are not wearing a long-lasting durable leather shoe Or boot You are likely wearing a synthetic short-lived plastic wanna Be' which cannot be taken for shoe repair and rebuilding

Shoe Allergies - Walking - About.com

walking.about.com/b/2010/03/13/shoe-allergies.htm‎
by Wendy Bumgardner - in 780 Google+ circles
Mar 13, 2010 - "For weeks, whenever my feet got hot, the intense burning and itching ... rubber chemicals, and leather treatments used in shoes and insoles

Manmade chemicals rubber glues metallic dyes again causing health problems So when meat animals are slaughtered and all the value added products harvested to make consumables from organic natural self-sustaining reproducible animals Your options R all synthetic chemical petroleum based

You state: We should, because we are killing the planet!! Who are you an advocate for really???

6:44AM PST on Feb 4, 2014

While Ms Chew is a very bright person who wants to live an ethical life and to do the right thing as much as possible, I feel that she's really out of her depth on a lot of topics she tackles. Here is one such: http://www.care2.com/causes/a-meat-tax-is-the-smart-answer-to-cut-methane-emissions.html#comment-5884913

One cannot be all things for all people, and it is one's life experiences that validate what we learn as truth. Thus the longer we live, the more validations --or not! She appears to be under forty, and an urban dweller. If these are true, then it's hard for me to see where she'd have an opportunity to develop real-life understandings about agriculture, wildlife, and the infinite interactions between them that humans depend on for their survival.

If these matters were as simple as the formulaic 'answers' put up by various proponents of eco-politics, then we would have solved these problems as we went along. Instead, they've multiplied, which indicates that increasing the number of human actors is more likely to increase the nature and kind of problem faster than solutions can be devised.

Vegans cannot expect to enforce their lifestyle by decree any more than meat-eaters [I am one such] can expect to enforce theirs. Whether this comes as a tax or other state-enforced action only deepens the technocratic tendency to fascism inherent in all industrial systems. I doubt this is what people had in mind when they started out, but too often it comes to that.

11:43AM PST on Jan 10, 2014

I´d love to see that!!! What about plastic?? We should, because we are killing the planet!!

4:35AM PST on Jan 7, 2014

That's just what we need, more taxes! A lot of people can't afford to live now. Almost half on food stamps, that's taxing tax money. Yeah, makes sense...NOT.

6:59PM PST on Jan 4, 2014

Really? Let the government tax the hell out of us. We already pay tax on too many things, Clothing, gas for our cars, gas and electricity for our homes, the cars you drive, appliances for our homes, the food you feed your pets, the use of your telephones, the use of internet service, food you eat at a restaurant, and much more. They want to tax us to death and leave us with nothing to live on.
If they tax meat, what is next? Bread, milk, corn, potatoes, lettuce, carrots, flour, fruit etc?
I totally disagree with taxing meat.
This might not matter to the wealthy, but the average or low income families would suffer and might not survive!

7:14AM PST on Jan 2, 2014

Tracy G states: "I agree with taxing meat. Makes sense."

Really? Is this another 'make work' project for paper pushers at the IRS? They should be taxing large corporations far more than they do now instead of harassing people for the foods that they eat simply because you don't eat what someone else does.

7:00PM PST on Jan 1, 2014

I can't believe this- from the insane to out of this world!
I had heard vague rumors of concerns with cow flatulence and farting but now it is confirmed!
Just what fools do you think we are! COW FARTS! AW COME ON MAN!
This is patently absurd- Only could a leftist wacko kook could come up with this!
IF however those that want to regulate how you live no doubt will jump on this "tax em til they scream" mentality- Until they bend to how the global warming alarmists demand we live our lives according to the global warming Gospel-
FORCED COMPLIANCE!
I for one have had quite enough of coercion and direction from Washington and from Government in general-
This ridiculous flatulence crap is just what it is! Crap!
If you want to eat veggies, Go for it! I won't stop you or tax the hell outta you , Just don't ask me to join in any of this stuff and keep your taxation to yourselves!

5:53PM PST on Jan 1, 2014

A meat tax will just go to factory farms, or make factory farms lower their meat and increase the consumers who buy it, as well as driving people who buy organic meat away from organic meat towards factory farms. It will do more harm then good.

Shut down factory farms for good, decrease the price of organic meat and people will buy less, also make organic plants less in price as well.. Organic meat is more filling because it has more nutrition in it and less chemicals.

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