Are Our Dietary Habits the Real Inconvenient Truth?

This is the 18th in our series analyzing Carrboro’s Energy and Climate Protection Task Force’s Recommended Deer Cull.

Until this point, we’ve been discussing what’s in the Community Climate Action Plan that shouldn’t be, namely, the deer killing plan.

Is there anything that the task force should have considered that they didn’t?

On June 23, 2015, the Energy and Climate Protection Task Force presented a draft version of the Community Climate Action Plan to the Carrboro Board of Aldermen and asked for their feedback. Mayor Lydia Lavelle suggested an initiative to encourage eating less meat and more foods that don’t emit greenhouse gasses.

The Mayor is wise. According to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transportation combined. And according to a 2009 report by the Worldwatch Institute, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

At that same meeting, Alderman Sammy Slade expressed the desire to align the climate action plan with social justice issues. We wonder if he knows that perhaps the most pressing social justice issue of our time is the fact that “82% of the world’s starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals that are then killed and eaten by more well off individuals in developed countries like the US, UK, and in Europe.

The Task Force ultimately gave lip service to the Mayor’s suggestions in Community Integration Recommendation #1: Create Grass Roots Partnerships to Engage Community. Within that recommendation, under the heading Implementation Opportunities, we find: “Many local and other groups are involved in environmental outreach and/or climate action. These include but are not limited to…Meatless Monday Communities…Carrboro can adapt and use programs with proven track records for community engagement.

According to the Triangle Meatless Monday web site, “Meatless Monday is an international non-profit initiative established to encourage healthier and more sustainable eating, one step at a time.

“Triangle Meatless Monday (TMM) is our local version of the initiative, inviting everyone to try meat-free dishes each Monday. To make it easier and more fun, we have invited Triangle area restaurants to participate by offering at least one vegan dish.”

Durham’s County Commissioners officially proclaimed Mondays as “Meatless Monday” at their monthly board meeting on Monday, June 13th, 2011.

The Town of Chapel Hill passed a lamer version of the resolution by proclaiming September 2011 as “Meatless Monday” month.

And there, the “proven track record” of the Triangle “Meatless Mondays Communities” ends.

In his book, Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work (Langdon Street Press, 2013), Dr. Richard Oppenlander writes that 45% of the Earth’s landmass is now devoted to livestock, including land used for grazing and land on which plants used to feed livestock are grown.

For centuries, Earth’s forests have been cut down primarily to create more land for grazing cattle. Worldwide, 91 percent of all rainforest land deforested since 1970 is now used for grazing livestock, much of it for export from poorer nations to richer ones.

There is more than enough food to feed the world’s population today, and even enough to feed the nine billion people projected to be alive in 2050. But because half of the world’s grain is fed to livestock rather than directly to humans, many millions of people face starvation or food insecurity at the same time that resources are being depleted at an alarmingly unsustainable pace. At current rates of animal food consumption, we would need two Earths to feed everyone expected to be alive in 2030. As Oppenlander writes, we have the ability to feed everyone, now and in the future, but only if we change the types of foods we consume. As long as humans consume animals and their secretions, the problem is unsolvable.

Unfortunately, in current political and public policy debates, resistance to seriously examining the unsustainable impacts of animal agriculture is deeply entrenched. Oppenlander suggests that this may be because the meat-eating leaders of corporations, governments, and the environmental movement refuse to believe evidence that would require them to question their own dietary habits.

Eating locally grown plant food brings many health and environmental advantages. However, Oppenlander cautions, contrary to myth, even a 100% locally sourced diet that includes typical amounts of animal products uses more fossil fuel than a plant-based diet of foods trucked 1,500 miles. The reason is that transportation from farmer to retailer accounts for only 4 percent of the greenhouse gases emitted in the entire food production process.

The Task Force’s recommended goal is “a 50% reduction in per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 2025.” Perhaps they don’t realize that we could reach that goal almost overnight by eliminating animal flesh and secretions from our diets. A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover.

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