Here’s an argument for giving up factory farmed meat products (we may call it the argument from global warming):
- Eating Vegetarian Is Taking Global Warming Personally, by Kathy Freston
A U.N. report from just this past November found that a full 18 percent of global warming emissions come from raising chickens, turkeys, pigs, and other animals for food. That’s about 40 percent more than all the cars, trucks, airplanes, and all other forms of transport combined (13 percent). It’s also more than all the homes and offices in the world put together (8 percent).
That figure (18%) and the comparisons are just staggering. The author unfortunately does not explain why the mass production of animals causes so much of “global warming emissions”. At first I thought it might be from the carbon dioxide produced in animal respiration. But not really. It’s the flatulent cows, pigs, etc., releasing all that methane into the air from their digestive tracts. Here’s Noam Mohr’s lowdown on methane and animal agriculture from EarthSave.org, and his conclusion, in the article A New Global Warming Strategy:
By far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture.
Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled. Whereas human sources of CO2 amount to just 3% of natural emissions, human sources produce one and a half times as much methane as all natural sources. In fact, the effect of our methane emissions may be compounded as methane-induced warming in turn stimulates microbial decay of organic matter in wetlands—the primary natural source of methane.
With methane emissions causing nearly half of the planet’s human-induced warming, methane reduction must be a priority. Methane is produced by a number of sources, including coal mining and landfills—but the number one source worldwide is animal agriculture. Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year. And this source is on the rise: global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating. About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous. An additional 15% of animal agricultural methane emissions are released from the massive “lagoons” used to store untreated farm animal waste, and already a target of environmentalists’ for their role as the number one source of water pollution in the U.S.
The conclusion is simple: arguably the best way to reduce global warming in our lifetimes is to reduce or eliminate our consumption of animal products. Simply by going vegetarian (or, strictly speaking, vegan), we can eliminate one of the major sources of emissions of methane, the greenhouse gas responsible for almost half of the global warming impacting the planet today.
UPDATE (January 29, 2008): The New York Times has an article relevant to this post, titled Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler. The article mentions that “beef generates 24 times more carbon dioxide equivalent gases than the vegetables and the rice“, in the form of fossil fuels burnt in producing beef. So the production of meat contributes more greenhouse gases than vegetables, not just in terms of methane, but also in terms of CO2. (Hat tip: Richard Chappell)