Want to fight global warming? Drop that cheeseburger!

July 24, 2008

When Americans think about cutting their carbon footprint, they change their light bulbs, turn down their thermostats and maybe leave their cars in the garage. But a new study says there’s another energy-gobbling gremlin on the domestic front and it’s probably scarfing down a junk-food cheeseburger right now. It’s the meat-rich, over-caloried, highly processed American diet.

By eating less, and eating less food that takes lots of energy to produce, people in the United States could cut climate-warming fossil fuel use in the food system by as much as 50 percent, Cornell University scientists reported in the journal Human Ecology.

The average American eats 3,747 calories a day, the scientists said, some 1,200 to 1,700 calories over what’s recommended. Many of those calories come from meat and processed foods, which use more energy getting to the table than lower-calorie staples like potatoes, rice, fruit and vegetables. So the first step is, eat less. And if you have to keep eating all those calories, veggies may be the way to go — a vegetarian diet uses about 33 percent less fossil fuel.

The researchers also suggested energy savings could come from using more traditional organic farming methods, and getting away from energy-intensive conventional meat and dairy production. In farm fields, cutting back on pesticides, increasing the use of manure as fertilizer, planting cover crops and rotating crops would also improve energy efficiency, the authors wrote.

Changes to food processing, packaging and distribution could also reduce fuel consumption, but the researchers said individual responsibility would have the biggest impact. The most dramatic reduction in energy used in food processing would happen if consumers cut their demand for highly processed foods. This would also cut down on so-called the food miles, the distance food travels from where it’s produced to where it’s eaten — a major consideration, since U.S. food travels an average of 1,090 miles (2,400 km) on its way to American stomachs.

But come on: if you’re already bicycling to work, turning off your electronic gear, sweltering through a hot summer without air conditioning, would you be willing to do without junk food — or at least stop eating so much of it — in the name of the environment? What do you think?

9 comments

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yeah, let’s all stop eating meat besides it only tastes soooo good and while we are at it let’s make all those working in the meat industry enter the unemployment line so someone who is an Al Gore ignoramus can feel good PLEASE people.. if you want to eat fruits and veggies fine if you want to eat soy products go ahead (if your a man you shouldn’t be eating that junk). I must say I enjoy my Cheeseburgers, driving my car with the a/c cranked up, and i enjoy sitting in my cool air conditioned home with no mercury filled lightbulbs. it never ceases to amaze me what kind of things come out of the mouths of environmentalists. I am waiting for one of them to say we shouldn’t use cemeteries and coffins so we can fertilize one of their organic farms.

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

Wow, Joe, you sure are an open-minded person. The reason we are in this mess is cause little girls like you can’t give up their toys and candy, therefore making us all look fat and stupid in the process. Please keep your hands busy with more junk food instead of typing. You’ll die faster and we will not have to listen to you gripe about having to grow up.

The best idea to fix this problem isn’t what to eat, but where it comes from. Make sure to buy locally, if at all possible, and if not, don’t eat it! We are spoiled children (see Joe’s post) and we need to grow up. Responsibility is a mature, learned concept while greed and blame are present in toddlers. Just because it tastes good doesn’t make it okay to eat it. It just makes a person look shallow. REAL MEN don’t blame others for their problems, they fix them. Oh yeah, and soy burgers ain’t that bad!

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive

Ptrizzle: nice response to Joe. Globally, the livestock industry produces more C02(e) than all transportation. Below is a news story that links to a UN report on this.

http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?Ne wsID=20772&Cr=global&Cr1=environment

Posted by moo | Report as abusive

Ptrizzle do some research on the effects soy has on men and you will realize it is not healthy for you unless your a woman but hey if your a guy who wants low sperm count and breasts go ahead eat all the soy burgers you like hey you can have all the ones that I will never have… fyi Ptrizzle i get my meats from a local butcher who slaughters local livestock and i can tell you where the pigs, calves, turkeys, and cows are from and drive in my air conditioned car to the farms where they were purchased from and as for my fruits and vegetables i get most from a store that only buys from farms within a 150 mile radius of their store and yes i enjoy eating at a few fast food joints too but please continue to advocate the loss of jobs to those in the food, automotive, farming industries and yeah I will tell you that you are causing a larger problem then you realize but hey i guess you care more about trees then you do about people and you need to get your priorities straight. People are more important even you tree hugging hippies are and relax that group of crack pots known as the EPA will take care of it after all that why we pay them.

Posted by Joe | Report as abusive

Great post. I may be reading too much into your phrasing, but the one thing I’d take issue with is your framing the alternative to our high levels of animal product consumption as vegetarianism, “veggies may be the way to go — a vegetarian diet uses about 33 percent less fossil fuel.” We should be treating animal product consumption like we treat electricity and gasoline; we can accomplish a lot by cutting back even if we don’t abstain.

Bernard Brown
The PB&J Campaign

Sure Joe, you hit the nail on the head. All of us “tree hugging hippies” out there just want the economy in shatters and everbody starving to death.

Again I say, Grow Up (but this time I’ll not be so abrasive, I can see it hurts your feelings, Joe). I am actually quite conservative, and no I don’t eat a lot of soy products. But to say that the world needs the ranching/meat industry to remain as large as it is now is not a very forward-thinking idea. I am glad that you purchase your produce and meat from local vendors. But it doesn’t seem like a person who would go to all that trouble would then make the statement “that group of crack pots known as the EPA will take care of it after all that why we pay them.” Again I say grow up. Its not like the EPA has a magic wand to “take care” of things. The problem (climate change) can and is growing beyond our ability to repair. Are you sure you still want to pay them? Or would that money be better spent on more junk food? Cause everybody knows, when the polar ice caps melt, Doritos and Hostess cakes can feed the masses.

Posted by Ptrizzle | Report as abusive

Joe, all I can say is WOW!! Just WOW!! You are so typically, sadly, what the average American represents nowadays.

Posted by TheGambler | Report as abusive

All this talk of stopping global warming is very sad. So many of us have bought into the false idea we can stop climate change. There is a difference between conservation and pollution control to climate change. The climate has been changing since creation and nothing we do can change the force of nature. By-the-way, “they” are now saying things are cooling down. Man needs to have some common sense before knee jerk reactions. Also, plants love CO2.

Posted by DKS | Report as abusive

Interesting proposal, but hardly new. As I think through it, I’m left with a paradox. Cows mostly eat grain (unfortunately), so we’d be harvesting manure to fertilize grain to feed cows and make more manure. Then we’d face a scenario whereby “manure miles” would replace “food miles.” Grass fed cows might be a solution. But even here I’m left with the scenario whereby we pasture cows that produce manure, harvest the manure to grow a diversity of crops, etc. So, in this case, we’re taking up massive amounts of land to make fertilizer to feed crops. Plus, isn’t the N content in manure very low compared to standard fertilizers? Might it make more sense to quit meat and start focusing on “nitrogen uptake efficiency”? I can’t seem to find a light at the end of this tunnel. Suggestions?

Posted by James | Report as abusive