December 7, 2009
Despite oft-repeated claims by sources ranging from the United Nations to music star Paul McCartney, it is simply not true that consuming less meat and dairy products will help stop climate change, says a University of California authority on farming and greenhouse gases.
UC Davis Associate Professor and Air Quality Specialist Frank Mitloehner says that McCartney and the chair of the U.N.'s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ignored science last week when they launched a European campaign called "Less Meat = Less Heat." The launch came on the eve of a major international climate summit, which runs today through Dec. 18 in Copenhagen.
McCartney and others, such as the promoters of "meatless Mondays," seem to be well-intentioned but not well-schooled in the complex relationships among human activities, animal digestion, food production and atmospheric chemistry, says Mitloehner.
"Smarter animal farming, not less farming, will equal less heat," Mitloehner said. "Producing less meat and milk will only mean more hunger in poor countries."
Mitloehner traces much of the public confusion over meat and milk’s role in climate change to two sentences in a 2006 United Nations report, titled "Livestock's Long Shadow." Printed only in the report's executive summary and nowhere in the body of the report, the sentences read: “The livestock sector is a major player, responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalents). This is a higher share than transport.”
These statements are not accurate, yet their wide distribution through news media have put us on the wrong path toward solutions, Mitloehner says.
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