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Eye On Olympia

Meating the challenge of global warming…

As lawmakers ponder ways to curtail Washington’s greenhouse-gas emissions (land-use planning, cleaner cars, etc.), the animal-rights group PETA is offering up what it says is a better way: Stop eating meat.

This morning, the group sent a letter to Gov. Chris Gregoire claiming that meat consumption is the leading cause of global warming. The letter was prompted by Washington’s efforts to launch tougher car-emission standards here.

Yes, vehicle emissions are a key part of the problem, PETA said in the letter,

But by focusing on the cars that we drive, you’re missing an even more critical piece of the climate puzzle: the food that we eat. By establishing programs to encourage Washington residents to switch to a vegetarian diet, you’ll make a far bigger dent in global warming than you would by lowering vehicle-emission standards.

The group cites a 2006 United Nations report that found that raising animals for food generates significantly more greenhouse gases (particularly methane and nitrous oxide) than every car, truck, ship and plane in the world combined.

In fact, PETA said, citing a University of Chicago study, a carnivore switching to a vegan diet can reduce his or her contribution to global warming more effectively than by trading in their regular car for a Prius.

Alas, it may not be so easy. Salon writer Liz Galst, in this October 2007 story, said that not only is meat not the biggest cause of global warming — burning fossil fuels for power is — but that in the United States, livestock production accounts for just 6 percent of greenhouse gases, compared to 19 percent coming from cars, light trucks and planes.

Yes, Galst writes, beef production, in particular, contributes a lot of waste products and pollution, including greenhouse gases. And yes, most chickens have short, bleak lives. Still, she writes:

chickens are such efficient producers of protein that a study in the science journal Earth Interactions finds that Americans who eat poultry, dairy and eggs, but not red meat, are responsible for fewer greenhouse gases than those who consume a vegetarian diet that includes dairy and eggs.

“Astonishingly enough,” says study coauthor Gidon Eshel, a Bard College geophysicist, “the poultry diet is actually better than lacto-ovo vegetarian.” In other words, a roast chicken dinner is better for the planet than a cheese pizza.


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Richard Roesler covers Washington state news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Olympia.

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