September 07, 2008

Help save the planet—become vegetarian!

©2008 all rights reserved

Here are some highlights from three articles found today by my husband. They concern the effects of eating habits on environmental issues. (I've provided links in case you'd like to read the original article without my edits. The emphases are mine.)
I've been thinking a lot about this lately as I listen to candidates speak to environmental issues without ever including dietary choices as one of those issues. In fact, my husband and I try do our part to follow the guidelines for cutting
energy use. As so many others do, we recycle, compost, grow a garden, have a rain garden, use compact fluorescent light bulbs, walk to work, use low-flow aerators, blah, blah, blah. But those who are vegetarian or vegan—even part of the time—are perhaps making the biggest contribution of all, and that should be acknowledged as part of the global warming conversation.

Sunday September 7 2008
The ObserverPeople should have one meat-free day a week if they want to make a personal and effective sacrifice that would help tackle climate change, the world’s leading authority on global warming has told The Observer.
Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which last year earned a joint share of the Nobel Peace Prize, said that people should then go on to reduce their meat consumption even further.
His comments are the most controversial advice yet provided by the panel on how individuals can help tackle global warning.
Pachauri, who was re-elected the panel’s chairman for a second six-year term last week, said diet change was important because of the huge greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental problems - including habitat destruction - associated with rearing cattle and other animals. It was relatively easy to change eating habits compared to changing means of transport, he said.
The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. These are generated during the production of animal feeds, for example, while ruminants, particularly cows, emit methane, which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide. The agency has also warned that meat consumption is set to double by the middle of the century.
‘In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,’ said Pachauri. ‘Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,’ said the Indian economist, who is a vegetarian.
However, he also stressed other changes in lifestyle would help to combat climate change. ‘That’s what I want to emphasise: we really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.’
A few statistics from The Guardian

  • 990 litres The amount of water that is required to produce one liter of milk.
  • 100kg The amount of methane emitted by the average cow every year. Methane is a greenhouse gas with an effect 23 times greater than carbon dioxide, so this is equal to 2,300 kgs per year, or almost the same as two return flights between London and New York, or driving 7,800 miles.
  • 1.5 billion The estimated number of cows and bulls worldwide. They produce two-thirds of the world's ammonia, which is the principal cause of acid rain.
  • 7lb The amount of grain it takes to produce just one pound of beef.
  • 36.4kg The amount of carbon dioxide emitted during the production of just 1kg of beef, according to a recent Japanese study. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to: 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grammes of phosphate. It consumes 169 megajoules of energy. In other words, one kilo of beef is responsible for the same amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, or the energy required to light a 100 watt bulb for 20 days.
  • 1kg The amount of carbon dioxide needed to produce one burger in a fast-food restaurant.
  • 456 million The amount, in tonnes, of global meat production forecast for 2050 - almost double that of 2001. Half of the world's pork is now eaten in China, while Brazil is the second largest consumer of beef, after the United States of America.
Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008

Is our taste for Sunday roast killing the planet?
A UN expert has blamed meat eaters for visiting environmental mayhem on the
world as the demand for beef drives deforestation, water scarcity, air pollution
and climate change. Science editor Robin McKie and Caroline Davies report
Robin McKie and Caroline Davies
Sunday September 7, 2008
The Observer
Your Sunday roast stands accused. According to the United Nation’s chief climate
expert, Rajendra Pachauri, that tasty piece of top rump resting on your dining table
is the source of many of the world’s environmental woes, in particular those
involved in the dangerous warming of the planet’s climate.

Our appetite for animal flesh is boosting fertilizer production, pollution and emission
of greenhouse gases to dangerous levels, Pachauri has told The Observer. Give up
meat - at least for one day a week - and we can help to save the Earth, he added.
Nor is Pachauri, the chairman of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change, alone in his complaints. A host of campaigners have united to condemn
meat-eaters for bringing environmental mayhem to the world. ‘The human appetite
for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of
environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion,
fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social
injustice, the destabilisation of communities and the spread of disease,’ the
Worldwatch Institute has warned.

