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Meat, Paris, and Next Steps


Meat, Paris, and Next Steps

Roni Neff

We were in a public eatery outside Paris, surprised to find ourselves stumped by the question of how to get a serving of vegetables without taking any meat. The server handed customers plates only after putting one of several meat options on them, and my colleague, Raychel Santo, and I were eyeing the vegetable trays at the end of the line. We passed on the meat, but when we got to the veggies, drama ensued: because we’d passed on the meat, we didn’t have plates. We had to go backwards and ask the meat servers for plates, at which point they started to scoop meat onto them.


Is there really anything we can eat without contributing go global warming? Rice paddies produce methane. Soils with nitrogen fertilizers used for growing crops give off nitrous oxide and farm equipment uses fossil fuels. Dairy products have same problem as eating meat because of the belching cows. Clearly the problem extends well beyond eating meat.


And CLEARLY meat is the highest-impact GHG-producing food.


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14.5%? Way off. More recent, more thorough research places the percentage at 51%, making the meat industry the number one driver of global warming, causing more damage than all other sources of greenhouse gases combined.


Absolutely ludicrous! Your pro meat postings are absurd. Please stop calling yourself an environmentalist or a progressive. You are a reactionary who refuses to look at real science. The meat industry produces all kinds of ridiculous statements such as salads are worse than meat. Good grief.


The main point is that there should be a comprehensive approach to reducing emissions associated with the agricultural sector. It is estimated that the agricultural sector is responsible for 9% of US GHG emissions.



Absurd. Keep on denying reality. 51% is the correct percentage. 9%? Right, and smoking is good for you.


Remember what happened to Ms. Powerful--Oprah Winfrey when she engendered a lawsuit against Big Beef?

Many behaviors are learned and the advertising world has tremendous power when it comes to manufacturing tastes, styles, and lifestyles.

Human beings NEVER ate the quantities of meat that now are seen as parts of a staple diet. And that's certainly part of the epidemic in obesity, heart disease, and given the types of hormones/growth agents & antibiotics given to "factory raised" livestock, also Cancer.

In England, people pay less for life insurance if they are vegetarians.

Between the Mad Cow outbreak, the e-coli beef recalls, and what's likely to happen more frequently if TPP and TIPP come into effect (since these treaties will greatly diminish whatever oversight is being used to check the quality of food-stuffs coming into this nation) ...by necessity, more people will learn to "Just say no" to Big Mac and other beef products.


Spiritually-aware persons understand the meaning of eating as low on the food chain as one possibly can.

Vegetables can reproduce FAR more quickly than LIVING beings.


I don't think it's 51%. Don't forget, whatever the military does--and it's both a major polluter AND major energy utilizer--is largely off the radar.

Militarism... spreading gigantic, fuel-cannibalizing machinery far and wide


And the types of transport vehicles that depend upon fossil fuels

are the THREE leading causes of climate chaos... added to the radical dissolution of the natural world and the vast marvels of intricate web-works of highly complex natural communities.


51% is a preposterously extreme percentage that only detracts from your basic point.


I'll stick with the US EPA as an authoritative source. According to the EPA the electricity and transportation sectors account for more than 50% of US emissions. Is the EPA in denial too?


I definitely think Americans can eat much smarter with regard to reducing GHG gas emissions. But I don't expect that to occur in large enough numbers. I think meaningful change will have to come from changes in the way animals are raised and crops are grown. The EPA has some broad suggestions on its website. A lot of research is going on in this area and therefore there might be good progress.


That "more recent research" you cite is NOT research. It is a couple of guys doing back-of-the envelope math. i appreciate your linking to the original magazine article so everyone can read it.

One example of the way they get to their ridiculous conclusion (that meat causes 51% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gases added to the atmosphere) is by counting the carbon in the air the animals breathe. They justify this by stating that if you don't account for the carbon in the air the animals breathe, then you are not accounting for the carbon released by the deforestation to clear land (for pasture, or for growing industrial commodity feed crops like GMO corn and soy). But they account for the carbon released by deforestation, and then also count the total CO2 in cow breath EVERY YEAR, multiplying their accounting of the carbon released by deforestation.

This cow breath example is one note i made when reading their magazine article for the first time. There are other such details in the math they run to reach their 51% absurdity. i encourage everyone to read the original article (which serves as the "scientific" basis for the 51% claim repeated in the documentary Cowspiracy). It's not "research" and it's not "science," it's these two guys reworking math to multiply and exaggerate the carbon gas impact of meat.

The carbon gas impact of meat is huge. Privileged "consumers" should reduce their personal carbon footprint by eliminating most or all meat from their diets. More importantly, agriculture and land-use policies, programs, investments and subsidies should be entirely reworked, to stop rewarding the horrific abuse of land, ecology, people, and the animals themselves, and instead promote agriculture and land use that work in sync with the natural living systems of the Earth.

