Environment & Climate News (Heartland Institute), September 1, 2008
Global warming activists are putting agriculture firmly in their crosshairs, launching new efforts to restrict meat production and consumption.
This latest anti-meat campaign builds on prior efforts to restrict various forms of agriculture in the name of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
“This is a new level of silliness,” said Jay Lehr, Ph.D., science director for The Heartland Institute.
“Telling people not to eat meat will have no measurable effect on global temperatures but will have a devastating effect on American and global farmers. This is more in line with religious veganism, complete with quasi-religious dietary restrictions, than with climate science.”
Typical among the recent assaults on agriculture in general and meat production in particular is the worldchanging.org Web site. According to the site, U.S. hamburger production and consumption emit 160 million metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent into the atmosphere every year. The United States should reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by reducing its meat consumption, groups such as this one say.
Many analysts view the current criticism of agricultural products as quite ironic given the ongoing efforts by global warming activists to tell farmers they will make money from global warming legislation, through subsidies for wind power.
“It is funny how global warming activists are targeting farmers as perpetrators of global warming emissions,” noted Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis.
“For quite some time activists have told farmers that global warming legislation will benefit them via opportunities such as the siting of wind farms, yet now farmers find themselves in the activists’ crosshairs,” Burnett noted.
“I see no inconsistency between encouraging wind farms and discouraging meat-eating. They will both have positive effects on CO2 and seem to be largely, if not entirely, independent,” said Erin Baker, assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
All Farmers Criticized
Global warming activists say keeping livestock at a farm uses too much energy. A farm, they argue, requires deforestation to clear land for pasture and crops, and energy is needed to run slaughterhouses and for fertilizer application and meat processing.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations attributes 18 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions to livestock.
According to the London Guardian, “Producing 1 kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home. … The emissions are equivalent to the amount of CO2 released by an average car every 160 miles, and the energy consumption is equal to a 100W bulb being left on for 20 days.”
The latest attacks on agriculture follow a December 2006 report from the Livestock, Environment, and Development (LEAD) Initiative, supported by the World Bank, European Union, U.S. Agency for International Development, and United Nations. It claimed farmers are doing more damage to the Earth’s climate than all the SUVs in the world combined.
The report, titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” asserts the “livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
No Need for Panic
But Amy Kaleita, environmental policy fellow at the Pacific Research Institute, cites the importance of cattle for both consumers and farmers. “Worldwide, livestock production provides livelihoods for 1.3 billion people, and particularly in developing countries, livestock are also a source of renewable energy for farming activities, and a source of organic fertilizer.
“At the same time,” Kaleita continued, “there are a variety of conservation and production strategies that allow for continued livestock production and meat consumption while also decreasing net emissions, so this need not and should not be an all-or-nothing question.”
“Maybe if these people would eat more meat, their blood-sugar levels would rise and they could think more clearly,” observed Marlo Lewis, senior fellow at the Competitive Enterprise Institute.
“I think what this shows is that [global warming alarmism] is really about controlling people’s lives rather than saving the planet,” Lewis added. “If they can reach into your kitchen and control what you eat, what farmers will raise, then they attain a new power never before realized by government. Is this really about fighting global warming, or vegan activists finding a new outlet and a new justification for their value systems?
“These people are looking for some kind of green equivalent of religious ritual. Almost all religions require sacrifices, some including dietary restrictions, and now global warming has its own dietary restrictions,” said Lewis.
Krystle Russin ([email protected]) writes from Texas.