NYT Article “Trying to Connect the Dinner Plate to Climate Change”

Just wanted to take a moment to point out this article in the New York Times, which discusses animal rights groups making the most of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s report from last November that found that raising animals for meat contributes more to global warming than does transportation.  The report, "Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options," can be found via that link, along with a story summarizing it. 

The ecology of a plant-based diet has long been my major reason for eating herbivorously.  I think the report speaks for itself so I don’t have a lot of editorializing to do here – I’ll just say this: the great thing is that all our choices – whether they are absolutes, like being a vegetarian, being part of a compact or a non-car owner – or matters of degree, like the decision to choose meatless meals more frequently, buy less stuff, or ride a bike more often – make an impact. 


5 thoughts on “NYT Article “Trying to Connect the Dinner Plate to Climate Change”

  1. It’s a good question, Emily – one that popped up in my mind too reading the article, and comments about that were popping up on a blog post Marion Nestle had put on her blog about this article.
    What I noted from the UN article was that livestock production creates 65% of human-produced nitrous oxide, which has a larger impact on warming than CO2, and that that mostly comes from manure. Unless there would be a significant difference in manure’s potential for nitrous oxide in pasture-fed animals (and that I don’t know), it seemed that the number of animals, however fed, was a big part of the problem.
    Increasing prosperity is not a problem, but it does generally lead to more meat consumption, and more meat production has lead to more deforestation in the past, exacerbating the warming potential. The UN projections indicate that’s only expected that to increase.
    Reducing demand somewhere – whether for factory-farmed animals that require significant crop (and therefore water and energy) inputs, pastured animals that are going to be grazed on newly cleared land, or pastured animals on otherwise unarable land that no matter how ecologically grown are going to contribute with manure (or other outputs that haven’t occurred to me) – seems like a major thing that can be done in the meantime as other potential remedies are put in place (because people are going to continue to eat animals, no matter how much I’d prefer that they not). Does that seem too hopelessly Pollyannaish?
    I don’t think eating less (or no) meat is the only thing we should do. I think we should think seriously (and then take action) about all our forms of consumption and why we hold the values we do, and reject the Buy More Because It’s More way of thinking. I think we should be informed; read these sorts of articles with a critical eye, and be looking to ask just the sorts of questions you’re asking, in order to get at what we can do that will be best for us and the future of life on the planet.

  2. A thought on manure and nitrous oxide: if there’s the same quantity of manure, the same quantity of nitrous oxide is being created. However, individual cow pats in a field are much more likely to be broken down and “sequestered” than cow pats that are washed into a lagoon, which has a whole different decomposition process. What I’m not sure of is how much of a difference that makes.
    Pastured meat is more expensive, though, which in itself helps reduce meat consumption.
    Another question – have you heard the statistic that producing a pound of cheese has as much impact as producing a pound of meat? I’ve been trying to track that datum down for a while…

  3. That’s just how I was thinking of it – that I didn’t know if the waste product would be different based on the animal’s diet. It makes sense to me that it might be, since they’re meant to eat grass and not so much grain. You’re right about the manure potentially being spread out over a larger area and in far lower concentration than in a lagoon. Somebody oughta study all that cow poop to figure out the difference.
    I hadn’t heard that statistic about cheese. If you manage to track it down, please do let me know where you find it – I’d be interested in knowing the background. I can think of at least one impact that cheese doesn’t have (at least not immediately) that meat does – the energy and resources used in slaughtering and processing the animal.
    I was going to say “the impact of a bolt through the animal’s skull” but I thought that was a little too strident. But I just said it, didn’t I? 🙂

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