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Will environmental vegetarianism save the planet from global warming?

by Dave Riley

I was eating my morning portion of rolled oats and milk products today when I was contacted by a producer from JJJ TV. This does not happen everyday here at Maison Dave. I can usually make it past lunch before the media come a calling.

JJJ was hoping to do a piece on vegetarianism and it seems than I'm a registered "non-vegetarian environmentalist" because it said I was in Wikepedia:
Some environmental activists point out, adopting a vegetarian diet may be a way of focusing on personal actions and righteous gestures rather than systemic change. Dave Riley, an Australian environmentalist, echoes the views of some <>non-vegetarian environmentalists when he states that "being meatless and guiltless seems seductively simple while environmental destruction rages around us," noting that animals can contribute to the food chain. "For instance, yams, which keep poorly, are stored inside pigs, and today's rotting apples attracting fruit fly are tomorrow's bacon.
The reference in question is sourced from an article I wrote for Green Left Weekly in 1993 : Does meat make the meal?

Since then I've surely eaten my fair share of critters -- deceased lambs and chickens as well as the occasional dead cow or pig.

My argument nonetheless wasn't simply about cuisine options but rather that even if I wanted to take the world's problems on my shoulders -- or into my stomach -- I would not be able to solve them by diet customisation alone. My argument was against individualising "solutions".

But in the age of gaseous compounds and global warming we dedicated meat eaters are being let down by the cow's and the sheep's back and front end. While a fart has no nose, ruminant belching post eating is nonetheless proving to be a strong -- albeit wiffy -- argument.

What you may do -- accidentally of course -- while in mixed company out and about isn't the issue. But what passes wind from enteric fermentation is.

Most of us mammals are monogastric and get by on just the one stomach. But your everyday ruminant -- you moo cow and your baa lamb -- get to work in stereo by breaking down their tucker via microbial fermentation which produces methane gas (CH4). And when there are many million more of them than there are of us within the four walls of Australia -- 24 million beef cattle (ref) and 100 million sheep (ref) -- that's a lot of gas! So much that it is the main component of greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the agricultural sector -- and the agricultural sector is the second largest source of greenhouse gases after standalone energy production.

With 100 million sheep out there and out back -- there's still a lot of lamb roasts to be had for many months of Sundays. If they -- the local flock -- could only keep their table manners in control, everything -- well maybe not "everything", but most things culinary-- would be sweet and we'd live together all very much bon appetit.

It remains to be seen how effective the voluntary immunisation program designed to combat enteric fermentation will be -- but I'm wondering if these figures are suggestive of a shallow analysis. Given that a percentage of the cattle herd is made of dairy cows --
In 2001 there were about 12,000 Australian dairyfarmers milking about 2.2 million cows (ref)
not all sheep are eaten. In fact of these 100 million local sheep in 2007 -- 88% were Merino, 9% were crossbred and 3% were made up of other breeds.(ref)

I know I'll have to do more research -- and I will! -- but you could just as gainfully suggest that the environmental problem is not that we eat meat from sheep -- but that we wear (and other people on this planet wear) wool. Our problem is a fibre one rather than simply a food one.*

The question is basically this: how many Merinoes end up on the dinner table? Crossbread and non Merino sheep (Poll Dorset, Suffolk,Border Leicester and Lincoln) are preferred table fare. This means , for instance, that in 2005 approximately 18 million sheep (Ref) were slaughtered in Australia. While that figure excludes live sheep exports (sheep who are grown here and killed elsewhere) the point is that this isn't a simple problem of meat eating. Belches and such of methane gasses are more likely to be produced growing wool than making meat.

There are a few related issues -- such as the sort of pasture land you graze the sheep and cattle on and the degree that can be harnessed for carbon sequestration despite the grazing. This is why there has' been a bit of ecological interest in various forms of mixed production -- such as sheep with wheat and related eclectic symbiotic partnerships of plants and animals.

But hard core agricultural science aside I have to say that it is not a simple to- eat- or- not- to- eat- meat question. You may as well ask how you preferred not to go about naked by not wearing cotton or not wearing wool or not wearing leather because of their association with greenhouse gas emissions.

* The related problem fibre contributing greatly to Australian greenhouse gas emissions is cotton production. So with no wool and no cotton we'd have to forget about smoking the mayjhane and start wearing it more by selecting a wardrobe in hemp..

1 Com:

Vadim | July 12, 2008

I don't understand how wearing cotton and eating meat is comparable. One is a plant that's grown and manufactured, another is an animal that eats exponentially more food than it provides when it's slaughtered. It's the quantity that really makes the difference -- when meat is a daily Western staple the costs of upkeep of all the animals is extraordinary and that's what has an effect on the environment. I don't see the U.N. asking people to stop buying cotton.

Anyways I think whatever people think about vegetarianism, with the rising food costs it probably wouldn't hurt to cut meat from your diet anyways. I was inspired by Paul McCartney's recent call for "meatless Mondays" and made this campaign: https://www.thepoint.com/campaigns/meatless-mc-cartney-mondays/

Anyone who's interested in doing something small on a regular basis to reduce their meat consumption should check it out.

Again, I agree with you that the environmental issue really isn't that simple but I can't see how eating less meat would hurt.

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