These cows are cute, but they're destroying our planet.
You probably remember the United Nations report that came out in 2006 called Livestock's Long Shadow, which estimated that the greenhouse gases produced by livestock was equal to 18 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. It made a big splash in environmental circles, convincing a lot of people there was no way to eliminate growth of GHG (greenhouse gas) without taking a good long look at the way we eat.
Well, now there's another study that takes into account more factors than the original report, and it concludes that instead of 18 percent, livestock contributes 51 percent of worldwide GHG emissions, more than double the amount estimated by the troubling report of 2006.
So that pretty much seals the deal. We should all give up meat and switch to fish, right?
Not so fast. It turns out our oceans are just one big Ponzi scheme, according to this well-researched article, Aquacalypse Now by Daniel Pauly, a professor of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia. Stocks are being depleted far, far faster than the fishing-industrial complex has been willing to admit. New technologies, like GPS fish finders, are giving fishing fleets the edge over fish, and stocks are unable to keep up, especially since government regulations haven't been tightened to reflect the depleted state of the world's fisheries. For some fish, the stock has been reduced by 90 percent. And one study estimates that all commercial fish stocks will have collapsed by 2048.
But farmed fish is okay, right?
Wrong. Most farm fish is carnivorous fish, meaning they eat smaller fish, harvested from—you guessed it—the sea. It takes 3 or 4 pounds of ground herring, mackerel and sardines to create one pound of farmed salmon. That's not very efficient, and not sustainable either.
There is some good news. It turns out that methane, which is 25 times as strong a greenhouse gas as CO2, has a much shorter half life—eight years instead of over 100. And we all know what cows emit when they burp and fart—methane. It's a serious issue, but due to the relatively short half life of methane, eliminating livestock from our diets means very quickly eliminating their potent emissions from the atmosphere—unlike eliminating cars, whose past emissions of CO2 will be around a long, long time. (That doesn't mean, of course, that we shouldn't eliminate as many sources of CO2 as we can, including cars and coal plants.) There's another enormous benefit from eliminating grazing animals, too: reforestation of land used for grazing and growing feed will potentially mitigate as much as half of all GHGs, since trees gobble up CO2 in photosynthesis.
Until we have the ability to generate heat and electricity and fuel using renewable sources that don't emit GHG, the single best thing we can do to postpone global warming is to give up meat and its equally unsustainable cousin, fish.
That also means giving up animal products like dairy, as well, since dairy cows emit methane and consume feed grown on deforested land. (Even breathing, which all living creatures need to do, emits CO2, but the larger the animal, the more respiration it requires—a huge contributory factor when you're estimating the emissions of 2 billion cows.)
But most people, despite the evidence of livestock's damage to the earth, still balk at giving up meat.
I try to imagine how I would feel if, say, someone told me that eating sweets contributes massively to global warming. I love dessert the way some people love bacon. Chocolate, in any form, is one of life's sweetest pleasures. I'd have a hard time giving it up. But I am living proof that giving up meat doesn't mean the end of all gustatory pleasure. There are plenty of meat substitutes, and more coming out every day. Even without meat analogs, there is plenty to fill my plate, or as is often the case, my bowl.
The purpose of this blog, in fact, has been to prove to people that I'm not deprived. By showing readers my meals and passing along recipes, I hope to demonstrate that a diet with no meat, dairy or eggs is not a diet of deprivation. Far from it. (And if my meals don't do the trick, try checking out the many, many vegan blogs and cookbooks. This one, for instance, is particularly un-deprived.)
Give up meat for a week. Tell people you're doing it for the planet, so they don't make fun of you. (The fear of ridicule was one of the main reasons I didn't become vegetarian despite a deep belief that it was the right thing to do.) These days, it's cool to drive a Prius, and it should be even cooler to be a vegan. There's plenty of evidence that eating meat is destroying the planet—just read the report from Worldwatch (pdf) and the earlier UN report. (Maybe you'll want to keep a copy in your glove box, just in case anyone stops to admire your values while you tool around in your electric car.)
And when you drive your Prius to the grocery store, be sure and steer your shopping cart right past the meat aisle. Your planet will thank you.