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Global Warming

Environmentalists Should Give Up Meat: Cows Worse than Cars for Global Warming

Cows pollute

“Now should be environmental vegetarianism’s big moment. Global warming is the single biggest threat to the health of the planet, and meat consumption plays a bigger role in greenhouse gas emissions than even many environmentalists realize.” – Ben Adler[social_buttons]

This quote above is from an article by Ben Adler in American Prospect, titled “Are Cows Worse Than Cars?”. It really stands out as a reminder of the clearly divided environmental movement. By and large, the movement towards environmental sustainability has just plain ignored the impact that dietary choices have on global warming. Curious, isn’t it?

On the one hand, we can support cleaner energy, buy more efficient cars, and reduce our consumption of products derived from petroleum, and yet with our other hand, eat a burger that has a carbon footprint bigger than most SUVs.

“I think it’s amazing that even the greenest of green liberal environment activists, the vast majority of them tend to consume meat at the same rate as people who think global warming is a hoax. Meat consumption seems to be the last thing that progressive people address in their lifestyle. If I had a nickel for every global warming conference that had roast beef on the menu, I’d be rich.” – Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network

The beef industry is driven largely by corn subsidies (over 5 billion dollars last year alone). If feedlots had to pay the true cost of feeding the cows all of that corn, or if they had to offset all of the fuel and emissions produced from calf to slaughter, most of them would probably have been out of business long ago.

We’ve been bailing out the meat industry with subsidies and price supports for years, and for what? For greenhouse gas emissions that out-pace the levels from cars and other transportation.

Considering the large carbon footprint for animal agriculture, why is it that we’re so adamant about not giving up meat?

I don’t know of anyone in the environmental community that has taken a stance of ‘we support no meat consumption because of global warming.'” – Tim Greef, League of Conservation Voters

Owning a hybrid vehicle with Sierra Club stickers on the back is way more sexy than cutting the flesh out of our diets.

Until the connection between CO2 emissions, global warming, and our diet is accepted, you can be sure that people will be rolling through the drive-thru for Big Mac, in the biodiesel or hybrid, feeling like they’re really making a difference…

Read the entire article by Ben Adler in American Prospect for more juicy tidbits on dietary choices, climate change, and global warming.

Image: Ken30684 at Flickr under Creative Commons License




13 comments
  1. greg

    seems that plants produce up to 30% of the planets methane with ruminants producing 15%…grain strips the stomach lining of ruminants .after only 3 weeks .all grain is toxic and let me see a vegetarian supply his or her whole diet and i mean grow it, a year supply,just for yourself ….then grow it for a life time and your children your family …show me .

  2. Jim

    Your right Torrey, cows do not digest corn and soy well. Cows eat GRASS. And no we’re not pureley carnivores. We sure as hell are not pure herbivores either. Paleolithic/dental evidence suggests suggests human beings are in fact omnivores. We DO have canines for eating meat as well as flat teeth for grinding. We don’t have the “natural tools” to break bones with our teeth. Hell even lions can’t do that, but hyenas can. Good thing we got big brains and opposable thumbs. So yes, I’ll eat lots and lots of raw green veggies. And I’ll keep eating delicious meaty (good)fatty beef. This quote had nothing to do with eating habits but I thought it may be appropriate: “specialization is for insects” (Robert A. Heinlein 🙂

  3. G. Gilbert Vaughan

    Yes, I totally agree. This all makes perfect sense to me, allthough I eat a bit of meat now and then. Iron deficiency can be a horror otherwise, but this does not require the wholesale destruction which is referred-to here. Old Macdonald sure has a bit to answer for – along with his customers, of course.
    I began to think along the lines: Methane – from grass ? then I read some more and I see that it is the high cereal diet given to beef animals ? that is the cause. This is not helpful !

    In exchange I present the following info which may be a shock to some “believers” – in “Windfarms”
    Current “technology” is so utterly out of step with physical reality that it supplies – over its entire life – only a fraction of the energy required to replace it. I can say this with reference to
    a) Data gathered at a public meeting in Llandeilo, uk July ’05
    b) Some 20-odd years of solo research effort in the field. This has lead to a Turbine-Alternator Device – TAD ? – which readily returns around 5% p.a. of its cost, thereby supplying during its lifetime several times as much energy as is required to replace it.
    The other result is the simple explanation of why this disparity in performance exists. One factor is simply SIZE !. The cost per watt of any TAD is a necklace-shaped function of (log) Size !! The lowest cost ocurrs for sizes where the T costs about the same as the A. About 1 metre diameter !! email for the rest. bertdotwindonatgmaildotcom

  4. Torrey

    Yes, there were millions of buffalo and other huge species roaming the earth before us, but none of them were force fed corn (the cheapest commodity today). Cows do not digest corn and the methane they emit today is a result of their lack of digesting. I believe that if we raised cows humanely and let them eat grass, that the carbon emissions would be much lower. However, methane is not the only way that cows are hurting the environment. It takes 55 acres of rainforest to make a McDonald’s hamburger. Beautiful places such as Costa Rica and Brazil are tearing down their rainforests to raise cattle and ship it back to the US. Raising cows is also extremely inefficient in energy and water (it takes 6000-7000 gallons of water for a single pound of beef).
    Lastly, our teeth are NOT designed to eat meat and neither is our body. The average intestines of a carnivore is 6 feet long. The average intestines of a herbivore is 20 feet long (to digest all of the fiber). Ours is 26 feet long! Our teeth are nowhere in comparison to a lion, bear, tiger or any other animal that rips apart meat. So I completely disagree.

  5. robert

    While I appreciate that to a certain degree cows may be affecting the envoirnment, but long before domestic animals came on the scene over 100,000,000 bison roamed the americam plains. Like wise in africa millions of wildebeast, waterbuffalo, and many other species roamed the planet. However there were no cars, trucks, planes, trains, ships and factories spewing out carbon dioxide so I can’t honestly lay all the blame on cattle. Though not quite a vegetarian (I love fish) we are carnivores and even our teeth are designed to eat meat. I do not begrudge those who enjoy their steaks that pleasure but I would truly love to see a new form of energy that greatly reduces pollution. Thank you and keep up the good work.

  6. Megan

    Thank you for writing this. It’s amazing how defensive people can be when I suggest they try a vegetarian diet, or even try cutting back a little on meat. I have a great sticker from herbivore clothing in Portland. It says “Vegetarianism is Environmentalism” – and I think the reverse is true as well. It’s so easy to be vegetarian or vegan, and makes such a big impact, I don’t understand how “environmentalists” can know the facts and still eat meat. I applaud your courage for pointing out the (seemingly obvious) fact that if you refuse to change what’s on your plate for the sake of the planet, you can’t exactly call yourself an environmentalist. 🙂

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