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Grabbing The Third Rail Of Environmentalism

As long as we're talking about meat consumption, I wanted to mention the (controversial) recommendation made a couple of weeks back by IPCC head Rajendra Pachauri, who suggested that everyone give up meat one day each week in an effort to curb the massive impact of livestock farming on global warming. The lack of oversight from field to fork that Sophia describes below is problematic from a nutritional standpoint, but the environmental effects may be of even greater concern.

Time's Bryan Walsh had a piece that did a fairly good job connecting the dots on the meat industry's impact: Livestock farming is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide (compared with 13 percent caused by transportation); 70 percent of the earth's forests have been lost to make way for grazing pastures; and the cows won't stop farting and pooping, so add methane and nitrous oxide to the list of potent greenhouse gases that are heating up the earth. Walsh also recognized the strain on resources that will result from increased demand for meat by developing nations like China. But his last paragraph was puzzling:

Still, Pachauri is just slightly off. It's a tactical mistake, first of all, to focus global warming action on personal restrictions. The developed world could cut back hugely on its meat consumption, but those gains would be largely swallowed up—sorry—by the developing world, which isn't likely to give up its newly acquired taste for cheeseburgers and pork. The same goes for energy use, or travel. It's great for magazines to come up with 51 ways you can save the environment, but relying on individuals to voluntarily change their behavior is nowhere near as effective as political change aimed at speeding the transition to an economy far less carbon-intensive than our current one. So, by all means cut back on the burgers—I recommend a nice deep-fried scorpion—but remember that your choices from the takeout menu will matter less than the choices made by those who inherit the White House next January.

The prescriptions for combating global warming aren't always either-or. Relying on individuals to change their own patterns of behavior is pretty inefficient, but so is waiting around in the hope that governments enact  sleek new policies that transition us to a less carbon-intensive economy. Since eating meat is, and always will be, a personal choice, encouraging people to do less of it seems like a good idea (of course, taxing greenhouse gases so that the price of meat more accurately reflects the cost of its energy-intensive production would also be a good start.) Meanwhile, Graham Harvey makes the case for returning cows to the pasture as one solution, but that doesn't seem likely to stem the deforestation that is already happening at a rapid clip—and is bound to increase—as more people introduce meat into their diet.

--Marin Cogan