Climate Change

Farting Guernseys and Global Warming

By Ryan McGreal
Published January 24, 2007

I just came across a fascinating essay from last week in the Huffington Post that argues conventional meat production is a bigger contributor to climate change than transportation.

President Herbert Hoover promised "a chicken in every pot and a car in every garage." With warnings about global warming reaching feverish levels, many are having second thoughts about all those cars. It seems they should instead be worrying about the chickens.

The problem, not surprisingly, is the energy-intensive, industrial methods countries like Canada and the US use to produce meat.

According to research from the University of Chicago, all that livestock feed, transport to slaughterhouses, refrigeration, processing, and distribution mean producing a calorie of meat protein produces more than ten times as much carbon dioxide as producing a calorie of plant protein.

Worse, farting livestock and rotting manure produce most of the the vast amounts of methane gas and nitrous oxide that are responsible for a third of human-produced greenhouse gases.

Hoover's "chicken in every pot" now adds up to ten billion animals slaughtered per year in the US.

Consuming less meat (once a week or less is probably optimum for people who don't want to go vegetarian) would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as well as reducing unsustainable use of fresh water, production of acid rain, and pollution of marine ecosystems.

Try to imagine the prodigious volumes of manure churned out by modern American farms: 5 million tons a day, more than a hundred times that of the human population, and far more than our land can possibly absorb. The acres and acres of cesspools stretching over much of our countryside, polluting the air and contaminating our water, make the Exxon Valdez oil spill look minor in comparison. All of which we can fix surprisingly easily, just by putting down our chicken wings and reaching for a veggie burger.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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