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Worried about climate change? Eat less meat.

Commentator Mark Bittman says industrial meat production accounts for at least one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions.

Everyone talks about the well-documented effects industrial meat production has on energy, water usage, and public health. We hear plenty about what treating animals like widgets does to our souls.

But one thing that's underplayed is the effect of industrial meat on climate change.

The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has estimated almost 20 percent of greenhouse gases are attributable to the raising of animals for food.

Some researchers claim the real number is more like 50 percent.

But the exact percentage doesn't matter. What does is that we don't take the role of livestock in climate change seriously enough.

Most proposed solutions focus on developing new forms of energy -- even though they can't be brought on line fast enough to avert what may be a coming catastrophe.

Adjusting our eating habits is a much easier fix.

Although Americans are eating somewhat less meat, it still amounts to something like 200 pounds a person every year.

If you believe that earth's natural resources are limitless, or that technology will one day fix climate change, I guess none of this worries you. But if you believe in dealing with reality, and want the planet to be a livable place for your kids, this is a big deal.

It's seldom that enormous problems have such simple solutions, but this is one that does. Yes, we want cleaner forms of energy and transportation. But don't look for those any time soon.

In the meantime, we can begin eating less meat. That's something each of us can do, with no technological advances. You've already changed your light bulbs; now, how about eating a salad?

About the author

Mark Bittman has been an avid home cook since 1968, a journalist for nearly as long (longer if you count his high school yearbook), and a professional food writer since 1980.
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There is another way to reduce methane; convert methane into RNG, a natural gas that does NOT require any fracking. RNG is already being used in Europe, in Canada and in CA at the Altamont landfill near Oakland.
Vermont started Cow Power to convert dairy cows' methane to RNG. It's time for most of America to adopt this technology.
See a lot more on this at Energy-Vision.org. Full disclosure: I am on the board of EV.
Mark, please do a story on this new technology. More Americans need to know we can have unlimited natural gas by converting cow poop and other organics to Renewable Natural Gas. No tracking needed.

There is another way to reduce methane; convert it into RNG, a natural gas that does NOT require any fracking. RNG is already being used in Europe, in Canada and in CA by Waste Management at the Altamont landfill. Vermont started Cow Power to convert dairy cows' methane to RNG; this RNG is used to power trucks and make electricity.
It's time for most of America to adopt this RNG technology. No need to frack. We can get natural gas, and renewable natural gas, by capturing methane.

You're missing the entire point! Mr. Bittman is drawing our attention to the fact that we can help to avert climate change NOW by reducing our consumption of meat. Every time you sit down to eat a vegan meal, you're helping to reduce global warming. It's a practical, common sense thing that everyone can do to help our planet. Additionally, by choosing vegan, you're also choosing a compassionate and healthy meal!!

Save the world, eat a salad! Seriously? The root cause of the problem is overpopulation; too many people chasing too few resources. Want to save the earth? Don't have kids.

I don't really believe we have the knowledge or the wherewithal to do that, but the earth will wipe us out, as it has most failed species, if we don't. It may wipe us out anyway because it's perfectly capable of saving itself without our help.

ljschuster is mostly wrong -- again, because livestock and feed production occupy 45% of land on earth, much more than is occupied by humans.

Most of that land used to grow trees, and could grow them again -- if we replace meat with better alternatives. The regrown trees could absorb excess atmospheric carbon, thereby reversing climate change. Indeed, it's the only pragmatic way to do so in the next 5 years as needed.

What ljschuster got right is that we don't have the wherewithal to reduce human population. Conversely, we have the wherewithal to reduce livestock populations dramatically within 1 year, and thereafter keep them reduced.

MikeinNYC is mostly wrong. Livestock and feed production occupy 45% of land on earth, much more than is occupied by humans. Most of that land used to grow trees, and could grow them again -- if we replace meat with better alternatives. The regrown trees could absorb excess atmospheric carbon, thereby reversing climate change. Indeed, it's the only pragmatic way to do so in the next 5 years as needed.

What MikeinNYC got right is that there's no measure available to reduce human population in the next 5 years. Conversely, livestock populations can be dramatically reduced within 1 year, and thereafter can stay reduced. Accounting for that was part of the development of the 50% livestock-greenhouse gas assessment cited by Mark Bittman, and which is set out at http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/

Sure, Mark, we could all consume less meat. And less of almost everything else, too. And after the next billion people are added to the earth, we could all consume a little less still. More of the same for the next billion people after that. We could eventually just turn the entire earth into a food factory to support the maximum number of people. But why not confront the 800-lb gorilla before we destroy the last wild places? Instead of, or maybe in addition to, eating less meat, why not convince women to have only one child? Yes, economists will poo-poo this as unrealistic because, after all, how will the smaller new generation support the more numerous older generation? My answer: Easily! No one would disagree that a small number of people can produce enough for everyone: How many farmers does it take to till the land? Very few. Factories are increasing run by robotic arms that only need people to tend them and load the raw materials. The problem is distribution. How will the elderly and non-working get the money to buy goods and services? This is an organizational problem, but the answer will involve something like socializing more of the economy and this will never happen because the rich and powerful people who really make the decisions would stand a greater chance of being leveled. So pass the barbequed spare ribs while we watch the planet go down.

I read somewhere (recently, but don't ask me where) that the estimated carrying capacity of this little rocky planet we live on is 9,000,000,000 (9 Billion, for those who have difficulty with large figures). I also read not long ago that we have the ability to produce enough food for all who currently walk the earth; the major hitch to eradicating malnourishment and hunger is DISTRIBUTION -- we can grow it, we just can't get it to where it needs to be, for whatever reason, be it simple transportation problems, or interference by despotic heads of state, or piracy.

As for MikeInNYC's suggestion that we "convince women to have only one child," has he forgotten that it takes TWO to conceive? I do think that if we ALL observed a 5-year Moratorium against procreating, we could help slow down the rate of global population growth. This would require that such organizations as the Catholic Church would have to accept that their anti-contraception stance would have to be abandoned, since I'm not suggesting that we all be CELIBATE for the next 5 years, just that we all be vigilant and not breed, reproduce, procreate, or otherwise "be fruitful and multiply."

(MikeInNYC, please don't feel that I'm picking on you -- I just saw a flaw in your argument and wanted to make an additional related suggestion .)

Thank you for airing anything that Mark Bittman has to say. This guy makes sense and dumbs it down for the masses. Eat less meat, make a better world for your kids and grandkids. Simple, effective and easy to do!

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