There was an interesting article Monday on Salon.com about vegetarianism and climate change. According to the article, in terms of preventing global warming, vegetarian diets are not always the best. Recently, the attention-loving folks at PETA lambasted Al Gore for his carnivorous ways outside an October lecture he gave on climate change. The group displayed a billboard featuring Gore with chicken drumstick in hand reading "Too Chicken to Become a Vegetarian?" followed by "Meat is the #1 Cause of Global Warming."
Which is false. As the article states, "The No. 1 cause of global warming is burning fossil fuels for electric power. Still ... a November 2006 United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization report found that livestock accounts for 18 percent of global-warming emissions worldwide, more than the entire transportation sector." Our diets are contributing to the warming of the planet in more ways than one, but as it turns out, eating chicken is an excellent choice for carnivores who care about the environment.
Livestock is a large cause of major environmental issues, the worst of which is global warming, mainly due to clearing forests to feed crops and pastures. The trees cut down will no longer take in carbon dioxide; instead they are burned, releasing more carbon dioxide.
(Photo by Eric L. Carlson)
Enter livestock, who create some pretty harmful gases themselves. The combined burping and farting of cattle, bison, sheep and goats accounts for 1/3 of human-caused methane gases and 2/3 of human-caused nitrous oxide. Not to mention the abundant piles of nitrous-oxide- and methane-producing piles of manure. Gross.
But there is a positive choice carnivores can make, and that is opting for poultry. The article goes on to say:
Unlike cattle, chickens don't burp methane. They also have an amazing ability to turn a relatively small amount of grain into a large amount of protein. A chicken requires 2 pounds of grain to produce a pound of meat, compared with about 6 pounds of grain for a feedlot cow and 3 pounds for a pig. Poultry waste produces only about one-tenth of the methane of hog and cattle manure.
This is not to say chicken production is all good. An industrially produced chicken is kept in a space so small it can't turn around, and are bred so huge they can barely support their own body weight.
Despite this, in terms of helping the planet, chickens are a good option. In fact,
... a study in the science journal Earth Interactions finds that Americans who eat poultry, dairy and eggs, but not red meat, are responsible for fewer greenhouse gases than those who consume a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs.
So, if you can't stomach vegan, but you're still a concerned eater, here are some things you can do. Eat less beef, pork and dairy. Buy beef products from the United States, not Latin America, and pick grass-fed meats and those from small or local farms if possible. But overall meat-wise, poultry might be your best bet.
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