Thursday, December 10, 2009

Less meat = less heat: A bum steer

You'll have to excuse the paucity of posts lately. I have had a disgustingly grotty 'flu, and like most people even vaguely associated with the health care profession, make a crap patient. I tend to get irascible and cranky and self medicate with every over-the-counter remedy I can get my hands on. (Oh, and while we're on the subject, I would like to extend a big "f_ck you" to the backyard speed cooks of Australia. You know who you are. Why? For making it impossible to get pseudoephidrine for legitimate sinus complaints unless its mixed with a bunch of unpronouncable antihistamines that no-ones ever heard of before, which then means you can't take a proper therapeutic dose of the pharmaceutical you actually want. And no, I don't want phenylephrine, I'd be better off going home and washing some sugar pills down with rum. Cheers.)

Anyhoo, pardon the segue, I will now return to the title of this post. It turns out that what many of us suspected for a long time is true: Vegetarianism for "sustainability" reasons really is as dumb as it sounds.

UC Davis Associate Professor Frank Mitloehner has challenged the scientific basis of Paul McCartney's and Rajendra Pauchari's "Less meat=Less heat" campaign.

Mitloehner traces much of the public confusion over meat and milk’s role in climate change to two sentences in a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." Printed only in the report's executive summary and nowhere in the body of the report, the sentences read: “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport.”
These statements are not accurate, yet their wide distribution through news media have put us on the wrong path toward solutions, Mitloehner says.

Amazingly, (or not so much, depending on your level of cynicism) most people who thought to themselves "Oh, look! Is that a bandwagon?!" and clamboured right up on board the sustainable vegetarian bus, just seemed to be propagating ad infinitum a bit of poorly calculated conjecture.

What I would like to see (and I have been looking through the literature - if anyone knows of a study, let me know) is research into the carbon footprint of a "balanced" vegetarian diet versus eating the bit of dead animal occasionally. Its one thing to just cut meat out of your diet, but the goal of a balanced vegetarian diet is to bring your nutritional intake back up to a level commensurate with eating meat. (Which, if done for "health reasons" begs the question of why bother in the first place.) So the balanced vegetarian diet is pretty resource intensive. I'm guessing bang for your buck, it would probably make more sense to eat meat occasionally. No-ones saying you have to choke down a steak everynight. I mean, if you're not vegetarian for valid reasons of conscientious objection, then why the teetotaller stance? What are you, an alcoholic?

As Ambrose Bierce once said:

A weak person who yields to the temptation of denying himself a pleasure. A total abstainer is one who abstains from everything but abstention, and especially from inactivity in the affairs of others.

Mitloehner's analysis is presented in a recent study titled "Clearing the Air: Livestock’s Contributions to Climate Change," published in the peer-reviewed journal Advances in Agronomy. Co-authors of the paper are UC Davis researchers Maurice Piteskey and Kimberly Stackhouse.

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