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It’s Time to Choose Climate-Friendly Food


It’s Time to Choose Climate-Friendly Food

Michael Pollan

When the international climate negotiators assembling in Paris this week sit down for dinner, they might reflect on the climate impact of their meal.

Indeed, in the midst of a growing—and very encouraging—global conversation on how to address the common threat of climate change, far too little attention has been paid at the highest levels to the impact of our diets and farming practices on planet-warming emissions.


Agreed with one quibble. The scientific consensus is that the food system that slaughters animals is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions. At 51% it exceeds all other sources combined. Big Green is funded by the meat industry and that's why they keep the spotlight on fossil fuels. Big Green organizations put articles on their websites saying the usual "we should all eat less meat and more veggies" and that gives them cover to keep the public's attention on the other 49%. How many dues-paying members of the Big Green organizations know that meat production is the number one driver of global warming?


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"The scientific consensus is that the food system that slaughters animals is the number one source of greenhouse gas emissions."

Bullshit. You claim this all the time. You never provide a link to a citation by ANY scientist, let alone a "scientific consensus."


Sounds like PETA. No thanks. I want my steak.


Buying food locally is part of the solution to this problem for many reasons which I would hope I don't need to list for this audience. Go to localharvest.org and find farms near your zip code. You may be surprised to find how many sources there are nearby for the fruits, vegetables, dairy products, meats and eggs that you have been buying in supermarkets. And the money stays in the community - support your local farmers!


Zen - You are wrong! And Pollan is also nutz because without industrial ag we could not feed even half of the 7 to 8 billion people on the planet. He is either condemning billions to die or he is doing what most are doing these days ... beliving in magical thinking.

Lets go after the real culprit if we are serious about change.

"For example, in the United States, fossil fuel-based energy is responsible for about 80% of total greenhouse gasemissions as compared to about 6% from animal agriculture (estimates from the World Resources Institute and Pitesky et al. 2009)."

"How much does animal agriculture and eating meat contribute to global warming?"



Our industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to global warming and this article gives some insight into the threat it poses to our climate. http://ecowatch.com/2013/01/21/factory-farming-global-warming/
Zenpractice is correct when he mentions how we personally can make a major contribution to reducing our impact on global warming by switching to a more plant based diet.


I don't know what the consensus is, but scientists have known for a while that producing meat is more damaging in almost every way than producing an equivalent amount of vegan protein (water, GHG, amount of land used etc.) when considered on aggregate for a country. Of course an individual rancher can be ecological and try to raise meat with almost no inputs other than the grasses that grow on the land which may not even be suitable for farming, but this NEVER scales up to supply a large number of people with meat - hence the need to feed animals crops grown on normal farmland. The whole thing is crazy, but most people can't see it for some reason.

I assume zenpractice is referring to the Worldwatch study (http://www.worldwatch.org/node/6294, also covered at http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/study-claims-meat-creates-half-of-all-greenhouse-gases-1812909.html) which mentions the 51% is a corrected figure from 18%. Granted this is a big jump and it is natural to be skeptical and I don't know of good critiques, but if you find any let us know.

I made what I considered to be the obvious decision to be vegetarian when I was 19 and am mostly vegan now. If anybody reading this site hasn't considered being vegetarian or vegan (or pescatarian though you have to be very careful on what fish harvests are sustainable), they are missing a key progressive piece of thought.


Here's a link with a huge bibliography on the deleterious impacts of animal agriculture on our climate and planet as a whole:


The WorldWatch study of 2009 states that animal agriculture accounts for 51% of all GHG emissions. That was a more in-depth study than the FAO report of 2006, which put it at 19%.

This is compared to all modes of transportation on the planet combined, which contributes 13%.

Michael Pollan is featured in the documentary Cowspiracy, so it's a little confusing why he downplays the far greater role of livestock over industrial agriculture in causing global warming.

We should also consider that 45% of all the land mass on the planet is used for livestock and plants to feed them.

By far, the majority of water consumption on this planet is by livestock. Read the facts and watch the video segments on the Cowspiracy facts page, and also watch the entire movie.

I don't think Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben or the people running 350.org really care about climate change. If they did, they would be going after animal agriculture. At the very least, they should state that their mission is to curb fossil fuel use, one of the lesser causes of climate change. That's a fine mission, but to represent that we can stop climate change by curbing fossil fuel use is completely dishonest and despicable.

It's important to note that grassfed beef and dairy use more land and emit more GHGs than grainfed. And there is simply no way that all cattle can be switched to grassfed.


You make two true statements, but zenpractice shoots himself in the foot repeatedly by being arrogant, condescending, and exaggerated.

In the past i have replied with respect, and been ignored, while he continues to peddle both his uncited claims, and his insults. He's cut back some on the insults but can't completely restrain himself.


"... using millions of gallons of fossil fuels to make synthetic fertilizers and pesticides."

