Want to lower your carbon footprint? Give up meat

April 29, 2010

Mike Tidwell ("Local action, global lesson," April 22) makes some great points about how incentives are key to changing behaviors. I absolutely agree. But his question about which policy change is best for stimulating rapid climate improvements is off-target.

As individuals, 95 percent of us have the power to drastically reduce our carbon footprints, right here and now, without waiting for new legislation, policy changes, improved enforcement or construction of renewable energy projects. No action is required by anyone else but each of us. And that action is changing the protein we select each time we buy food from any source. That's because the single largest influence on greenhouse gases is not transportation or utilities but the meat industry, and all credible authorities agree.

Even more significant than the fossil fuels used in feed production is the huge amounts of methane and other gases produced, which are 20-300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. And the yearly production of 1 billion tons of untreated manure is nothing to sneeze at.

As stated in the movie "Meat the Truth," a vegan in a Hummer has a smaller greenhouse footprint than a meat-eater in a Prius. And since the distance to transport food to the consumer contributes nearly nothing to a food's greenhouse footprint, local meat suppliers are not the answer.

For the 95 percent of us with access to conventional supermarkets, the key decision-maker is not Congress, it's our fork. Everything else is proverbial peanuts — and peanuts, incidentally, are a great source of meatless protein.

Mark Rifkin, Baltimore

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