ARC's 1st Law: As a "progressive" online discussion grows longer, the probability of a nefarious reference to Karl Rove approaches one

Monday, February 19, 2007

I Blame Prosperity

Not just a few minutes after posting that organic farming produces more environmental damage than industrialized agriculture, this story from the Christian Science Monitor catches my eye:

Humans' beef with livestock: a warmer planet
American meat eaters are responsible for 1.5 more tons of carbon dioxide per person than vegetarians every year.
By Brad Knickerbocker | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

As Congress begins to tackle the causes and cures of global warming, the action focuses on gas-guzzling vehicles and coal-fired power plants, not on lowly bovines.

Yet livestock are a major emitter of greenhouse gases that cause climate change. And as meat becomes a growing mainstay of human diet around the world, changing what we eat may prove as hard as changing what we drive.

It's not just the well-known and frequently joked-about flatulence and manure of grass-chewing cattle that's the problem, according to a recent report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Land-use changes, especially deforestation to expand pastures and to create arable land for feed crops, is a big part. So is the use of energy to produce fertilizers, to run the slaughterhouses and meat-processing plants, and to pump water.

"Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today's most serious environmental problems," Henning Steinfeld, senior author of the report, said when the FAO findings were released in November.

Livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions as measured in carbon dioxide equivalent, reports the FAO. This includes 9 percent of all CO2 emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. Altogether, that's more than the emissions caused by transportation.

The latter two gases are particularly troubling – even though they represent far smaller concentrations in atmosphere than CO2, which remains the main global warming culprit. But methane has 23 times the global warming potential (GWP) of CO2 and nitrous oxide has 296 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide.

Methane could become a greater problem if the permafrost in northern latitudes thaws with increasing temperatures, releasing the gas now trapped below decaying vegetation. What's more certain is that emissions of these gases can spike as humans consume more livestock products.

As prosperity increased around the world in recent decades, the number of people eating meat (and the amount one eats every year) has risen steadily. Between 1970 and 2002, annual per capita meat consumption in developing countries rose from 11 kilograms (24 lbs.) to 29 kilograms (64 lbs.), according to the FAO. (In developed countries, the comparable figures were 65 kilos and 80 kilos.) As population increased, total meat consumption in the developing world grew nearly five-fold over that period.

Beyond that, annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons at the beginning of the decade to 465 million tons in 2050. This makes livestock the fastest growing sector of global agriculture.

Animal-rights activists and those advocating vegetarianism have been quick to pick up on the implications of the FAO report.

"Arguably the best way to reduce global warming in our lifetimes is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products," writes Noam Mohr in a report for EarthSave International.

Of course, I blame prosperity, too. And like Jerry Seinfeld in the episode where he suggests that Elaine should fly coach because he's been in First Class and she wouldn't know what she's missing, I call for all under-developed nations to stay underdeveloped. Don't start getting wealthy enough to start eating beef. That's only for us rich, fat Americans.

I mean, since you've never eaten a corn-fed, 22oz prime porterhouse steak, you can continue eating your nuts and wheat and not know what you're missing.

Actually, I have the perfect solution!!! We hand over the reins of the world economy to Kim Jong-Il!!! Then we could all become low-impact herbivores, subsisting on grass like our little rodent ancestors.

Just saying...

Your Co-Conspirator,
ARC: St Wendeler