Your personal impact on global warming may be influenced as much by what you eat as by what you drive.
That surprising conclusion comes from a couple of scientists who have taken an unusual look at the production of greenhouse gases from an angle that not many folks have even thought about. Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin, assistant professors of geophysics at the University of Chicago, have found that our consumption of red meat may be as bad for the planet as it is for our bodies.
If you want to help lower greenhouse gas emissions, they conclude in a report to be published in the journal Earth Interactions, become a vegetarian.
In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that both researchers are vegetarians, although they admit to cheating a little with an occasional sardine. They say their conclusions are backed up by hard data.
Eshel and Martin collected that data from a wide range of sources, and they examined the amount of fossil-fuel energy - and thus the level of production of greenhouse gases - required for five different diets. The vegetarian diet turned out to be the most energy efficient, followed by poultry, and what they call the "mean American diet," which consists of a little bit of everything.
There was a surprising tie for last place. In terms of energy required for harvesting and processing, fish and red meat ended up in a "virtual tie," but that's just in terms of energy consumed. When you toss in all those other factors, such as bovine flatulence and gas released by manure, red meat comes in dead last. Fish remains in fourth place, some distance behind poultry and the mean American diet, chiefly because the type of fish preferred by Americans requires a lot of energy to catch.
I read a comment today on AMERICAblog that urged us against cynicism. Yes, global warming is upon us and we can't stop it at this point, the writer explained. But we can lessen its impact by what we do. So be aware that every time you choose not to eat meat, you are not only reducing animal suffering, you are also helping the planet with regard to climate change.