Consuming meat helps to increase warming

By Bruce Friedrich  / 

Mon, Apr 23, 2007 - Page 8

Global warming is one of the most serious threats to our environment and has been called humankind's greatest challenge. The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific panel that met recently to discuss global warming, reported that climate change is very likely caused by human activities, including the consumption of fossil fuels and deforestation.

The IPCC predicts that by the end of the century, temperatures might increase by as much as 4oC and sea levels may rise 18cm to 59cm.

It's a stark message. We've obviously damaged our planet, as scientists foresee floods, melting ice caps, devastating droughts, and stronger hurricanes and tropical storms. Wildlife will struggle to survive.

It's not something to be proud of, but the panel does reassure us global warming could be reduced substantially if people take immediate action to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.

Here's what they didn't explain: Switching to a vegan diet is a simple, effective way to lower greenhouse-gas emissions.

The digestive processes of the hundreds of millions of animals slaughtered for their flesh every year in Taiwan and the excrement these animals produce release enormous amounts of methane -- a potent greenhouse gas that is 23 times as warming as carbon dioxide.

Last November, a report published by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed the livestock sector generates 18 percent more greenhouse-gas emissions than all transportation systems, including cars and trucks.

The FAO also reported that the livestock industry is responsible for 37 percent of anthropogenic (generated by human activity) methane and 65 percent of anthropogenic nitrous oxide -- both of which have more global warming potential than carbon dioxide. The FAO blamed the livestock sector for heavy deforestation, and according to the World Resources Institute, deforestation is responsible for approximately 20 percent of all global-warming emissions.

Raising and killing animals for their flesh also consumes an enormous about of fuel. Given the amount of fuel necessary to run machinery and provide food for animals, the average meat-eater is responsible for much more carbon dioxide production than the average vegan. A report by David and Marcia Pimentel in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition states that it takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make one calorie of animal protein than it does to make one calorie of plant protein.

What's the payoff for polluting the planet and consuming fossil fuels like there's no tomorrow? Greasy chicken nuggets and hamburgers. In other words, cholesterol medication, doctors' visits and Weight Watchers meetings.

I am no scientist, but I think the answer is obvious: Having meat to eat is not worth changing the world's climate, killing animals -- both pigs and polar bears -- or damaging our health.

Bruce Friedrich is vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.