Want to know the fix to global warming? Mike Tidwell, author of the essay “The Low Carbon Diet” claims to have the answer. He believes that the prescription to curing the Earth’s disease of global warming is to become a vegetarian. Tidwell, a meat lover himself, became a vegetarian after realizing the impact that the meat industry has upon the environment. Farms that raise livestock use up many resources through feeding, taking care of, and transporting the meat that ends up on our plates. In fact, as Tidwell points out, egg-and-cheese-eating vegetarians use 160 gallons less oil per year than the average meat eater. (Tidwell)
Tidwell understands the dilemma most people have when considering vegetarianism. Many people wonder whether becoming a vegetarian would be beneficial or even healthy. Tidwell points out that most people are unaware of all the meat alternatives and how easily accessible these substitutes are becoming. According to Tidwell, by adapting to a different eating style and cutting out the meat in our diets up to 18% of the world’s greenhouse gases could be reduced or eliminated. (Tidwell)
Although Tidwell presents a convincing argument, it is clear that becoming a vegetarian is not the fix to global warming. The energy saved from supporting and transporting livestock would be used to cultivate protein-rich vegetables, the cultivation of vegetables would have great negative environmental consequences, and a large sector of the economy would collapse. Becoming a vegetarian would barely put a dent in the issue of global warming.
Cutting out meat from a human diet also means that our main source of protein would be cut out. A protein substitute, such as soybeans, would be needed, requiring the same, if not more, energy to support and feed livestock. As pointed out by the Sustainable Table, “The biggest culprit of fossil fuel usage in industrial farming is not transporting food or fueling machinery; it’s chemicals.” The chemicals used on farms consist mostly of nitrogen compounds. These compounds not only cause great destruction to river systems and water supplies but they also require a great deal of energy for production and use, about 5.5 gallons of oil per acre. (SustainableTable.org) This amount of environmentally destructive chemicals is not required for farms that solely raise livestock.
More energy is required to produce equivalent amounts of protein in soy products compared to meat. For example, per 80 grams of beef there are 24.8 grams of protein (Livestock and Meat Commission) while in the same amount of tofu, a common meat substitute, there are only 5.92 grams of protein. (USDA) Soy products are far less efficient in delivering much needed protein, requiring over 4 times as much soy product to account for the protein offered in beef. It requires a vast amount of land to cultivate the soy needed to replace the nutritional value of meat. The energy required to cultivate such great amount of land would result in abundant energy use through fertilization, irrigation, and harvesting. The land, once cultivated for a few years, would be deprived of many naturally occurring nutrients and essential minerals. Fertilization would become necessary in order for the land to be able to yield healthy crops. The longer the land is in use, more fertilizer is required, and therefore more fossil fuels and non-renewable resources will be used. Once the land is no longer needed for cultivation pollution from fertilization would produce undrinkable water and unsafe conditions for building homes or any type of community.
Not only would the switch to vegetarianism have negative environmental effects but negative economic effects as well. As of 2005 the animal slaughtering and processing industry in the United States employed a total of 506,000 people. (PBS) This figure doesn’t even account for the thousands of farmers raising livestock. If everyone were to become a vegetarian all of these people would lose their jobs. With over half a million people out of jobs in the U.S. alone a severe economic disaster would be inevitable. In countries where livestock farming is essential to the economy, such as in Pakistan where it accounts for nearly 10% of the gross domestic product (Jang.com.pk), the economic effects would be felt with greater intensity.
It is very clear that becoming a vegetarian will not solve the problem of global warming. Mike Tidwell misrepresents the positive effects of vegetarianism and fails to mention the vast amount of energy it would require to grow meat substitutes, the negative environmental issues it would cause, and the economic downfalls it would trigger. Vegetarianism is not the answer to halting global warming.
“Fossil Fuel and Energy Use, sustainable food – The Issues -.” Sustainable Table. 21 Jan. 2009 .
Livestock and Meat Commission. Northern Ireland: Lissue House.
“Meatpacking in America: Still a Jungle Out There? . NOW |.” PBS. 15 Dec. 2006. PBS. 21 Jan. 2009 .
National Agricultural Library. 21 Jan. 2009 .
Sabir, Ismat. “INDUSTRY IN FOCUS.” Daily Jang. Jang Group. 21 Jan. 2009 .
Tidwell, Mike. “The Low-Carbon Diet.” Audubon Jan.-Feb. 2009: 46-49.