Another Inconvenient Truth: Meat is a Global Warming Issue


Richard Moore

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Another Inconvenient Truth: Meat is a Global Warming Issue
By Dan Brook

Al Gore¹s movie (and book), An Inconvenient Truth, is playing to rave reviews. 
His laudable project is an urgent message on the vital issue of global warming. 
We all must heed the call.

If we didn¹t realize it already, we now know that we are overheating our planet 
to alarming levels with potentially catastrophic consequences. 2005 was the 
hottest year on record. Think of an overheated car; now imagine that on a 
planetary scale.

Organizations from Greenpeace to the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Bank 
and the Pentagon, all agree that global warming is, perhaps, the most serious 
threat to our imperiled planet. The Pentagon report, for example, states that 
climate change in the form of global warming ³should be elevated beyond a 
scientific debate to a U.S. national security concern,² higher even than 

The effects of global warming are not hypothetical: waves are already washing 
over islands in the South Pacific, coastal cities and low-lying countries face 
severe flooding, extreme weather conditions like hurricanes are intensifying, 
the polar ice caps and the world¹s glaciers are melting, polar bears and other 
species are threatened with extinction, diseases are spreading more easily, crop
failures are mounting. We are standing at a precipice.

There are many human activities that contribute to global warming. Among the 
biggest contributors are electrical generation, the use of passenger and other 
vehicles, over-consumption, international shipping, deforestation, smoking and 
militarism. (The U.S. military, for example, is the world¹s biggest consumer of 
oil and the world¹s biggest polluter.)

What many people do not know, however, is that the production of meat also 
significantly increases global warming. Cow farms produce millions of tons of 
carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane per year, the two major greenhouse gases that 
together account for more than 90 percent of U.S. greenhouse emissions, 
substantially contributing to ³global scorching.²

According to the United Nations Environment Programme¹s Unit on Climate Change, 
³There is a strong link between human diet and methane emissions from 
livestock.² The 2004 State of the World is more specific regarding the link 
between animals raised for meat and global warming: ³Belching, flatulent 
livestock emit 16 percent of the world¹s annual production of methane, a 
powerful greenhouse gas.²

The July 2005 issue of Physics World states: ³The animals we eat emit 21 percent
of all the CO2 that can be attributed to human activity.² Eating meat directly 
contributes to this environmentally irresponsible industry and the dire threat 
of global warming.

Additionally, rainforests are being cut down at an extremely rapid rate to both 
pasture cows and grow soybeans to feed cows. The clear-cutting of trees in the 
rainforest ‹ an incredibly bio-diverse area with 90 percent of all species on 
Earth ‹ not only creates more greenhouse gases through the process of 
destruction, but also reduces the amazing benefits that those trees provide. 
Rainforests have been called the ³lungs of the Earth,² because they filter our 
air by absorbing CO2, while emitting life-supporting oxygen.

³In a nutshell,² according to the Center for International Forestry Research, 
³cattle ranchers are making mincemeat out of Brazil¹s Amazon rainforests.²

Of course, the U.S. should join the other 163 countries in ratifying the Kyoto 
Protocol. Of course, we should sharply reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and 
shift towards renewable sources of energy. Of course, we need to stop destroying
the rainforests. Of course, we need to stop the war in Iraq and drastically 
reduce the U.S. military budget (presently at half of the entire world¹s total 
military spending), which would increase, not decrease, national and global 
security. But as we¹re struggling and waiting for these and other structural 
changes, we need to make personal changes.

Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago 
concluded that changing one¹s eating habits from the Standard American Diet 
(SAD) to a vegetarian diet does more to fight global warming than switching from
a gas-guzzling SUV to a fuel-efficient hybrid car. Of course, you can do both ‹ 
and more! It has been said that ³where the environment is concerned, eating meat
is like driving a huge SUV.... Eating a vegetarian diet is like driving a 
mid-sized car [or a reasonable sedan, according to Eshel]. And eating a vegan 
diet (no dairy, no eggs) is like riding a bicycle or walking. Shifting away from
SUVs and SUV-style diets, to much more energy-efficient alternatives, is key to 
fighting the warming trend.

Global warming is already having grave effects on our planet and we need to take
action. Vegetarians help keep the planet cool in more ways than one! Paul 
McCartney says, ³If anyone wants to save the planet, all they have to do is just
stop eating meat. That¹s the single most important thing you could do.² Andrea 
Gordon, in her article ³If You Recycle, Why Are You Eating Meat?² agrees: ³There
is a direct relationship between eating meat and the environment. E Magazine 
asked the same question in its cover story, ³So You¹re an Environmentalist. Why 
Are You Still Eating Meat?² Quite simply, you can¹t be a meat-eating 
environmentalist. Sorry folks.²

Vegetarianism is literally about life and death ‹ for each of us individually 
and for all of us together. Eating animals simultaneously contributes to a 
multitude of tragedies: the animals¹ suffering and death; the ill-health and 
early death of people; the unsustainable overuse of oil, water, land, topsoil, 
grain, labor and other vital resources; environmental destruction, including 
deforestation, species extinction, mono-cropping and global warming; the 
legitimacy of force and violence; the mis-allocation of capital, skills, land 
and other assets; vast inefficiencies in the economy; tremendous waste; massive 
inequalities in the world; the continuation of world hunger and mass starvation;
the transmission and spread of dangerous diseases; and moral failure in 
so-called civilized societies. Vegetarianism is an antidote to all of these 
unnecessary tragedies.

The editors of World Watch concluded in the July/August 2004 edition that ³the 
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 destabilization of communities 
and the spread of disease.² Lee Hall, the legal director for Friends of Animals,
is more succinct: ³Behind virtually every great environmental complaint there¹s 
milk and meat.²

Global warming may be the most serious global social problem threatening life on
Earth. We need to fight global warming on the governmental and corporate levels,
and we also need to fight global warming on the everyday and personal levels. We
need to fight global warming with our forks! In the enduring and powerful words 
of Mahatma Gandhi, ³You must be the change you wish to see in this world.²

Global warming, as Al Gore so powerfully shows, is ³an inconvenient truth.² The 
fact that the production of meat significantly contributes to global warming is 
another inconvenient truth. Now we know.

DAN BROOK is a writer, activist and instructor of sociology at San Jose State 
University and author of Modern Revolution (University Press of America, 2005). 
He welcomes comments via •••@••.•••.

Eco-Eating: Eating as if the Earth Matters

E Magazine: So You¹re an Environmentalist. Why Are You Still Eating Meat?

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