Like Drowning Children for Steak

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By Robert Delaney



These two headlines, running within a few days of each other, reflect what may be a filicidal degree of stupidity.

New U.N. Report: Climate Change Risks Destabilizing Human Society 

Farms Can’t Keep Up With Demand for Meat 

When scientists and representatives from 110 countries – including China, the U.S., Tanzania and the Maldives – agree on something, perhaps we should pay attention.

The conclusion they reached – and one that is reinforced with every new round of studies – is that human activity is “extremely likely” to be a dominant cause of climatic changes that threaten to flood many populated coastal areas and interrupt our ability to produce enough food.

I doubt these folks are just reaching for an Upworthy headline.

I won’t bother with the connection between fossil fuel burn and climate change. A four-word Google search will give you more than you need. What is treated, frustratingly, as tertiary is the degree to which methane gas from livestock exacerbates the problem. Even business-oriented Bloomberg News explains the case for a meat tax. A Worldwatch Institute report pegs it at 51% of the world’s greenhouse gas production.

Huge numbers of people, particularly North Americans, believe that a portion of meat defines a meal. That means three helping of animal flesh every day, which translates into 122 kilograms of per-capita meat consumption annually in the U.S.  Too many reporters hit their word limit before they can work the meat problem into their climate change stories, and that could be why we’re so fixated on fossil fuel burn.

It’s much easier to reduce or remove meat from our diets than it is to do the same for fossil fuels. Renewable energy solutions help at the margins, but their reliability often depends on weather conditions, and it will be many years before we can move a freight train or a passenger jet with solar cells.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t do everything possible to reduce our carbon footprint. Nor would I argue that we must all give up meat completely. (I will, however, suggest that we demand better treatment of animals and reform of mechanized and medicated livestock production.)

Given the scientific consensus, would it hurt so much to, at least occasionally, serve bean burritos or a hummus platter or a hearty lentil soup instead of cheeseburgers? What goes through the minds of parents who drive their Cadillac Escalades to the supermarket to load up on ground beef and steaks?

Do they look in the rear-view mirror and wonder how life will be for their kids if scientific consensus turns out to be accurate?


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