Is Carrboro Making Progress in Protecting the Environment?

In an earlier post, we examined the fact that the Carrboro Climate and Energy Task Force had effectively ignored Mayor Lydia Lavelle’s June 2015 recommendation that the Community Climate Action Plan include “an initiative to encourage eating less meat and more foods that don’t emit greenhouse gasses.”

Tonight, the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will consider a revised draft of the Community Climate Action Plan. The good news is that the deer cull is off the table for now, replaced by a recommendation to study “deer herbivory” and climate change and its effects on the ecosystem.

Still absent, however, is the Mayor’s suggested initiative. While we couldn’t find any other local governments who had tried to hide a deer cull in a climate action plan, we did find several other local and global organizations who tried to promote more environmentally friendly food choices.

As far back as 2006, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report, entitled Livestock’s long shadow warned: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution and loss of biodiversity.”

In 2008, the city of Cincinnati, Ohio took the progressive, visionary action of including the FAO recommendations in their Climate Protection Action Plan. They even came up with models that would produce specific outcomes in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Most notable was the conclusion of their entire plan: “Food for thought – You can change your light bulbs, buy a hybrid car and plant more trees till the cows come home, but nothing is as effective, available, inexpensive, quick, powerful for the individual in affecting global warming as the choice of where to stick your fork. Former Sierra Club director and Greenpeace cofounder, Paul Watson, crunched the numbers and declared a vegan driving a Hummer does less planetary greenhouse damage than a meateater riding a bicycle.”

In 2010, the city of Eugene, Oregon followed suit with their Community Climate and Energy Action Plan, which recommended, among other things: “Reduce consumption of carbon-intensive foods. Growing evidence shows that the kind of food we eat makes a significant difference in the associated GHG emissions. The facts and choices are not always intuitive and it is important that education and outreach programs are developed to inform the community about the importance of food choice as a strategy to reduce GHG emissions…Specifically encourage reduced consumption of red meat and dairy products and other carbon-intensive foods. Implement a ‘Buy climate-friendly first’ food purchasing policy for public institutions including city and county governments, schools, and hospitals.”

In 2013, the city of Santa Monica, California joined in with their Climate Action Plan, which declared, “Eating locally produced, fresh food, and choosing grains, fruits, and vegetables instead of meat, has the dual benefits of lowering greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production and improving health. Santa Monica is committed to supporting sustainable, local, and organic food through its own purchasing, and by helping to make sustainable food more accessible to its residents. The City can reduce carbon emissions from food by promoting its four thriving Farmers Markets and limiting municipal purchasing of meat and dairy products.”

In June 2015, the Portland and Multnomah County Climate Action Plan warned that “On a per calorie basis, consumption of red meat results in three times the carbon emissions of cheese, nearly six times the emissions of chicken, fish, and eggs, and more than twenty times that of many grains and vegetables.”

So why aren’t more policy makers talking about this important issue? In October 2015, an article published in the Georgetown Environmental Law Review Online, entitled “A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive on It” briefly discussed two points: “(1) animal agriculture is a leading cause of many major environmental problems we face globally and domestically—most importantly, climate change; and (2) animal agriculture is too often left out of the policy discussion.”

The following month, the London-based policy institute Chatham House, issued a research paper entitled Changing Climate, Changing Diets: Pathways to Lower Meat, which recommended, among other things, that: “Governments must lead. Our research found a general belief across cultures and continents that it is the role of government to spearhead efforts to address unsustainable consumption of meat. Governments overestimate the risk of public backlash and their inaction signals to publics that the issue is unimportant or undeserving of concern.”

As recently as March 16, 2016, in a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, researchers concluded that “Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6–10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29–70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050.”

We hope that the Carrboro Board of Aldermen will continue to protect our local wildlife and all of the inhabitants of this planet by adopting Mayor Lavelle’s recommendation for environmentally friendly food choices.