Tag Archives: greenhouse gases

Local vs vegan – which is better for the planet?

Many people advocate buying local as a way to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Buying from local or regional farmers who grow and raise your food, so that it doesn’t have to be shipped a long distance, saves the CO2 used in transportation, but in fact doing so only saves about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases that are generated in growing and processing most of the food we eat, according to an expert who has analyzed where most of the climate impact of our food comes from.

It’s the kind of food that ends up on the truck that determines the carbon footprint, explains Sandra Noonan, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Just Salad, a restaurant chain, and it is one more reason to switch to a plant-based diet. Supporting local farmers is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases generated in producing food happen earlier than the final step of trucking it to your local market or store.

More important from a sustainability point of view than how far it has travelled, is what the food actually is. The big advantage here goes to plant foods. One new report published by Stanford University says that by shifting away from meat and dairy, we could lower our climate impact by 68 percent.

Buying locally sourced beef is almost never going to be a better option than shifting to a plate of all vegetables, legumes, fruit, and whole grains. Locally raised beef is still worse for the environment than buying broccoli or lentils that was grown further away and had to be shipped across the country to your store, although of course, locally grown plant foods are best of all.

Now, companies like Just Salad and others are adding labels to ingredients and the food they serve up, that shows the environmental impact of our dish, how much CO2 was burned, and methane was released in the growing, harvesting, processing, and transporting of our food from soil to bowl and beyond. It’s here that consumers will see the big difference between plant foods and animal foods. Let’s hope these new labels will help encourage more people to switch to plant-based options.

Air pollution adds to animal Ag woes

Cow standing on manure pile

Among the many environmental problems caused by raising animals for food is air pollution. Poor air quality is the largest environmental health risk in the United States and worldwide, and agriculture is a major source of air pollution. Nevertheless, air quality has been largely absent from discussions about the health and environmental impacts of food production.

According to a new report, agricultural production in the United States results in 17,900 annual air quality–related deaths, 15,900 of which are from food production. Of those, 80% are attributable to animal-based foods, both directly from animal production and indirectly from growing animal feed. We could save almost 16,000 lives in the United States every year if we didn’t raise meat. The number of lives that could be saved globally is much, much higher.

Chronic exposure to pollutants generated by animal agriculture increase the incidence of premature death from cardiovascular disease, cancer, and stroke. These pollutants include those directly emitted such as fine particulate matter, as well as those formed in the atmosphere resulting from the emissions of ammonia, nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, and certain volatile organic compounds.

But let’s not forget the greenhouse gases such the methane and carbon dioxide emissions from animal agriculture. A UN study found that raising meat causes more global warming than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes, ships and boats in the world put together. These greenhouse gas emissions are actually a form of air pollution that can harm the life of the earth as well as the people and animals that live on  it. According to the World Health Organization, climatic changes already are estimated to cause over 150,000 deaths annually as a result of greenhouse gas pollution.

Thousands more are made ill or die from the particulate and noxious gas air pollution caused by the burning down of the rainforests to clear land to raise meat.

The answer to this air pollution consists largely of not raising meat so that we can all breathe easy.

Grass-Fed Beef – bad for us and for the planet

Recently, some people have been touting grass-fed beef as eliminating all the problems associated with meat, or as an equivalent alternative to going vegetarian. Don’t fall for it. Grass-fed beef is still bad for us, the environment and, of course, the cows.

Let’s take a look and see what some leading veg-authors have to say on the subject and then make a few observations of our own. Read more

Go on a greenhouse gas diet!

Field of wheat

The world needs to go on a greenhouse gas diet! A recent study from researchers at the University of Oxford found that ditching animal products could reduce your carbon footprint by 73 percent.

Get ready for this. The lead scientist of the study says, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car.”

That’s right! The food you eat is more important than the car you drive, the light bulbs you buy, the insulation in your house and all the other nonfood items you use.

