Does Your Diet Cause Climate Change?
A recent Canwest News Service report equated hamburgers to hummers when it comes to causing climate change. The report advised readers that switching from steak to salad could cut as much carbon as leaving your car at home a couple days a week.
We tend to blame planes, trains, and automobiles, big corporations, extravagant homes, and other energy-intensive sources for global warming, but our everyday food choices play a major role in climate change as well. Beef is the biggest culprit, according to Nathan Pelletier, a scientist at Dalhousie University in Canada. It’s an extremely inefficient food to produce and cows release harmful methane into the atmosphere. Since global meat consumption is projected to double by 2050, Pelletier says we’re going to have to cut our emissions in half just to maintain the current levels. “Technical improvements are not going to get us there,” he warns.
Chris Weber, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Pennsylvania’s Carnegie Mellon University, agrees that it’s vital for people change the way they eat. “Switching to no red meat and no dairy products is the equivalent of (cutting out) 8,100 miles driven in a car … that gets 25 miles to the gallon,” he says. Buying local meat will not have nearly the same effect, because only five percent of food-related emissions come from transportation. Even if you only stop eating meat and dairy just one day a week, you’d have more of an impact than buying local meat every day of the year.
Beef may be the big bad guy when it comes to climate change, but if you care about the planet, don’t think you’re free and clear to eat at KFC. As I pointed out in my previous post, “California’s Climate Change is Good, But Going Vegetarian is Better,” the entire livestock sector has a harmful affect on the environment–not to mention animals. The chicken industry has repeatedly run afoul of environmental organizations for everything from climate change to water pollution to land denigration and more. The group Environmental Defense estimates, “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains … the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.”
Greenpeace has criticized KFC and other companies that sell chicken for growing feed in the Amazon. More than 2.9 million acres of Amazon rainforest were destroyed in the 2004-2005 crop season in order to grow food for chickens and other farmed animals. It takes about 4.5 pounds of grain to make a pound of chicken meat. Clearing forestland to produce feed crops contributes to climate change since the trees that are cut down no longer sequester carbon. They are burned or decompose, which creates the damaging greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
If you want to help combat climate change, by all means, please stop eating beef and dairy products. But if you’re serious about saving the environment–and showing compassion and respect for all or the Earth’s inhabitants–leave all animal products off your plate. See www.TryVeg.com for vegetarian recipes and information on sustainable eating.