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10 shocking statistics on meat and global warming.

1. If every American (300 million) gave up meat for 1 day a week, this would have the same positive effect on reducing greenhouse gases as saving 90 million plane tickets from New York to Los Angeles! (source:  Meat the Truth documentary, see video clip) [1]

2. If every American gave up meat for 2 days of the week, this would have the same effect as replacing all household appliances like fridges, freezers, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and so on and so forth, by energy efficient ones. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

3. If all Americans gave up meat for 3 days a week, they would save almost 300 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This would have a greater impact on reducing global warming than if all cars in the US were replaced with Toyota Priuses. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

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4. Livestock production produces more greenhouse gases (18%) than all forms of transportation (cars + airplanes) combined.  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

5. 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. (source:  Eshel, University of Chicago)

6. $20 trillion would be saved from the cost of fighting climate change if the global population shifted to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week. (source:  Stehfest, Climatic Change)

7. Beef production generates more than 13 times the total greenhouse gases from producing chicken. (source:  Fiala, Ecological Economics, picture)

Chicken Close Up

8. Animals raised for food produce 1.4 billion metric tons of manure, which is 130 times more excrement than the entire human population put together, for a total of 87,000 pounds per second.

This contributes to livestock’s total gas emissions which include 37% of all methane (20 times more powerful than CO2) and 65% of all nitrous oxide (296 times). (source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

9. 70 – 80% of deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is occupied by farmers who use the land for livestock feed and grazing.   The rainforests are a natural defense against global warming, by converting CO2 into oxygen.  Brazil is the world’s 4th largest climate polluter, as 75% of greenhouse gas emissions are from deforestation  (source:  Mato Grosso, Greenpeace Brazil, video).

10. The impact of livestock on global warming is rapidly increasing. Annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 2000 to 465 million tons in 2050  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization).

* The calculations used in the documentary “Meat the Truth” derive from and have been validated by many sources including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN FAO and the World Watch Institute.  It was produced under the consultation of many scientific institutions, which can be viewed on its website:  http://www.meatthetruth.nl/en/about-the-film/meat-the-truth-sources/

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Eating Less Meat to Save the Planet:  Why is Meat-Eating Left Off the Table in Environmental Discussions? (mp3) – Your Call Radio KALW 91.7  San Francisco

I recommend listening to this really interesting discussion between panelists and callers.  I promise this isn’t just a presentation of all the facts about how the production of meat releases greenhouse gases.  The guests actually analyze why meat is a difficult topic to address.  It’s also about how to persuade people to make the choice to eat less meat, through empathy and understanding.

What I learned: It can be difficult to understand why meat is responsible for so much greenhouse gases. It’s easy to understand the carbon footprint of a car or airplane, because you can visualize it.  It’s not the same for meat.  You don’t see the resources put into creating cattle feed, the land cleared for rainforests, the energy it takes to slaughter, the methane emitted from the cows and manure, etc.

Also, I got the impression that some people feel threatened by those who raise the subject of the environmental impact of meat because it suggests everyone should be a vegetarian or vegan.  Fair enough.  Perhaps this is a subject that must be handled more carefully.  In my opinion, talking to someone about the environmental significance of eating less meat should be like talking to someone about why a SUV is not climate friendly.  I would rather encourage many people to eat less meat, rather than possibly alienate some people in order to push vegetarianism.  At the same time, I think it’d be wise to provide resources on how to be a vegetarian or vegan, should one choose.

Interesting point from Linda:  Lets focus not just on why we shouldn’t eat meat, but why we DO eat meat.

Guests

  • Melanie Joy, UMASS, Author of Strategic Action for Animals
  • Linda Riebel, Save Nature, Author of Eating to Save the Earth
  • Chris Jones, Staff Researcher at Berkeley Institute for the Environment, Leader Developer for Cool Climate Calculator

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(2/6/09 – NY Times) Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in its Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR), stated that it might tax cows in an effort to curb methane and other greenhouse gasesIt has since backed down from any greenhouse gas regulation on the livestock industry.

Under the proposal, if a state charged the “presumptive minimum rate” from the EPA, the cow tax would be $175 per dairy cow, $87.50 per head for beef cattle and a little more than $20 per pig,” said American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Regulatory Relations Rick Krause.

This could have limited the number of cows which farms have, raised the price on meat and dairy products, or put weaker farms out of business.

Perhaps this wasn’t the perfect proposal, but I would’ve liked to see something, anything done to limit the impact of greenhouse gases from livestock.  While it doesn’t make me glad to see farms struggling or put out of business, it’s like seeing a hummer dealership fail.   Businesses or farms will need to adapt.

If the government wants people to believe that global warming is as serious of an issue as scientists are telling us, no sector of the economy should be immune to reform and regulation.

Here are some interesting comments from the Times blog post:

Sigh…the ranchers don’t have to do anything?

At least we should make them fund the research into better feed to reduce the methane. I have still yet to hear if grass fed beef emits less methane.

Mark,  Dallas

It is such a joke. The cattle industry is so subsidized, and they complain about a little tax. A low quality slab of steak would cost about $100 if the government didn’t subsidize the industry. But of course, healthier foods like vegetables recieve very little subsidy (yea, corn does, and too much, but most other vegetables do not).

— 0megapart!cle

Most serious people that are informed about climate change would acknowledge that cows in our agriculture chain do account for a disproportionate amount of emissions. But before we go for a tax, maybe we should just rein in the vast subsidies that the industry now enjoys in the form of grain subsidies, land usage subsidies, etc. This would also of course greatly benefit public health and the accompanying public health expenditures if people ate more spinach and less subsidized beef.

— akb
Well, something must be done. Perhaps a meat tax rather than a cow tax would be better. NYTimes yesterday noted that carbon emissions were down due to decreased consumer spending, in turn due to economic downturn.
— Rr Salamander

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