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The upshot, both for global climate policy and individual dietary choices, is that meat eating carries a big carbon footprint only when the meat comes from industrial agriculture. “If you’re eating grassland meat,” Pollan says, “your carbon footprint is light and possibly even negative.”
Pollan emphasizes that switching from corn-fed to properly grazed cows brings other benefits as well. Sequestering carbon improves the soil’s fertility and water retentiveness, thus raising food yields and resilience to drought and floods alike.
Pollan calls this approach “open source carbon sequestration.” He emphasizes that more research is needed to understand how best to apply it, but he is bullish on the prospects. Using photosynthesis and reformed grazing practices to extract atmospheric carbon and store it underground “gets us out of one of the worst aspects of environmental thinking — the zero-sum idea that we can’t feed ourselves and save the planet at the same time.”
“It also raises our spirits about the challenges ahead, which is not a small thing.”
Mark Hertsgaard is a fellow of the New America Foundation and author of “HOT: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth.” He wrote this article for Slate.
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