Food for Thought About Global Warming

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Despite the wave of frigid air that swept in with the new year, 2006 was the warmest year on record in the United States. The United Nation'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 burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. The IPCC predicts that temperatures might increase by as much as 7.2°F and sea levels may rise by 7 to 23 inches by the end of the century.

It's a stark message. We’ve obviously messed up our planet - 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 then, just when it seems like the best option would be to leap off the nearest melting iceberg, the panel reassures us that global warming could be substantially blunted if people would take immediate action to reduce greenhouse gases.

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

The digestive processes of the billions of animals raised to become sandwiches and snacks each year, as well as the 87,000 pounds of excrement that they produce every second, release enormous amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

A November 2006 report published by the U.N.'s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) revealed that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions - 18 percent - than transportation. 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 a higher 'global warming potential' than carbon dioxide. The FAO also 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.

The FAO report followed an April 2006 study conducted by researchers at the University of Chicago, who compared the amount of fossil fuel necessary to produce various foods, taking into account the fuel needed to run machinery, provide food for animals and irrigate crops. They found that the typical U.S. meat-eater is responsible for nearly 1.5 tons more carbon dioxide per person per year than a vegan (pure vegetarian), simply because of the difference in food choices. An American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report by David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel indicated that it takes more than 11 times as much fossil fuel to make a calorie of animal protein as it does to make a calorie of plant protein.

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

I may not be a 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 - and ourselves.

By Bruce Friedrich, vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 2007

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