Eating meat is crowding out the planet. In addition to greatly reducing your carbon footprint, researchers found that if everyone went vegan, global farmland use could be reduced by 75 percent. This would be an amount of land comparable to the size of the United States, China, Australia, and the whole Europe combined freed up.

Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.

The new study, published in the journal Science, is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date into the detrimental effects farming can have on the environment and included data on nearly 40,000 farms in 119 countries. The Oxford report comes on the heels of several other studies showing that raising livestock is a major factor of global warming. Let’s hope people are starting to take notice!

The High Price of Pork

transport pigWhen it comes to pork, there’s a high price to be paid by the workers, by the environment, and perhaps worst of all, by the pigs themselves. The scale of the problem is enormous. We raise 120 million pigs each year in the US, and many millions more are raised around the world.

The environment pays a high price for concentrated factory-style pig farming. Factory pig farms produce huge amounts of manure – much more than can be used as fertilizer. This manure is stored in lagoons that can leak or break open after a good rain, and cause massive amounts of water pollution as the runoff enters the lakes and streams. This results in massive fish kills and food chain disruption. Methane, a greenhouse gas much more damaging than carbon dioxide, is given off from these lagoons, contributing to global warming, and the intense smell reduces the air quality in the surrounding neighborhood to an often unbearable degree. Read more

Something’s missing at the Paris Climate Conference

Paris climate summitThe grand strategic narratives around the COP21 conference in Paris will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it.

The Paris talks are of vital importance, not just for climate change itself but for framing what kind of food policy follows. Why does food matter for climate change? Well, it’s a major driving factor. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter says it well, “There is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production [on climate change] are massive.” In fact, a study written by two senior economists at the World Bank showed that the livestock-meat sector of the economy is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for some reason it barely gets a mention in Paris. It seems that in at least this one respect, the conference is in denial.

Don’t hold your breath for the conference to recognize this, much less use the feared “V word”. While sobering evidence like this has mounted for years, climate change policy makers have focused their attention on energy rather than food. This policy blind spot is because tackling the emissions from producing food means tackling consumers’ food choices, and they’re simply afraid.

The livestock sector’s impact on climate change has been persistently neglected – in both policy and practice – for a long time. Unlike other sectors such as waste, transport and energy, in which greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been attempted through varying means such as taxes, incentives or subsidies, the livestock sector has enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to carry on with “business as usual.”

But the environment simply can’t stand business as usual and demands courage from us all. Without tackling the problem of animal agriculture, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem.

To learn more about the meat connection to global warming, see our Global Warming Flyer.

Vegetarian diet: cool in more ways than one!

Woman drinking smoothieVegetarians may be cooler than ever, in light of another record-breaking year for global warming. With 2014 now on the books, it’s officially taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the first of four major global temperature record-keepers to release their data for last year.

The world is heating up, and meat is a prime driver, and maybe even the largest driver, behind the crisis. We have written in the past of the connection between livestock agriculture and global warming, and we have been encouraged by Vice President Al Gore becoming a vegan in recognition of that connection.

Closer to home, greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state dropped by about 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2011, led by reductions in emissions from the electricity sector, a new state report shows. However, as good as this is, it’s clear that this is still only nibbling around the edges of the problem, when we stop to consider that the World Watch Institute has determined that livestock agriculture causes 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.

A state law requires Washington to reduce overall emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, make a 25 percent cut in 1990 levels by 2035, and make even greater reductions by 2050. According to Hedia Adelsman, special assistant to the state Ecology Director, “We still need to take action. We are making a lot of progress but there’s still work to do.  We need comprehensive policies to make sure we not only get to 2020 but 2035.” We agree. Comprehensive policies are needed. But that means, now more than ever, we can’t “forget about food” when it comes to global warming and other environmental problems. Offering and promoting vegetarian options in the state cafeterias, and in state-run and supported institutions, would be a great way to start.

The message is clear, the best way to keep cool in the long run is to eat and drink cool vegetarian food, for both you and the world we live in.