5 votes

Can Food Choices Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?

3 comments

  1. [3]
    jimbo Link
    I was hoping this would provide empirical data to back up the life cycle analysis of meat consumption that we're all well acquainted with -- e.g. demonstrating an actual reduction in meat...

    I was hoping this would provide empirical data to back up the life cycle analysis of meat consumption that we're all well acquainted with -- e.g. demonstrating an actual reduction in meat consumption in a region, followed by reduced fuel consumption (obviously this would be a massive undertaking -- which is why it would be such an exciting result, if it had happened)

    But that's not what this is.

    To quantify greenhouse gas emissions, they used a lifecycle analysis of red meat from the Environmental Protection Agency, which includes everything from tractors used to till the land, to the methane the cows produce.

    So, they started with the assumption that meat consumption has a large carbon footprint, and then demonstrated that, based on that assumption, families that eat less meat have a smaller carbon footprint. It would have been shocking if they'd arrived at any other conclusion.

    1. [2]
      9000 Link Parent
      I don't know how you would do that. Our agricultural infrastructure is so global and intertwined that a region's culinary choices aren't usually going to result in local differences in fossil fuel...

      e.g. demonstrating an actual reduction in meat consumption in a region, followed by reduced fuel consumption

      I don't know how you would do that. Our agricultural infrastructure is so global and intertwined that a region's culinary choices aren't usually going to result in local differences in fossil fuel consumption. Lots of food is imported from other regions or countries. Additionally, fuel isn't the only source of environmental impact: there's fertilizer, methane from the cows, plastics used in packaging or equipment, etc. Plus, there are way too many variables in a region's economy to reliably isolate some percentage of reduced meat consumption as a direct cause. And, how do we measure a region's greenhouse gas footprint if not by measuring all the sources and adding? We can't just sample the air, it's too diffuse and volatile for that.

      To give an example, if everyone in the San Francisco area suddenly became vegan, I don't think you'd see a significant change in SF's local carbon footprint, but there would nonetheless be a major effect in central California, as well as smaller ripples throught the world. None of those particularly measurable, or at least isolateable, though.

      I appreciate your desire for rigor, but I think I would trust a study with the methodology you described less than a study with lifecycle analysis, just because I don't trust you could ever properly isolate those variables.

      Also, why are you implying that lifecycle analyses are not empirical? I would argue they are valid science. Is it because they don't directly prove the relationship between food choices and greenhouse gases?

      2 votes
      1. vektor Link Parent
        To add another factor: Land use. If for every nutritional unit of beef I need 10 units of soy (measured by calories or some more fancy metric) as fodder, it's rather obvious that beef is less...

        To add another factor: Land use. If for every nutritional unit of beef I need 10 units of soy (measured by calories or some more fancy metric) as fodder, it's rather obvious that beef is less ecological. I could use the land and effort used to make those 9 units of soy and I have a set of ecological options: From carbon sequestration to solar power plants to bio fuels. Of course this is just a simplified model, but I think it demonstrates that land in itself is a ecological resource. (Also, I distinctly remember that according to a textbook 10 years ago beef used 10x as much land as a (by some metric) comparable vegetarian food, so that wasn't pulled from thin air.)

        3 votes