The sacrifices people have been called to make in response to global warming have become tangible in a new way. The leader of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests omnivores give up meat.
In a Sept. 8 speech in London, Rajendra Pachauri said greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) associated with livestock production represent 80% of all agricultural emissions and 18% of the emissions from human activities.
"The average household would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more if they halved their meat consumption than if they halved their car usage," said Pachauri. "If everyone in the UK abstained from eating meat for 1 day a week, this would…result in greater carbon savings than taking 5 million cars off the road in the UK."
The IPCC, from research based on climate modeling, champions aggressive precaution against catastrophic warming. It shared a Nobel Prize with former US Vice-President Al Gore for calling attention to the threat.
IPCC's work often is cited as evidence of a scientific consensus that warming results chiefly from human activity and that aggressive response is necessary.
The standard proposal is a drastic cut in use of fossil energy. Now Pachauri, because of his stature as a Nobel Laureate, has placed reduced meat consumption prominently on the menu of possible warming remedies.
He told his London audience that GHGs from livestock production come from land deforestation and desertification (35.4%), manure (30.5%), animal flatulence (25%), agricultural fertilizers (3.4%), on-farm fossil energy use (1.2%), and other factors (3.6%).
"One kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 km and burns enough energy to light a 100-w bulb for 20 days," he said.
Producing 6 oz of beef steak requires six times the energy and emits 25 times the CO2-equivalent GHGs as producing 1 cup of broccoli, 1 cup of eggplant, 4 oz of cauliflower, and 8 oz of rice.
As a vegetarian, Pachauri might not appreciate the political implications of his comparison's implied summons to sacrifice.
The steak tastes immeasurably better than anything else on his list.
(Online Sept. 12, 2008; author's e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)