The facts:
‘The average meat eater in the US produces about 1.5 ton of carbon dioxide more than a vegetarian every year. That’s because animals are hungry and the grain they eat takes energy, usually fossil fuels, to produce,’ he says.
The world’s fertilizer industry uses natural gas as a basic ingredient and therefore contributes to global warming when it uses fossil fuel to manufacture the extra fertilizers needed to ensure cattle and other animals have sufficient food. For example, it requires 2.2 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of plant protein, according to researchers at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. In turn, it takes even more plant protein to make animal protein. It requires four calories of plant protein to make one of chicken protein, while the ratio for pork is 17:1; for lamb, 50:1; and for beef, a staggering 54:1. ‘That is a lot of energy and a lot of grain diverted,’ adds Patel.
In fact, it is a massive amount of energy, the journal Physics World has noted. ‘The animals we eat emit 21 per cent of all the carbon dioxide that can be attributed to human activity,’ it states.
Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago have even calculated that changing eating habits to become a vegetarian does more to fight global warming than switching from a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car, such is the amount of Co2 generated in the production of beef, pork or lamb.
Nor is carbon dioxide the only issue. Apart from turning grain into flesh, livestock also transforms it into methane, as flatulence. And that has especially serious consequences, as the World Watch Institute stressed in 2004 in its report ‘State of the World’. ‘Belching, flatulent livestock emit 16 percent of the world’s annual production of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas,’ it noted.
According to scientists’ calculations, methane has a global warming potential that is 23 times that of carbon dioxide. This means that a gram of methane - produced from a cow’s rear-end - warms the planet’s atmosphere 23 times as much as a gram of CO2 produced, say, from a car engine. Thus the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation has concluded that nearly a fifth of all greenhouse-gas emissions come from livestock, more than from all forms of transport.
On top of these ecological headaches, there is the issue of rain forest clearance. Despite all efforts to halt their destruction, rain forests are still being cut down at an alarming rate. Every year, 32 million acres - an area the size of England - is destroyed or degraded. Some of this land is used to provide pasture for cows. Other areas are given over to fields for the growing of soy beans which are then used to feed cows.
Apart from the increased amounts of methane and carbon dioxide that are produced by this type of farming, the world loses out though loss of wildlife - 90 percent of all species on Earth live in rain forests - as well as through the destruction of trees which filter our air, emit oxygen and absorb carbon dioxide. Rain forests are the lungs of the Earth but we are choking them through our appetite for meat, say environmentalists.
Nor are there any signs of improvement. In 2006, farmers produced an estimated 276 million tonnes of chicken, pork, beef and other meat: four times as much as they did in 1961, according to the Worldwatch Institute. On average, each person on the planet now eats about 43kg of animal flesh. Nor is this trend getting any better. It is estimated that meat production is destined to double from its present level by the middle of the century.

Hence, Pachauri’s urging of the world to give up meat for at least one day a week. ‘In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,’ said Pachauri, an Indian economist and a vegetarian. ‘Give up meat for one day [a week] initially, and decrease it from there,’ he added.
It is a fairly forceful conclusion and it has triggered an equally robust response from those who believe the lifestyle of a carnivore is perfectly acceptable, both morally and environmentally.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited 2008
 illustration ©2008 all rights reserved


  1. Great sources--and very sobering facts! Wish my hubby sought out useful articles for me! ;)

  2. It just really bugs me that mention is not often made in the U.S. of the diet-environment connection. If it's mentioned at all it's usually in the form of "eat locally raised animals." But they're still "raised." They're still farting methane gas, etc. I looked at two U.S. papers today and didn't see any mention of Dr. Pachauri's comments.

    My husband didn't find those articles for me. He reads that stuff anyway. He was in Edinburgh all week and sent the articles from Amsterdam while waiting for his plane! He probably doesn't know I posted the stuff.

  3. This information is rarely included in the media's discussion of carbon emissions and climate change in general. I've passed these articles on to other teachers who teach units on global warming.

  4. Thanks for spreading the word!

  5. Thanks for the pep talk! I'm so glad someone can say it better than I can. I'm passing it on as well....

  6. There is no mention of the slaughtering of animals in this article and many articles either. What about the inhumane aspect of eating meat, eggs and drinking milk to satisfy our taste buds. Innocent animals are slaughtered everyday without anyone speaking up for them.

    1. No there isn't, and I agree with you that animal welfare is the best and foremost reason to be vegan. I also believe there are many paths to the same goal and not everyone follows the same one. If we can encourage people to follow their beliefs and choose a more humane way of eating because they think it benefits the environment, then perhaps we can continue to encourage them to adopt a more humane attitude towards animals.

      When I posted this in 2008, I was fed up with environmentalists telling me to add a brick to my toilet tank, and ignoring the impact that a animal-based diet has on the environment. Making them acknowledge the link, is the first step. People make changes in their diets for all sorts of reasons, why not for the environment, if that's their passion. You have to take people from where they are and help them to move towards another way of seeing.

      I appreciate activists who hit people over the head with "the facts" as well as those who choose a gentler method. I want everyone to be vegan, and I think it takes many different approaches to make that happen.


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