An Inconvenient Truth is a superb documentary, and well worth seeing, if you haven’t already. You might get the DVD (www.climatecrisis.net or from video store) and view it with family, friends, and members of your clubs or organization. This film, featuring former Vice President Al Gore and his traveling show on global climate change, received standing ovations at the 2006 Sundance Film Festival. It does an outstanding job of presenting material in a manner that holds us spellbound and invites the participation of mainstreamAmerica, in a way that is likely to get results. (1)
Whereas the documentary dramatically summarizes masses of material about the plight of our dear planet earth, and the impact of our actions (energy use in the home, transportation choices), it missed one Inconvenient Truth. The documentary fails to recognize the impact of dietary choices on global warming.
I have long been baffled by the fact that environmentalists routinely disregard dietary issues. Why does this occur? Is a Truth that calls for a change in personal habits three times a day just too close to home?
Until recently, few articles linking food choices with climate change have appeared in scientific publications that are read by scientists. Within the past three years, this has changed.
As 2006 came to a close, the United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) issued a report entitled “Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options”. (2) They state that cattle in the meat and dairy industries generate more global warming greenhouse gases than can be blamed on transportation and use of vehicles. According to senior UN official Henning Steinfeld, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems. Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.” Livestock accounts for 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, most derived from the immense quantities of manure that are essential byproducts of raising livestock. This gas has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2.
Livestock industries are responsible for 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2); this gas is produced by the digestive system of ruminants (beef and dairy cattle, and sheep). They produce 64 per cent of the ammonia, thereby contributing significantly to acid rain. Cattle-rearing is a major source of land and water degradation.
The UN report recognizes with optimism the group of consumers who are using their growing voice (and spending power) to exert pressure for change. In this context, they acknowledge trends toward organic food, sustainable agriculture, vegetarian diets and healthier diets. (2, full report, page 299)
Whereas many smart Canadians are cutting back on meat, this is not the overall trend worldwide. The UN report notes that with increased prosperity, people consume more meat and dairy products globally every year. (Of course, with these dietary changes, rates of cardiovascular disease, hypertension, colon cancer, hormone related cancers such as breast and prostate cancer, obesity, and diabetes also are increasing in developing countries.) At current rates, global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 1999/2001 to 465 million tons in 2050 and milk from 580 to 1043 million tons.
What can you do?
Start cutting back on meat and dairy products, if you haven’t done so already. Even if you don’t become entirely vegetarian, every plant-based meal is a vote of love for the planet. You’ll be doing a favour to future generations, as well as your own health.
For a lively local support group, join EarthSave a local non-profit organization that holds regular dineouts, dinners, and educational events. (http://earthsave.ca or 604) 731-5885)
Part 2 of this article will appear in next month’s Common Ground
Vesanto Melina, is a Registered Dietitian and consultant who lives in Langley BC. Her books “Becoming Vegetarian”(Melina and Davis, Wiley Canada) and “Becoming Vegan” (Davis and Melina, The Book Publishing Company) provide the foundation for a nutritionally adequate plant based diet; “Becoming Vegetarian” also provides a core group of delicious and simple recipes. Web: www.nutrispeak.com Email: firstname.lastname@example.org ; Phone: 604-882-6782.
1. An Inconvenient Truth. DVD by Paramount Home Entertainment. www.climatecrisis.net;
2. Food and Agriculture Organization, United Nations. Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options. Steinfeld at al. 2006.
Executive summary: www.virtualcentre.org/en/library/key_pub/longshad/A0701E00.htm#sum