Voices from Hopenhagen: Paul Shapiro
Editor's note: This guest post was written by Paul Shapiro, senior director of the Humane Society of the United States' factory farming campaign.
Reducing our Global Food-Print
When we think about minimizing our contributions to climate change, we may consider switching our light bulbs, driving less, buying local, and more. These are all important and laudable ways to reduce our carbon footprint, but, as Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein notes, "there's no reason to ignore the impact of what we put on our plates." In other words, changing these habits is no excuse for ignoring what's arguably the most important lifestyle choice we can make: reducing our food-print simply by eating lower on the food chain.Estimates vary, but raising and killing animals for food is clearly among the top contributors to climate change. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization asserts that animal agriculture generates 18 percent of the world's greenhouse gases—more than all transportation combined. A recent Worldwatch report even claims that the FAO report "vastly underestimate[s]" the size of the problem, and that the percentage is actually closer to half of all human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. Regardless, the point is really the same: our near-insatiable demand for meat, eggs, and dairy products is having a major effect on the planet, and each one of us can make a difference simply by eating fewer animals. There's a misconception that the type of food we buy isn't as important as how far it traveled to get to our plates. Little could be further from the truth.
There's no doubt that buying locally produced items is important, but Carnegie Mellon University researchers found that the average American would do more for the planet by going vegetarian just one day per week than by switching to a totally local diet. Fortunately, choosing vegetarian options has never been easier. Today's range of plant-based meats is diverse, healthy, and delicious, and free recipes abound online.
So, as Copenhagen approaches, we should absolutely hold our governments accountable for the pledges they've made about making progress on global warming. But let's not forget that, as we point a finger outward and demand change from our elected officials, we've got four fingers pointed right back at ourselves. We don't need to wait for the governments of the world to act in order to begin addressing climate change every day—each time we sit down to eat.
As New York Times food writer Mark Bittman writes, "By reducing the amount of meat we eat, we can grow and kill fewer animals. That means less environmental damage, including climate change; fewer antibiotics in the water and food supplies; fewer pesticides and herbicides; reduced cruelty; and so on. It also means better health for you."