Greenhouse Gas Emissions
By Michelle Mather
The other day I came across this quote from Julia Butterfly Hill;
“The question is not ‘can you make a difference?’ You already do make a difference. It’s just a matter of what kind of difference you want to make, during your life on this planet.”
This quote struck a chord with me and made me think about all of the choices we make, each and every day. Some of us have made the choice to limit our “carbon footprint” and that decision then causes us to make a whole bunch of other choices.
I often meet people who claim to be “green” and indeed they have made many of the choices that our society recognizes as being eco-conscious ones; they have reduced their consumption, re-use items as often as possible and recycle too. They’ve made their homes as efficient as possible, drive an energy-efficient vehicle (or even better yet, they walk or ride a bike to get around), and they vote Green in every election.
What surprises me is how few of these self-described “green” people have made the connection between their diet and the planet. I will admit, that when it was first suggested to me that a person should give up meat “for environmental reasons” I was blown away too. That happened 20 years ago and I was at an “eco fair” . I stopped at a table for a group called “EarthSave” and when I enquired what their organization was promoting, the young people behind the table told me that they were advocating a vegetarian diet for environmental reasons.
I remember going home to Cam and telling him about this group and we both sort of chuckled and said “what next?”
It turns out that a short time later we were introduced to a book called “Diet for a New America” by John Robbins (of the Baskin & Robbins ice cream dynasty!). This book convinced both Cam and me that a vegetarian diet was not only better for the planet but for our own health too (not to mention the health of all of those farm animals!)
Needless to say, twenty years ago, very few people had even heard about “greenhouse gas emissions” or a “carbon footprint”. When people asked us why we had given up meat and we explained the environmental implications of a meat-based diet, we got funny looks and the topic was quickly changed to something more acceptable.
Now the idea that there are serious environmental implications to our meat-based diet has become more accepted. For a long time it was believed that roughly 18% of greenhouse gas emissions were produced by animal agriculture. That seemed like a very large amount but recently The World Watch Institute estimated that animal agriculture is responsible for about 51% of global warming gases! Wow! That is a HUGE part of the global warming problem! (See the World Watch Institute Report called “Livestock and Climate Change” at http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294)
No matter what the true value is, the reality is that we can control that number by the choices we make at the grocery store! If fewer of us bought meat, there would be fewer animals bred and raised for meat and fewer animals contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, choosing a meat-free diet reduces a person’s carbon footprint by almost 6 tons a year, according to the Nature Conservancy’s online carbon footprint calculator (http://www.nature.org/initiatives/climatechange/calculator/). As I worked by way through that calculator, if I indicated that I ate meat at “most meals” my carbon footprint for food and diet choices was 5.8 tons per year, but when I changed my answer to indicate that I never eat meat, my carbon footprint for food and diet choices dropped to just 0.9 tons per year! Even changing my vehicle choice from a “small” one to a “large” one had a much smaller impact on my carbon footprint! In fact I’ve heard that a vegetarian who drives a Hummer has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat-eater who drives a hybrid!
So, as the quote above indicates, we are all making a difference, each and every day. The question is “What kind of difference do you want to make?”