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Why eat less meat? 2

After a recent article I wrote, someone had told me that they had no idea that eating meat was harming the environment. Most things that harm the environment are common knowledge such as automobile emissions, burning coal, pumping oil, etc. But the impact that meat has on the environment doesn’t get as much press. So my job for today is to enlighten myself and my readers on why eating meat is harmful to the environment.

First lets go over some facts that I got out of a recent publication on Greenpeace [1]. According to a report, “The total global contribution of agriculture to climate change, including deforestation for farmland and other land use changes, is estimated to be equivalent to between 8.5 -16.5 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or between 17- 32% of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.”

That is obviously a huge percentage of the overall carbon output in the world, and it is a very big problem that we are facing. The reasons that agriculture is emitting so much carbon are described in the quote below from the report:

“Industrial, chemical-intensive agriculture degrades the soil and destroys resources that are critical to storing carbon, such as forests and other vegetation. The highest direct emissions from agriculture are due to the overuse of fertilisers. The solutions are sustainable farming practices that build up carbon in the soil and use less fertiliser. The report details a variety of farming practices which can reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change that are easy to implement.”

So it all comes down to farming practices. I can imagine that farming is a competitive business, and cutting costs and increasing production output is probably important for a farm business to succeed. So I think there are 2 approaches to changing the way farms do business. First, the consumers need to demand that the products they are purchasing are manufactured in an environmentally-friendly fashion. This is already taking place, especially in the cities where people are demanding “organic” products and there are local farmers markets popping up all over the city these days. Secondly, the government needs to step in and do its part to force farmers to comply. Greenpeace suggests the government introduce taxes on fertilizers, tougher regulation on pesticides, and provide more money to promote local and organic agriculture.

What can you do about it? You can purchase local and organic foods, you can cut down on how much meat you eat every week (fish is a good alternative), and you can talk to your local government representative to push them to introduce higher regulation on agriculture in your country.

Peter Fricker recently wrote an article in the Globe [2] about eating less meat, and he notes that simply cutting down on the amount of meat that you eat by 10% can slow global warming considerably.

[Update - Feb 11] – One important point that I failed to mention is the second largest factor of agriculture’s impact on the environment in addition to fertilisers – Cow flatulence (Cow dung is also a contributor). “The second biggest direct emitter in agriculture is animals. When digesting fodder, animals produce – and emit at both ends – large amounts of methane; a potent greenhouse gas. With an ever increasing demand for meat, methane emissions are expected to rise continuously over the coming decades. Beef and lamb have a large impact on the climate. Each kilogramme of beef produced results in 13 kilos of carbon emission; for lamb each kilo produces 17 kilos of emission. Pork and poultry create less than half of that.”

[1] http://www.greenpeace.org/canada/en/recent/agriculture-and-climate-change
[2] http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/story/RTGAM.20080122.wcomment0123/BNStory/International/home