Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Meat production, consumption and climate change

A new report from Worldwatch Institute suggests that up to 51% of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to meat (cows, pigs, chickens, etc) grown for food. Previous estimates from FAO suggested the figure was 18%. Some of the conclusions of the new study will certainly be questioned. For example, the study includes animal respiration (breathing) in its calculations. You can read it yourself (pdf available here). But either way, there is no question that meat production is a huge source of emissions, responsible for more GHGs than transport (driving cars).

So, does this mean that you can't really claim to be an "environmentalist" if you eat meat?

Hat tip: env-econ

9 comments:

Maggie Yayac said...

I don't think being a vegetarian is a requirement of an environmentalist, but as an environmentalist it makes sense not to eat meat. NC has a huge industry of producing meat especially pigs which has not only given off many greenhouse gases but also polluted the Cape Fear river. Meat production causes only negative effects on the environment. Cutting back on meat consumption can only be beneficial, especially from an environmental standpoint. Your elimating the demand for meat which will decrease the supply. Decreasing the supply leads to less pigs (or cows, chickens...) which then leads to less tortue, GHG emissions, air pollution, water pollution etc.

Anonymous said...

I'd say the eating meat bit is along the same lines as driving your car to school in terms of whether or not you can claim the environment "priceless" as the meat production obviously harms the environment and consuming meat raised for comsumption supports the process. I like the point the PDF brought up about the amount of land needed to raise such quantities of livestock. Less demand for the livestock puts less demand on areas to be cleared to raise the animals. This is especially important in relation to central and south american raised beef as the US is a major driving force behind the market there, pretty much giving folks there the incentive to clear land for grazing.

hunter hay

Saracasey said...

I don't personally think that you have to be a vegetarian to be an environmentalist, but i think that if people reduce their consumption of meat it could have a big effect on carbon emissions and land use. i've seen studies that say if people in the US had one meatless meal a week can save a substantial amount of carbon emissions.

this article also makes me think about how countries with emerging economies are increasing their meat consumption. China's demand for beef has increased significantly over recent years. This could only make the problem worse. After eating rice everyday, when i started making money I would eat meat too. Society will have to determine what the efficient consumption of meat is based on these negative externalities and I bet that value will be less then the daily meat consumption we enjoy in the US.

Gavin Edmondson said...

I believe people can still eat meat and be environmental conscious. Americans do not have to cut back on meat consumption just yet, but rather change the way it is produced. The production method is terrible and could scare a lot of current meat consumers away. I believe the hormones and other medicines (anti-biotic) put in beef and pork are affecting humans who consume. Pigs in North Carolina have a higher population than humans. This fact shows that more food is needed to keep them fat and supply the Carolina demand for BBQ. Less of theses animals would be a new wrinkle in life but a good one for the environment as a whole.

Taber Bart said...

Yes of course! If one were to eat meat, any form of meat; for example a nice juicy NY strip steak, or a plump oven roasted chicken breast, or maybe even an especially generous helping of southern style pork ribs wrapped in bacon, they would be helping out the environment just a little bit. In order to grill up these fine morsels of meat hey would first need to kill that producing animal. By killing any animal, either a chicken, a cow, or a hog, you would incrementally reducing the GHG emissions given off by livestock, I believe which was said to be 51%. Over time killing off enough animals could serve as a successful plan of Green House Gas reduction. Yet if one were to buy the meat, that would be a whole nother story.

Braxton said...

I believe that everyone who has posted has made very intelligent comments about reducing the intake of meat. But what if I said that increasing the consumption of meat was the answer? What if you taxed livestock growers in order to reduce farm-raised populations and rewarded hunters for their kills which could act as subsititutes for farm-raised pork. One of the major over populated animals in this country is the ferral(sp?) hog. One herd of these animals can destroy acres of vegitation in one day which then cuts back on Oxygen production. These hogs along with deer could make a substantial impact on the food market. The actual meat is more lean and healthier for you than farm raised beef-cattle or farm raised pork. They would be killed in thier natural habitat which means no torture from the farmers. Prices would be lower per pound because no one would have to feed these animals. They would practically be organic!! I know somebody is loving that. I have you started, so try and expand on that in your mind for a minute!!!

Anonymous said...

I grew up with two hippie parent's so my meat consumption has been nearly neglibile compared to what has been consumed by a typical college student who become vegetarian. I agree with Hunter in that it falls along the lines of driving your car when you claim to be an environmentalist. Eating meat less often is like carpooling, it makes a difference.

-Kyle Dexheimer

Anonymous said...

One could be an environmentalist and a meat-eater, but why would you? I don't see how someone who is educated about the adverse affects of the meat industry would still want to eat meat. If one cares enough about the environment, they wouldn't eat meat at all. Or when they did eat meat, they would only eat organic, homorone and antibiotic free, free range meat.
Environmentalist don't have to go to vegetarian extremes if they are concerned about their environment. Lowering one's meat consumption just a little will help lower GHG emissions.
-D. Schenck

Taber B. said...

I am truly intrigued with the comment made by Braxton. First off he believes that even my comment was very intelligent, despite the smart ass tone which I used in my explanation. Secondly, because I also feel that a market for wild game would be an excellent alternative to livestock and farm raised meat. If there was a market for wild game, I know for a fact that there are people who would consume such goods. This would decrease the demand for farm raised meat, and eventually lead to a decrease of great environmental damages caused through farming ( ex. deforestation, fowl runoff, and pollutant emissions ) Not only would a market for wild game be beneficial for the environment, but it would be beneficial to the human body. Wild game, as Braxton noted, is more lean and healthier for you. The creation of a market for wild game would also be a great player in our current situation of an economic crisis, by lowering production and consumption costs to society as well as the producer.