Saturday, January 06, 2007

Noam Mohr on meat-eating and the environment

The global costs of a meat diet
The Green Times (Penn Environmental Group), Spring 1997
If you care about the environment, you had better be a vegetarian. Why? Because meat consumption is one of the primary causes of environmental devastation, including the misuse of natural resources, the polluting of water and air, and the destruction of rainforests. All this comes in addition to the immense cruelty to animals and the contribution to the world hunger problem caused by the modern meat industry. In short, a carnivorous environmentalist is a hypocrite. Strong words? take a look at meat industry and judge for yourself.

Modern meat production is both wasteful and destructive. Each pound of steak from feedlot-raised steers that you eat comes at the cost of 5 pounds of grain, 2,500 gallons of water, the energy equivalent of a gallon of gasoline, and about twenty-five pounds of eroded topsoil. Indeed, over a third of the North American continent is devoted to grazing, and over a half of this country's cropland is dedicated to growing feed for livestock. What is more, the livestock industry consumes over half of the water used in the US.

In every one of these ways, as discussed below, a vegetarian diet exerts less strain on our resources that does a carnivorous one. ...

Meat production around the globe not only wastes the water it uses, it also pollutes the water it does not use. ...

Perhaps the most devastating environmental impact of America's appetite for meat is deforestation. The primary reason for the destruction of rainforests in countries like Costa Rica, Colombia, Brazil, Malaysia, Thailand, and Indonesia, is to provide grazing land for cattle, virtually all of which goes not to the poor in these third world nations, but rather is exported to wealthy countries like the United States. ...

Meat production is not only damaging to the environment, but in more immediate ways to the global human population as well. Land that could be used to grow food to feed hungry people is instead used to grow food for the animals we eat.

How environmentalists are overlooking vegetarianism as the most effective tool against climate change in our lifetimes
The McDougall Newsletter, December 2006
Summary: Global warming poses one of the most serious threats to the global environment ever faced in human history. Yet by focusing entirely on carbon dioxide emissions, major environmental organizations have failed to account for published data showing that other gases are the main culprits behind the global warming we see today. As a result, they are neglecting what might be the most effective strategy for reducing global warming in our lifetimes: advocating a vegetarian diet. ...

By far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture ["Global Warming Potentials," National Emissions, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency].

Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together [Hansen, James E. and Makiko Sato, "Trends of measured climate forcing agents," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 98, no. 26, 18 Dec. 2001, p. 14778-14783]. Methane is 23 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2 ["Global Warming Potentials"]. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled ["Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2002," Chapter 1, Energy Information Administration, U.S. Department of Energy, October 2003]. Whereas human sources of CO2 amount to just 3% of natural emissions, human sources produce one and a half times as much methane as all natural sources ["Emissions of Greenhouse Gases in the United States 2002"]. In fact, the effect of our methane emissions may be compounded as methane-induced warming in turn stimulates microbial decay of organic matter in wetlands—the primary natural source of methane [Hansen, James E. et al., "Global warming in the twenty-first century: An alternative scenario," Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, vol. 97, no. 18, 29 Aug. 2000, p. 9876].

... [U]nlike carbon dioxide which can remain in the air for more than a century, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just eight years, so that lower methane emissions quickly translate to cooling of the earth. ...

Moreover, the same factory farms responsible for these methane emissions also use up most of the country's water supply, and denude most of its wilderness for rangeland and growing feed. Creating rangeland to feed western nations' growing appetite for meat has been a major source of deforestation and desertification in third world countries. Factory farm waste lagoons are a leading source of water pollution in the U.S. Indeed, because of animal agriculture's high demand for fossil fuels, the average American diet is far more CO2-polluting than a plant-based one [Pimentel, David and Marcia Pimentel, "Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment", American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, col. 78, no. 3, September 2003, p. 660S-663S; Tidwell, Mike, "Food and the Climate Crisis: What You Eat Affects the Sky," Sierra Club Redwood Chapter Newsletter, Dec./Jan. 2005].
Click here to see a graph showing the greenhouse effects of various diets.

tags: environment, environmentalism, ecoanarchism, animal rights, vegetarianism