The Lettuce Isn’t The Only Thing That’s Green

This past Sunday, The New York Times ran an article entitled, “Rethinking the Meat-Guzzler” about the environmental impact of America’s mass consumption meat industry. Some of the green statistics are amazing and some not so new, but a good kick in the rear for American’s to consider a new diet. I’m not trying to be a pushy vegetarian (although I am happy to learn that being veg for the past 24 years has greatly decreased my own personal carbon footprint).

The graphic above (from the NYT) describes that the beef meal takes 16 times more fossil fuel energy to raise and generates more than 24 times more CO2 equivalent gases than the rice and veg meal. These numbers don’t even take into account the additional fuels burned in beef production, nor the methane emitted by the cows (farts ha!). More facts below:

  • The world’s total meat supply was 71 million tons in 1961. In 2007, it was estimated to be 284 million tons.
  • If Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent it would be as if we all switched from a standard sedan to the ultra-efficient Prius.
  • Roughly 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.
  • Though some 800 million people on the planet now suffer from hunger or malnutrition, the majority of corn and soy grown in the world feeds cattle, pigs and chickens.
  • The demand for meat contributes to nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • While the domestic demand for meat has leveled off, the industrial production of livestock is growing more than twice as fast as land-based methods, according to the United Nations.

There is still hope for all you meat eaters:

  • Israel and Korea are among the countries experimenting with using animal waste to generate electricity. Some of the biggest hog operations in the United States are working, with some success, to turn manure into fuel.
  • The conflicting demands for animal products and environmental services can be reconciled — both demands are exerted by the same group of people … the relatively affluent, middle- to high-income class
  • The number of farmers’ markets has more than doubled in the last 10 years or so, if those trends continue, meat may become a treat rather than a routine.