Meat consumption is the greatest contributor to man-made global warming, according to a new report in Science News. According to the article:
“No longer a surprise is the relative energy intensity associated with meat, especially beef. For instance, roughly half of the GHG emissions due to human diets come from meat even though beef, pork and chicken together account for only about 14 percent of what people eat.”
The article cites testimony from the recent American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting, where scientists shared data regarding food production, transportation, and the ways in which these factors impact the environment. Speaking on a panel titled “Food for Thought,” Ulf Sonesson of the Swedish Institute for Food & Biotechnology noted that approximately 30 percent of the global warming potential attributable to society’s GHG emissions stems from food production.
All meats carry a substantial carbon footprint, Sonsesson explained, but beef is the worst. It requires a great deal of energy and other natural resources to produce cattle feed, manage the animals’ manure (which contains a substantial amount of methane gas), transport the livestock, slaughter the animals, process and package the meat, dispose of the remains, market the retail cuts, drive them home from the store, refrigerate them and then cook the beef.
Sonesson argued that all of these activities amount to the equivalent to spewing 19 kilograms of carbon dioxide for every kg of beef served. By contrast, the climate costs associated with growing, marketing, peeling and boiling up a kg of potatoes is only 280 grams.
Another speaker, Nathan Pelletier of Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, stated that if we swap 50 percent of meat with soy by 2050, “you could expect [projected] emissions to decrease on the order of 70 percent.”
He went on to say that if we eliminate all meat in favor of soy, global warming could be reduced by 96 percent.
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