Eat a Big Mac: Buy a Carbon Credit?

Will we be forced to buy carbon credits from Al Gore in order to assuage our guilt over eating Big Macs or other types of hamburgers? Perhaps. As we saw recently in NewsBusters, there is a theory out there that Bovine "Burps" contribute significantly to causing global warming due to the release of methane by cows during their "burping" process. And now environmental whackos want us to cut back or eliminate our consumption of hamburgers in order to keep bovine methane from destroying our planet. Here are some excerpts from the July 16 article by Jim Motavalli in the San Antonio Current expounding on this subject:

Ask most Americans what causes global warming, and they’ll point to a coal-plant smokestack or a car’s tailpipe. They’re right, of course, but perhaps two other images should be granted similarly iconic status: the front and rear ends of a cow. According to a little-known 2006 United Nations report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” livestock is a major player in climate change, accounting for 18 percent of all greenhouse-gas emissions (measured in carbon-dioxide equivalents). That’s more than the entire transportation system! Unfortunately, this incredibly important revelation has received only limited attention in the media.

How could methane from cows, goats, sheep, and other livestock have such a huge impact? As Chris Goodall points out in his book How to Live a Low-Carbon Life, “Ruminant animals [chewing a cud], such as cows and sheep, produce methane as a result of the digestive process … Dairy cows are particularly important sources of methane because of the volume of food, both grass and processed material, that they eat.”

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the American meat industry produces more than 60 million tons of waste annually — five tons for every U.S. citizen and 130 times the volume of human waste. Michael Jacobson, the longtime executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, adds the fact that just one midsize feedlot churns out half a million pounds of manure each day. “The methane that cattle and their manure produce has a global warming effect equal to that of 33 million automobiles,” the Center reports in its book Six Arguments for a Greener Diet.

Mr. Motavalli doesn't exactly come out and declare himself to be a vegetarian but it sure sounds like he has a "beef" over the eating of meat:

The environmental consequences of meat-based diets extend far beyond their impact on climate change. According to the UN report, producing the worldwide meat supply also consumes a large share of natural resources and contributes to a variety of pressing problems...

...A study by the Pew Commission on Industrial Farm Animal Production, released last April, called the human health and environmental risks associated with the meat industry “unacceptable.”

...The few commentators who have taken on the connection between meat consumption and global warming ignore the most obvious solution: not eating meat.

Because vegetarians enjoy lower levels of blood cholesterol and suffer less frequently from obesity and hypertension, their life expectancies are several years greater. But the benefits of the vegetarian option are rarely on the agenda, even when the environmental effects of the meat industry are under discussion.

Most people grow up eating meat and seeing others doing the same. The message that “meat is good and necessary for health” is routinely reinforced through advertising and the cultural signals we’re sent at school, work, and church. Vegetarianism is regularly depicted as a fringe choice for “health faddists.” The government reinforces this message with meat featured prominently in its food pyramids.

Jim Mason, coauthor of the book The Ethics of What We Eat: Why Our Food Choices Matter, offers another possible reason we’ve kept vegetarianism off the mainstream agenda. “People who eat meat and animal products are in denial about anything and everything having to do with animal farming,” he says. “They know that it must be bad, but they don’t want to look at any part of it. So all of it stays hidden and abuses flourish — whether of animals, workers, or the environment.”

So people who eat meat are in denial? Motavalli suggests that a big coverup is at work surpressing the the cause of vegetarianism that he seems to support:

Even such an enlightened source as the 2005 Worldwatch report “Happier Meals: Rethinking the Global Meat Industry” is careful not to advocate for a vegetarian diet, including it in a range of options that also includes eating less meat, switching to pasture-raised “humane” meat, and opting for a few non-meat entrees per week. Vegetarianism is the “elephant in the room,” but even in a very food-conscious age it is not easily made the centerpiece of an activist agenda.

Even though human teeth and our digestive systems are designed for the consumption of meat, Motavalli continues to make the case for the vegan cause based on nature:

...Offer these facts to many meat eaters, and they’ll respond that they can’t be healthy without meat. “Where would I get my protein?” is a common answer. But the latest medical research shows that the human body does not need meat to be healthy. Indeed, meat is high in cholesterol and saturated fat, and a balanced vegetarian diet provides all the protein needed for glowing health. Were humans “meant” to eat meat, just because our ancestors did? Nonsense, says Dr. Milton Mills, a leading vegetarian voice. “The human gastrointestinal tract features the anatomical modifications consistent with an herbivorous diet,” he asserts.

Even Al Gore comes in for criticism for not pushing vegetarianism:

The fact that the cornerstone of the American diet aids and abets climate change is an “inconvenient truth” that many of us don’t want to face, says Joseph Connelly, publisher the San Francisco-based VegNews Magazine. He takes a dig at Al Gore for not mentioning meat-based diets in his film and only dealing with them glancingly in his book An Inconvenient Truth.

The article concludes with a glimpse into the future in which hordes of chip-on-the shoulder vegans will make beansprout munching a moral cause:

Lisa Mickleborough, an editor at VegNews, is probably right when she says that animal concerns are a powerful force for turning meat eating into a moral issue. To be an animal-rights leader is almost by definition to be a vegan. But few environmental leaders have gone that far. “As an environmental issue, it’s pretty compelling,” she says. “The figures on methane production speak for themselves. But when it comes to doing what’s right for the environment, most people don’t take big steps — they just do the best they can.”

So are we looking forward to a time when meat eating could be made illegal due to supposed global warming? Who knows? If this turns out to be the case, your humble correspondent will be making plans to meet his burger dealer in dark alleys in order to make his illegal purchases of Tommy's burgers smuggled in from Los Angeles.

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