Vegging Out (Part 1)
A couple of years ago when I saw “An Inconvenient Truth,” I remember being a little disappointed at the end. I wanted the movie to tell me what I could do to help “fix” the global warming crisis. Thankfully, what the book and movie did accomplish was to strengthen the national and global conversations on global warming, and to spur advocacy campaigns on combating the crisis. Now you can hardly open any newspaper without coming across some article on how to live more sustainably.
Largely the conversation focuses on how to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, by doing things like driving less, switching to hybrid vehicles, or riding your bike to work. But, increasingly the conversation is focusing on the 'other' greenhouse gasses that cause global warming. In fact, according to a report by Noam Mohr for Earthsave International, "sources of non-CO2 greenhouse gases are responsible for virtually all the global warming we’re seeing, and all the global warming we are going to see for the next fifty years. If we wish to curb global warming over the coming half century, we must look at strategies to address non-CO2 emissions. The strategy with the most impact is vegetarianism...By far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture. "
A recent New York Times article, “Re-thinking the Meat Guzzler,” does a really nice job of outlining many of the ways in which industrialized meat production harms the planet, including the fact that, “assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.”
A few facts:
--an estimated 30 percent of the earth’s ice-free land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production
--two to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption (as much as 10 times more in the case of grain-fed beef in the United States)
--80% of current soybean production is consumed by livestock
--producing 8 ounces of beef can require up to 25,000 liters of water
(check out the Worldwatch Institute's paper, "Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry" or the report from the United Nations, "Livestock's Long Shadow")
The move toward a "plant-based diet," otherwise known as vegetarianism, may sound radical, but even relatively minor reductions in meat consumption can make a difference. Part two will look at how to think about moving in this direction...