Washington Post writer Ezra Klein donated a few column inches today to the “Real Environmentalists Don’t Eat Meat” gang, claiming that forgoing meat is the best way to reduce our national carbon footprint. He should have dug deeper into the facts.
Going vegetarian might not be as effective as going vegan, but it's better than eating meat, and eating meat less is better than eating meat more. It would be a whole lot better for the planet if everyone eliminated one meat meal a week than if a small core of die-hards developed perfectly virtuous diets.
Perfectly virtuous? Klein's veggie elitism didn’t bring him to the full-blown PETA diet. He says he eats meat five times a month and proclaims, “I enjoy the hell out of those five meals.”
Klein might be happy to know he can give up feeling guilty the rest of the month, because he swallowed the “Meatless Mondays” crowd’s line of bull in a single gulp. The 2006 United Nations report that serves as the basis of his column has been thoroughly debunked. The figures from that report are skewed by Amazonian deforestation numbers, and simply don’t apply to American-raised livestock. The EPA’s own data estimate that all of U.S. agricultural production accounts for a mere 6 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions – and that covers not just meat production, but the cultivation of all the veggies now filling Klein’s plate as well.
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The UN report blames animal farmers for a wide variety of sources. Burning fuels to make fertilizer, for instance. Tilling soil to grow feed crops. And transporting meat to market. But if livestock production disappeared tomorrow, we would just be transporting more tofu to the grocery store. And plowing and fertilizing the land to supply “meat alternatives” instead of the real thing. So most of it is a wash.
The Washington Post's newest food columnist has miraculously managed to out-elitist the global-warming brigade, but giving up meat is not the way to save the planet. Those dead-tree newspapers, however, are a different story.