In his new book, “We Are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast,” Jonathan Foer postulates that in the battle against climate change, the quickest way humans can reduce greenhouse gas emissions is to eat less meat, especially beef.
Foer says we should not eat meat, dairy or eggs for breakfast or lunch. In the interest of flexibility, I would suggest we limit animal products to one meal a day of our choosing.
Foer wrote a 224-page book to explain why, but here are some cliff notes.
Few of us can give up all our favorite foods at once, but all of us can eat fewer animal products, especially when we understand the connection between food and a dystopian future for our descendants.
I stopped eating meat 21 years ago for a variety of reasons, but at that time, climate change was not the main one.
I gave up meat because I knew the environmental footprint was already huge; the suffering of animals in CAFOs (confined animal feed operations) was unconscionable; and the treatment of people working in the industry, particularly in chicken houses and slaughterhouses, was dehumanizing.
All those things are still true, but now climate change looms large. Figures vary widely, but as much as 50% of all greenhouse gas emissions comes from animal agriculture.
Foer’s thesis on climate change illustrates the human propensity to live in denial.
As Jews escaped from Nazi Germany, like his grandmother did, even prominent Jews in the U.S. could not believe the terrible crimes the escapees reported.
We look back now in horror at the extermination of six million Jews and find it impossible to understand why the world did not step in sooner.
Future generations may do the same when it comes to our refusal to act collectively to slow global warming.
Here are some of the facts from Foer’s book.
Since humans started farming about 12,000 years ago, we have destroyed 83% of all wild mammals and half of all plants.
In just the last 40 years, the world’s vertebrate wildlife populations have declined another 60%.
Worldwide, we use 59% of the land capable of growing crops to grow food for livestock. In 2018, more than 99% of animals eaten in the U.S. were raised on factory farms.
The vast majority of deforestation — about 80% — is done to clear land for crops for livestock and grazing, increasingly in the Amazon. This destroys countless plants and animals and exacerbates climate change because forests store carbon dioxide.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 37% of the emissions from methane, which is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming. As they digest, cattle, goats and sheep expel methane primarily through burping.
According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, if cows were a country, they would rank third in greenhouse gas emissions, after China and the U.S.
The bottom line: We cannot begin to address climate change — or habitat destruction — without reducing animal agriculture.
Shannon Brennan is a Central Virginia Master Naturalist, a Lynchburg Tree Steward and a volunteer for the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club and the James River Association. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.