Environmentalist or meat-eater ? We must choose
You view yourself as faultlessly environmentally minded because you ride a bike, buy biological food and carefully choose your butcher ? Wrong ! You are more dangerous for the planet that a SUV-driving vegetarian. Such is the latest page on the American greenies’ songbook.
It is hardly news that meat-eating is an energetically aberration : we have known since the 1960s that 10 kilos (22 pounds) of cereals are needed to produce a kilo of beef ; that we use five times more water to produce beef proteins than soya proteins ; and that we need five to ten times more soil to generate animal proteins as compared to vegetal ones.
To this list, which is already likely to shame any socially responsible carnivore, we must now add the impact of animal rearing on climate change. Beware : this doesn’t arise solely because of farts and excrement from livestock, which, as we are now realising, are constituted of methane and nitrous oxide which generate fifty times more greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. What is new is that we can at long last measure with precision the amount of fossil combustible used by the food production chain.
In November 2006, a UN report had sounded the alarm : the meat industry appears to generate more greenhouse gases than the combination of all means of transportation. On September 12, The Lancet, the prestigious medical journal, corroborated this finding in a series of articles on « Energy and Health » : The rearing of animals intended for our alimentation represent one quarter of greenhouse gases emitted on our planet.
One of the authors, Dr. John Powles of Cambridge University, informs us in a passing reference that the average daily meat consumption in developed countries is of 224 grams (8 ounces), versus 31 grams (1 ounce) in Africa. Surprising, no ? But the first detailed study on this subject — and the most interesting, dated April 13, 2006, was from the University of Chicago : Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, both professors of geophysics science, published their work in Earth Interactions magazine. Foodstuff by foodstuff, these researchers compared energy consumption of the various modes of cultivation, animal rearing, transformation, transport and distribution.
They compared on this basis five dissimilar but typical alimentation groups : fully vegetarian, or mainly comprised of red meat, or of fish, or of chicken or « American varied », i.e. food of which 72% were of vegetal origin, even if mostly composed of ketchup, potatoes, oil, sugar, the rest being shared out between meat, eggs and dairy products. An important observation : each of these regimen contained 3774 calories, the average ration in the United States.
At the time ; this study had been widely commented in the media. It was nevertheless difficult, full of mathematical equations and exponential curves. But it contained several shocking messages. This one, in particular : in 2002, the energy used for US alimentary production represented 17% of the total fuel consumed in the country (including all sectors). This « alimentary » budget line alone is equivalent, on green house gases emissions, to one third of American « individual transportation ». Since we must add to these CO2 emissions the colossal quantities of gaseous emissions produced by cattle, we can see the importance of the problem.
Another tremendous surprise : a fish diet is only faintly less energy consuming as a meat one, which Pamela Martin explains as follows : « Fish can be gotten from the brook near your home, and in that case everything is fine. Sardines and anchovies are plentiful close to the coasts and can be gathered with minimal energy consumption. But sword-fishes, tunas, salmons and cods, which are by far consumers’ favourite fishes, require to travel long distances ».
Conclusion : if you insist on eating meat, eat sparingly of it, or rather have chicken ; or become vegetarian. And before you scratch the body-work of a SUV to punish it for helping to destroy the planet, take the inventory of what is in your own fridge.
Translated by Dominique de Castries
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