Pounding away at exaggerated data does not help make that case. And focusing solely on consumer choice, instead of holistically assessing ALL the ways in which people and corporations exercise power in the political economy, is a severe limitation on actually understanding and addressing the problem.


In financial accounting, there are Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) that have been developed and codified over several centuries of financial accounting, since double-entry bookkeeping was invented in Medici Florence.

In ecological accounting, there do not yet exist any such Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. Partly because it is a much newer professional discipline than financial accounting, but also because it is inherently far more complex, since financial accounting accounts for one single thing, the flows of money and monetary value between and among different financial entities, while ecological accounting attempts to account for the total flows of all materials encompassing all significant ecological processes.

Carbon accounting is one slice of the larger field of ecological accounting, but even reducing the scope to simply account for all the flows of carbon among and between entities is far more complex than financial accounting. For one thing, one of the entities in ecological accounting is the ecology itself, for which there is no analog in financial accounting.

So it's not at this point possible to come to a consensus conclusion that one specific percentage claim is correct and another is false, since different practitioners will use different accounting systems to derive their figures. For example if one looks at "the transport sector" that obviously includes transport that is part of the meat industry. Into which account does one place that carbon: Meat? or Transport? Such details are hugely significant. One of the ways the authors of the 51% article reach their conclusion, is by corralling all CO2 emissions that could possibly be associated with the meat industry, and putting them all in the "meat" column. But this approach, applied to all sectors and entities, leaves much carbon being accounted in multiple columns. Unless and until one comprehends the ways in which different assessors are placing different carbon in different accounts, one can't even begin to make clear sense of the numbers being bandied about.

All that said, it is pretty clear from reading a number of different sources, that the share that reasonably gets booked to the "meat" account, is somewhere between the low 9% figure generated by the US EPA, or the 14% global figure published by the UN FAO, and the high 51% reached by the two guys who authored the article. When Michael Pollan suggests something closer to a 30% figure, based on his own reading of various claims, that's probably closer to the truth. When GRAIN and La Via Campesina run their own assessment of how to account for carbon emissions, and publish their estimate of a range between 44% and 57% produced by the entire industrial agriculture sector (including industrial meat), i think they are also more accurate than the single back-of-the-envelope 51% figure for meat alone that @zenpractice keeps insisting is the only "sound science" on the matter.

Also it has been noted that military uses have been exempt from the accounting processes used through the COP meetings. The professional practice of carbon accounting is far from driving down to specific consensus percentages. It's important to recognize this, and try to look at the underlying assumptions that are used by different accountants to reach the figures they publish.

EDIT: And, it is also important to look at specific industrial and national INTERESTS that adopt or promote different ecological accounting practices. ZenPractice is correct to note that industrial meat interests have a horse in this race, and actively use their potent political-economic resources to produce and promote "spin" that serves their interests. As a general point Robert, in all your writing on these important topics in these threads, you have a strong tendency to not note such "interested party" influence, at the national level and in the COP process, regarding how we as a species will address climate chaos. Instead you "take as a given" the general landscape that these interested parties adopt, as they define the range of options worthy of consideration.


Pastures with cattle sequester carbon, cows fart yes, but they also urinate and defecate and stir up the ground, if rotated on pastures they leave behind a deep soil that sequesters tons of carbon per acre and if the farm is managed properly will not pollute the local aquifer.

Pastured cattle is the solution to global warming. Growing grains to feed cattle depletes the soil of carbon and aggravates the problem, the vegetarians pumping out "studies" have it wrong.

Supply-side approaches, centered on CO2 sources, will never solve this, always use demand-side solutions: where that carbon can and should go, whos sucking it up is the question to ask, the answer is the soil.


What you write is generally true. But if you inventory lands that are "best use" appropriate for pasturing cattle, then the total global production of beef will be FAR LOWER than it is today under the extractive and externalizing industrial CAFO paradigm.

Also: What is marketed today as "pastured beef" is not necessarily meat grown on "best use" land. Nor is it necessarily genuinely "pastured beef," but can be beef that claims "pastured" status based on very limited access to pasture for a portion of its unfortunate life.

Heavy meat eaters who are genuinely interested in reducing anthropogenic GHG production should still look seriously at slashing their meat consumption, along with committing to question the marketing of "climate appropriate" meat.


I agree that there are different ways to account for emissions. The ridiculous 51% for the meat industry could probably be obtained for many activities if people wanted to waste their time calculating these things. Attending sporting events could probably get to 50% if you included everything involved. So probably could Christmas shopping. Adding all these things up would probably get you to 1,000%. The bottom line is you have use a little common sense when deciding on what to include within a sector.


Ban Christmas shopping! i support that campaign!