Unless you burn fossil fuels, they do not produce carbon dioxide that does contribute to global warming,

The notion that eating meat is unhealthy ignores the fact humans were hunters and gatherers before they invented agriculture and domesticated both plant and animal species. A culture that hunts wild game and eats meat has to be nomadic because you must follow the wild game. Domesticating animals and herding them is superior to hunting because it allowed humans to become sedentary and it is safer to kill an animal that is in your herd than it is to chase a wild animal all over creation to get your dinner. Domestic animals also don't run away from you while wild animals are very tough to catch and kill.

Although it is possible to obtain a balanced vegan diet, it is much more difficult to get the proper nutrients if you exclude meat because many plant proteins do not have all of the essential amino acids. Plants are also lacking in iron; it is the blood in animals that is a good source of iron (all hemoglobin molecules contain iron and meat contains a very iron-containing protein called myoglobin; that is why both meat and blood are red).

If eating meat were not healthy, then predators would not have evolved. If eating meat were unhealthy then zoos should not feed meat to their predators for this would be harmful to the zoo animals. This would result in starvation because a predator like a wolf or lion will not eat anything but meat.

A common mistake non-scientists make is to observe a statistical correlation (humans who eat meat have a higher incidence of heart attacks and colon cancer) and conclude that this means eating meat causes colon cancer. If you really want to demonstrate the effect meat has on animals, then compare the health of predators with herbivores. This could easily be done with zoo animals. Why people have never done this escapes me, probably because they don't want to find out that predators on a meat-only diet are just as healthy as herbivores on a non-meat diet.

The best evidence that humans evolved to eat meat is that we now know there are taste receptors for cooked meat in the human tongue. This is why steak tastes good.

The best evidence that animal agriculture does not contribute to global warming (other than the internal combustion engine is used in agriculture; but, if you burn only biofuel in your tractor, you won't cause global warming) is that humans domesticated animals about 10,000 years ago. The dog was the first domesticated animal species, but dogs were not domesticated as a food source (although there are cultures that do eat dogs), they were domesticated because they are pack animals that hunt during the day (cats are not pack animals and are nocturnal). Humans are also pack animals that hunt during the day, so we domesticated dogs to help us hunt (actually the evidence is that wolves evolved traits to get us to domesticate them because both species benefited from this symbiotic relationship).

If animal agriculture contributed to global warming, then global warming would have become a problem long before the Industrial Revolution when humans discovered that burning fossil fuels could be used as a source of energy. The problem with burning fossil fuels is that this produces carbon dioxide that should not be in the atmosphere (the carbon in fossil fuels is sequestered deep in the earth and is very different from the carbon in, say, biofuels (ethanol and biodiesel). If you have ethanol in your gas tank, carbon dioxide molecules produced in combustion of ethanol simply replaces carbon dioxide molecules the corn plant used to produce ethanol, removed from the atmosphere when it was alive. Burning biofuels is a zero-sum game.

Before the Industrial Revolution, the natural carbon cycle (photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and respiration adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere) was a steady state (this means the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere did not change (similar to your checking account balance not changing if you withdraw an amount of money that is equal to the amount you deposit each month). Humans started burning fossil fuels at the start of the Industrial Revolution and the carbon dioxide released upset the natural carbon cycle.

So, agriculture is actually good for the environment (so long as farmers use biofuels to power their equipment) because the plants that are cultivated remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Burning fossil fuels will cause climate change, but this is not necessarily bad. A catastrophic meteor impact wiped out the dinosaurs. The meteor impact spewed so much dust and debris in the atmosphere that less solar radiation was absorbed by the earth and this caused the temperature of the earth to drop. We know this will happen because a volcanic eruption does the same thing. The year after Mt. Tambora erupted was called the year without a summer. A cooler earth wiped out the dinosaurs because they could not adapt to the changed environment, but mammals flourished (they evolved rapidly to fill the niches once occupied by reptiles) and since we are mammals, climate change was good for us, but bad for dinosaurs.


Are you aware that you emit greenhouse gases every time you exhale and fart? But the carbon dioxide produced by any living organism does not contribute to global warming because your cells metabolize the food you eat to produce carbon dioxide. Since the food you eat is either plants or animals (that also ate plants), the carbon dioxide in the plant tissue you ate was removed from the atmosphere in photosynthesis.

When living organisms emit greenhouse gases this is part of the natural carbon cycle (photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and respiration adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere). Normally the carbon cycle is a steady state (no net gain or loss of atmospheric carbon dioxide). However, the carbon in fossil fuels is sequestered deep in the earth and is not cycling. When humans dig up fossil fuels and burn them they upset the natural carbon cycle by adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that should not be there.

Water used by animals is not eliminated from the water cycle. The water you consume each day is either exhaled as water vapor or lost as sweat, urine and feces. This means that water is simply recycled because there is a natural water cycle. So, allowing cattle to consume water is not going to cause the earth to change. Do you think wild animals that also consume water are hurting the environment?

The plants grown to feed animals remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere when they are alive. When animals eat those plants they metabolize the plant biomass and produce carbon dioxide as a waste that is then available to other plants for photosynthesis. So, growing plants as a source of animal food actually helps the environment.


i'm well aware of the outrage of industrial meat, which i do not buy.

