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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    How holiday dinners worsen global warming

    ‘Tis the season: Thanksgiving, Black Friday, the seemingly ephemeral countdown to Christmas/Chanukah/Kwanzaa. But what season is it exactly – fall, winter, spring or summer? It seems unseasonably warm this holiday season, and suddenly thoughts of global warming overrun thoughts of sugarplums dancing in my head.

    After all, ’tis the season to eat, and if you’re like millions of Americans, that means turkey and ham and all that jazz. As odd as it may seem, though, that holiday roast is actually exacerbating global warming.

    When we hear global warming, many of us think about the exhaust emanating from our cars’ tailpipes. Perhaps a bigger problem, however, is the environmental destruction wrought by livestock production. Time magazine contributor Bryan Walsh sums it up concisely: “”In a 2006 report, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) concluded that worldwide livestock farming generates 18 percent of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions – by comparison, all the world’s cars, trains, planes and boats account for a combined 13 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.”” Thus, livestock farming has a more profound effect on the planet than many of us would like to think.

    The production of livestock contributes to global warming in several ways. First and perhaps most pressing, there’s the issue of space. The FAO estimates that nearly one-third of the earth’s ice-free landmass is dedicated to the production of livestock. As the global demand for meat increases at an alarming rate, the demand for land soars as well. In fact, the FAO estimates that 70 percent of former forest cover in Latin America has been converted for grazing.

    Second, the animals we eat generate a lot of waste. Manure – the classy name we give to animal feces – generates nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas that has 296 times the warming effect of carbon dioxide. Cows also produce methane gas as they digest grass and grain. Methane is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and each of the 100 million cattle in the U.S. expels up to 200 liters per day. Suddenly, that CO2 your Honda spewed out on your jaunt to the store doesn’t seem quite so bad.

    Third, the increasing worldwide demand for meat strains valuable crops and resources. According to Time, global meat production is expected to double by 2050. As we pour more money, land and crops into producing that tasty T-bone steak, a sad paradox emerges: Those crops we use to fatten up Betsy the cow could actually ameliorate world hunger. David Pimentel, professor of ecology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, states, “”If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million.”” But who wants to eat grain, right?

    Mark Bittman of the New York Times sums up the virtually endless list of cons this way: “”These assembly-line meat factories consume enormous amounts of energy, pollute water supplies, generate significant greenhouse gases and require ever-increasing amounts of corn, soy and other grains, a dependency that has led to the destruction of vast swaths of the world’s tropical rain forests.””

    From all of this, one thing is starkly clear: Eating meat is environmentally unfriendly. We need to ask ourselves if our love of all things meat is worth the enormous cost. I’m not advocating vegetarianism, per se, but I am challenging you to evaluate your diet and realize the impact you have on the world’s landscape and climate. And for those of you who don’t think you have an impact, consider this: Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, two geophysicists from the University of Chicago, concluded that if every American reduced his or her meat consumption by just 20 percent, the greenhouse gas savings would be the same as if we all switched from a normal sedan to a hybrid Prius. Cutting back is as simple as skipping meat one or two days out of the week, and the effects are far-reaching.

    The simple truth is that going green is more difficult than trading in your SUV for a hybrid. Perhaps, then, that traditional holiday feast needs a modern twist in the wake of an evolving world. I don’t know about you, but this Christmas I’ll be having a tofurkey roast with vegan stuffing.

    – Justin Huggins is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology. He is a lacto-ovo vegetarian. He can be reached at

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