FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Diet for a Warming Planet

by

I read two different studies this week that are connected but were not related in the media.

The first is record warmth across the country. Denver recorded 80 degrees in mid-November. And 29 states had the warmest December ever recorded. Instead of a white Christmas, it was 70 degrees on Christmas Eve in Vermont!

Such freakish weather might be written off as the normal variation, except that an analysis by NOAA found the last five years were the warmest recorded in the past 122 years.

With the Arctic sea ice melting and glaciers disappearing, along with record high temperatures across the planet, it is getting increasingly difficult to deny that the planet is heating up.

The second paper I read explains part of the reason. Research by Boone Kauffman and colleagues, at Oregon State University and the Center for International Forestry Research, provides part of the answer.

Kauffman and his associates set out to calculate how much CO2 was released when native tropical vegetation was removed to facilitate shrimp and beef production.

But they went further than other researchers to put the answer into something that every person could easily understand.

What they found is that eating one meal of steak and shrimp cocktail releases as much CO2 into the atmosphere as driving a fuel-efficient car from New York to Los Angeles!

The seven-year study looked at the ecological, as well as climatic cost, of conversion of mangroves into shrimp farms and cattle pastures. Conversion of native vegetation to agricultural uses resulted in a land-use carbon footprint of 1,440 pounds of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere to produce every pound of beef, and 1,603 pounds of released carbon dioxide for every pound of shrimp.

Kauffman and his colleagues developed a measure of land-use carbon footprint. First, they measured the amount of carbon in intact mangroves. Then they calculated the GHG emissions that result when these mangrove forests are converted to shrimp farms or cattle pasture. Though only occupying 0.6% of the Earth’s tropical forest, the continued removal of these trees accounts for 12% of all carbon emissions resulting from tropical vegetation conversion.

Finally, they measured the amount of shrimp or beef produced from this conversion over the life of the operation to arrive at the land-use carbon footprint.

Though some might suggest the findings do not apply to other ecosystems, the fact is that any number of studies have shown that livestock production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization found that livestock accounted for 14.5 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, more GHG emissions than all the world’s transportation combined.

A World Watch Study that included more associated impacts from animal agriculture estimated that as much as 51% of the GHG emissions resulted from livestock production, primarily beef, and dairy cows, though chickens and pigs were also included in their analysis.

What these studies suggest is consuming beef and dairy products is one of the worse things any individual can do in terms of its global warming effects. And unlike other necessary, but more difficult to implement reductions of our society CO2 emissions through structural changes like better insulation of buildings, fewer cars, and ultimately population reduction, the one thing that most of us can easily do for the planet is reduce our consumption of meat and dairy.

Of course, there are other good reasons to reduce meat and dairy as well. When forests and native grasslands are converted to pasture and/or crops like soybean or corn to feed domestic livestock the loss of wildlife habitat is huge, and it is now a major factor driving many species extinct.

And there are good health reasons to eat less red meat and dairy which have been implicated in many diseases from cancer to heart disease.

All in all, the connection between diet and a warming planet are clear. If one is concerned about the long-term impacts of global warming, the most immediate and easiest change in behavior that all of us can implement immediately is change our diet.

More articles by:

George Wuerthner has published 36 books including Wildfire: A Century of Failed Forest Policy. He serves on the board of the Western Watersheds Project.

January 23, 2018
Carl Boggs
Doomsday Panic in Hawaii
Mark Ashwill
If I Were US Ambassador to Vietnam…
Jack Rasmus
US Government Shutdown: Democrats Blink…Again
Nick Pemberton
The Inherent Whiteness of “Our Revolution”
Leeann Hall
Trump’s Gift for the Unemployed: Kicking Them Off Health Care
Dean Baker
Lessons in Economics For the NYT’s Bret Stephens: Apple and Donald Trump’s Big Tax Cut
Mitchell Zimmerman
Law, Order and the Dreamers
Ken Hannaford-Ricardi
The Kids the World Forgot
Dave Lindorff
South Korea Slips Off the US Leash
Ali Mohsin
Extrajudicial Murder of Pashtun Exposes State Brutality in Pakistan
Jessicah Pierre
Oprah is No Savior
John Carroll Md
Keeping Haiti in Perspective
Amir Khafagy
Marching Into the Arms of the Democrats
January 22, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
It’s Time to Call Economic Sanctions What They Are: War Crimes
Jim Kavanagh
Behind the Money Curtain: A Left Take on Taxes, Spending and Modern Monetary Theory
Sheldon Richman
Trump Versus the World
Mark Schuller
One Year On, Reflecting and Refining Tactics to Take Our Country Back
Winslow Wheeler
Just What Earmark “Moratorium” are They Talking About?
W. T. Whitney
José Martí, Soul of the Cuban Revolution
Uri Avnery
May Your Home Be Destroyed          
Wim Laven
Year One Report Card: Donald Trump Failing
Jill Richardson
There Are No Shithole Countries
Bob Fitrakis - Harvey Wasserman
Are the Supremes About to Give Trump a Second Term?
Laura Finley
After #MeToo and #TimesUp
Howard Lisnoff
Impressions From the Women’s March
Andy Thayer
HuffPost: “We Really LOVED Your Contributions, Now FUCK OFF!”
Weekend Edition
January 19, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Dr. King’s Long Assassination
David Roediger
A House is Not a Hole: (Not) Caring about What Trump Says
George Burchett
How the CIA Tried to Bribe Wilfred Burchett
Mike Whitney
Trump’s Plan B for Syria: Occupation and Intimidation
Michael Hudson – Charles Goodhart
Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations be Reintroduced Today?
Marshall Auerback – Franklin C. Spinney
Boss Tweet’s Generals Already Run the Show
Andrew Levine
Remember, Democrats are Awful Too
James Bovard
Why Ruby Ridge Still Matters
Wilfred Burchett
The Bug Offensive
Brian Cloughley
Now Trump Menaces Pakistan
Ron Jacobs
Whiteness and Working Folks
Jeffrey St. Clair
The Keeper of Crazy Beats: Charlie Haden and Music as a Force of Liberation
Robert Fantina
Palestine and Israeli Recognition
Jan Oberg
The New US Syria “Strategy”, a Recipe For Continued Disaster
ADRIAN KUZMINSKI
The Return of the Repressed
Mel Gurtov
Dubious Partnership: The US and Saudi Arabia
Robert Fisk
The Next Kurdish War Looms on the Horizon
Lawrence Davidson
Contextualizing Sexual Harassment
Jeff Berg
Approaching Day Zero
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail