Eating for the environment

It’s good to see letter-writers countering the spurious claim that man-made climate change is a myth. But what is even more perplexing to me than the deniers are those who understand the necessity of reversing climate change, yet refuse to embrace simple lifestyle changes that scientists conclude are crucial. The Official Handbook for Live Earth, the concerts that Al Gore co-organized, noted that “refusing meat” is the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” (emphasis in original). A recent study in the journal Nature Climate Change found that, “On the basis of pounds of food produced, cattle and sheep generate between 19 and 48 times more greenhouse gasses than protein-rich plant foods such as beans, grains, or soy products.” It takes up to 20 calories of food put into an animal to return a single calorie. Is there a less efficient and more environmentally destructive model of food production?

Some well-intentioned people are turning to pasture-raised animal foods in the belief they are an eco-friendly choice when compared to those raised at the concentration camps known as concentrated animal feeding operations. While factory farms do have unique problems, like mounds of toxic waste that contaminate the water and air — old-style small farms fail to live up to their claims of sustainability. For example, grass-fed animals require tremendous amounts of land. Where will these millions of acres come from? Overgrazing in previously cleared areas has already caused massive land degradation. The human population explosion (7 billion and growing exponentially) has rendered animal agriculture an obsolete, grossly inefficient model of food production. Solutions to climate change and world hunger require that we look forward, not backward.

Environmental scientists have concluded that raising animals for food is simply not sustainable, and medical professionals have shown that plant-based diets are the healthiest. To learn more, please visit

— Stewart David

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3 thoughts on “Eating for the environment

  1. Amy Lanou

    I have just returned from attending the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee meeting in Washington, DC, where 16 experts are deliberating on revisions to US dietary guidance to be published in 2015. One of the most notable things that I learned by attending was that the committee has created a subcommittee on sustainability of the food system and invited experts to talk about how our collective food choices impact the environment. The invited expert, Dr. Kate Clancy, clearly stated that we need to restrict or avoid food from cow’s (dairy products and beef)in order to work towards a sustainable food system. I hope the committee acts effectively on this recommendation!

  2. Johnny

    Mr. David writes: “Environmental scientists have concluded that raising animals for food is simply not sustainable” — as if there is some unanimous agreement amongst these environmental scientists as there is among those studying climate change. However that is just not the case, and he knows it, and indeed strong arguments are made and demonstrated persuasively all the time regarding the environmental soundness of small amounts of wild game or local meat in one’s diet.

    What David really wants, and has been pounding the table about in this letters section now for God knows how many years, is for you to have the same opinion as him about the morality of killing animals for food. He doesn’t just want to not do it for himself, he thinks it’s wrong for you to do it too……..solely because of the killing aspect, but often couched in this climate change and/or sustainability rhetoric.

    Although tiring, the high horse babble-fest and cross-country soybean trucking continues. Make your own choices.

    • Mark Noble

      Johnny, it seems to me Stewart David has a valid point. There is no compelling need I can think of, at least in the place and time I live, to have animals raised and killed for food or sport or clothing or entertainment or experimentation. Perhaps in some rare situations one could make some argument that animal agriculture has some limited environmental benefit (very steep slopes, extremely cold or arid climate maybe? It could be that Eskimos can’t have gardens–I’m not an Eskimo, so I’m guessing.) I’m not sure…anyway, it requires a little imagination to come up with these scenarios. But with all the imagination I can muster I am at a loss to come up with a moral justification for killing when killing is not needed. Don’t you think it is better to avoid killing animals if you can? And if you feel that way, what is wrong with urging others not to kill needlessly?

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