In yesterday’s Room For Debate blog of the NYT, Juliet Schor wrote:
Until now, most of the discourse on climate change has focused on how we heat buildings, power appliances and drive vehicles. These are all important, but the impacts of producing certain types of food are more damaging than most people realize.
According to R. K. Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007, livestock production accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. The animals are fed large amounts of grain, which is energy-intensive to produce, and they emit methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas which stays in the atmosphere far longer than CO2.
Rosamond Naylor, a researcher at Stanford, estimates that U.S. meat production is especially grain intensive, requiring 10 times the grain required to produce an equivalent amount of calories than grain. Livestock production, which now covers 30 percent of the world’s non-ice surface area, is also highly damaging to soil and water resources.
Compared to producing vegetables or rice, beef uses 16 times as much energy and produces 25 times the CO2. A study on U.S. consumption from the University of Chicago estimates that if the average American were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, that would be the equivalent of switching from driving a Camry to a Prius.
Americans currently rank second in world in meat consumption, weighing in at 271 pounds a year, up from 196 pounds 40 years ago. And that doesn’t include dairy. We get an estimated 75 grams of protein a day from animals, and 110 grams total; the government recommends only 50 grams a day.
Many of the things that need to be done to correct our climate change problem are really out of the hands of ordinary individuals, but what you eat is something you do have complete control over. Reducing your meat intake by 20% is a modest goal, and there are a variety of ways of going about doing it. If you cannot conceive of being satisfied by a meal without any meat at all, you can keep including meat in all your meals, but reduce the quantity. Eight-tenths of a pound of ground beef instead of a pound will not change the taste of the dishes you are accustomed to. Make up the difference in quantity by adding more of whatever vegetables and/or grains are in the recipe. If you are more adventurous in the kitchen, start trying new recipes for meatless meals. Books such as Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian, or The New Becoming Vegetarian: The Essential Guide To A Healthy Vegetarian Diet by Vesanto Melina and Brenda Davis will help you get started.
Reducing your meat consumption doesn’t just help the planet, it helps your health and your finances too. Try it, you’ll like it!