Monday, May 08, 2006

vegetarianism, Peter Singer

I've always said that I'm vegetarian more for environmental reasons than for "animal-rights" reasons. Mostly I had thought about vegetarianism as a way to reduce the size of my ecological footprint. Getting protein from higher on the food chain is inherently less efficient (40-120 times less efficient, depending on the animal and the way it was raised, according to the numbers I've seen).

Reading an interview with Peter Singer in Salon this morning, I came across these additional interesting figures on vegetarianism and oil consumption. Although a part of the ecological footprint concept includes oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions, I hadn't seen the vegetarian argument distilled into a greenhouse gas interpretation... nice.
Second factoid [from Singer's new book, "The Way We Eat"]: 284 gallons of oil go into fattening a 1,250-pound cow for slaughter?

That's a figure from David Pimentel, a Cornell ecologist. The fossil fuel goes into the fertilizer used to fertilize these acres of grain, which are then harvested and processed and transported to the cattle for feed. We get back, at most, 10 percent of the food value of the grain that we put into the cattle. So we are just skimming this concentrated product off the top of a mountain of grain into which all this fossil fuel has gone.

So even if we all started driving Priuses we'd still have these cows to worry about.

Yes. In fact, there's a University of Chicago study that shows that if you switch from driving an American car to driving a Prius, you'll cut your carbon-dioxide emissions by one ton per year. But if you switch from a typical U.S. diet, about 28 percent of which comes from animal sources, to a vegan diet with the same number of calories, you'll cut your carbon-dioxide emissions by nearly 1.5 tons per year.


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