It is utterly absurd to call fossil fuel use "one of the lesser causes of climate change." Fossil fuels ENABLED and still power the industrialization of meat, providing a huge chunk of the greenhouse gas emissions that are figured into estimates of the climate impact of industrial meat.

When trying to convince others to consider ones views, it is good practice to make supportable statements. If one claims "scientific consensus," one non-peer reviewed paper from 2009 (which is critiqued on several points at the article that dara links to) makes no such case for consensus. That was the point of my calling bullshit, and may be why zenpractice NEVER actually cites that paper.

And It is counterproductive to insult your readers, as zenpractice makes a practice of.


i agree about breathing CO2, but i (and specialists in the field of CO2e, greenhouse gas equivalents to CO2) disagree with you about methane. Livestock production of methane far outstrips the natural methane production that would otherwise occur, and methane is far more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2.

And your closing statement is absurd. IN NO WAY is growing industrial commodity GMO corn and soy for industrial livestock feed a benefit to the environment.


Yes, you can raise free-range cattle on an idyllic ranch. But what you can't do is to feed the 7 billion people on the earth raising cattle this way. The demand for meat is the reason we have feedlots. So long as people will pay money to eat meat, then meat producers will try to produce as much meat as possible (that old law of supply and demand).

Since humans evolved to be hunters and gatherers long before we invented agriculture, how is being a vegan progressive?

I suggest you watch the Stanley Kubrick classic: "2001: A Space Odyssey." After our ancestors were enlightened by the monolith they discovered that a bone is a good tool that can be used to kill herbivores and eat their flesh. This allowed them to be healthier than the other hominids (it is not that eating meat is healthier per se than eating plants; but gathering wild plants won't provide a very good diet). They also discovered that they could use a bone to beat the crap out of those other weaker hominids and control the water hole. You may not like this, but this is a good factual representation of why we evolved to eat meat. In case you don't get it, if you are a hunter and gatherer, you will be a lot healthier and more likely to survive if you have a good supply of meat. Have you heard that old joke about vegetarians? "Vegetarian is the Indian word for poor hunter."

It is important to understand that all living organisms that respire aerobically (plants respire aerobically at night) produce carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, but when living organisms produce carbon dioxide this does not cause global warming. This is because there is a natural carbon cycle (photosynthesis removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and respiration adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere). This natural carbon cycle is a steady state (a zero-sum game). Since the carbon in fossil fuels is sequestered deep in the earth, it is not cycling. So, burning fossil fuels adds carbon dioxide to the atmosphere that should not be there and this upsets the natural carbon cycle.

You may feel morally superior because you do not use animals, but the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant disagrees with you: "When [the human being] first said to the sheep, «the pelt which you wear was given to you by nature not for your own use, but for mine» and took it from the sheep to wear it himself, he became aware of a prerogative which, by his nature, he enjoyed over all the animals; and he now no longer regarded them as fellow creatures, but as means and instruments to be used at will for the attainment of whatever ends he pleased."


I understand that meat is an effective source of proteins, iron and many other minerals. It is just not an efficient source. We evolved by eating meat. This is true. What is also true, however, is that if we ALL continue to eat meat (incl China and India), then we will NOT be able to evolve again. We should be having this discussion and not just shutting people down. Progressives are trying to progress and evolving is a process of progression.

Sources: USDA Nutrient Database for Standard Reference, Release 24, 2011 and Manufacturer´s information.
The RDA for iron is 8 mg/day for adult men and for post-menopausal women and 18 mg/day for pre-menopausal women. Vegetarians (including vegans) may need up to 1.8 times more iron.

Table 2: Comparison of Iron Sources


Iron (mg/100 calories)

Spinach, cooked 15.5
Collard greens, cooked 4.5
Lentils, cooked 2.9
Broccoli, cooked 1.9
Chickpeas, cooked 1.8
Sirloin steak, choice, broiled 0.9
Hamburger, lean, broiled 0.8
Chicken, breast roasted, no skin 0.6
Pork chop, pan fried 0.4
Flounder, baked 0.3
Milk, skim 0.1

Stop denying what is evident. We DO NOT NEEd meat!


I've seen a wide range of figures going from as high as Zen's figures all the way down to your low figure. I'm pretty sure it's higher than most people imagine. I think the author's figures are close to the real figure. By the way, Zen may have gotten his figure from the movie called "Cowspiracy".


The carbon cycle to which you refer has become very unbalanced not only because of fossil fuel burning, which you mention, but also because of widespread deforestation, partly in order to expand livestock ranches & industrial agriculture, including palm plantations. The total mass of humans with their domesticated animals has reached an overwhelming disproportionate percentage of all animal mass compared to that of wild animals, as mass extinction takes place in large part due to agricultural practices as well as mining, poaching & many other deleterious human activities.


Thank you for your courteous reply to my posting. I guess it's very easy to be condescending in ones attitude when convinced of ones facts on a subject. I personally strive to use the " Golden Rule " with every action I take. I hate being on the receiving end of belittling comments so I will choose my words carefully before responding to someone. From a religious perspective, here is a short video many might enjoy on " diet and conscientious eating."