The author of the July 7 commentary “It’s the cars, not the cows” states that to avoid a “climate crisis,” “unprecedented political courage” will be necessary. But he also claims that there is little difference between the effects of consuming beef or plants on climate change. While a collective solution is certainly needed, the types of food we choose as individuals clearly does affect the planet’s health. Here’s a few reasons why:
• According to comprehensive studies done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, beef requires 28 times more land, six times more fertilizer and 11 times more water, and it generates five times more greenhouse-gas emissions than is required to produce pork, chicken, dairy and eggs.
• Row crops that rely heavily on fertilizers are most often used to feed cattle. And with fertilizer use comes runoff that very often contaminates our water supplies and streams, and is a major cause of dead zones in rivers. And while grass-fed beef is more environmentally friendly, three times more land is required compared with grain-fed cattle.
• By contrast, growing plants, if done sustainably, is a very efficient method of providing food, basically because we humans can consume this food directly.
Obviously, no environmental studies regarding food are perfect. But the vast majority of these studies do suggest that we should cut back on beef consumption. And this especially makes sense, since most people in the U.S. eat about two times the amount of protein their bodies require.
John Clark, Minneapolis
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Paul John Scott churns the cauldron of conspiracy theory with an “us vs. them” undertone while discarding the ethics of factory farming and the effects of animal agriculture on the environment. “It’s the cars, not the cows” dismisses or is not aware of science that shows cattle as a major source of greenhouse gases and other destructive byproducts (e.g., water pollutants, animal wastes, antibiotics, hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feed crops). Will prime cuts have to be pried from cold, dead hands?
But even worse, the Star Tribune opinion editors published the article as framed by the image of a black cloud emanating from the back side of a Holstein. Why would they perpetuate any form of climate-change denial? Read more on media coverage of climate change and diet in a peer-reviewed journal article as the result of a 10-year study: “Eating Meat and Climate Change: The Media Blind Spot — A Study of Spanish and Italian Press Coverage”; Núria Almiron, Ph.D., professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Barcelona, Spain; and Milena Zoppeddu, Ph.D.; Environmental Communication, Vol. 9, No. 3, 307 — 325, 2015. Almiron says: “Given these numerous reports from credible sources, one would expect intense media coverage of issues related with climate change and diet, but the fact is that there is a virtual black hole when it comes to green news in general. In the USA, for instance, environmental coverage in 2009 represented just 1.5% of news headlines in the mainstream media.”
Scott’s article focused on nutrition, which is the easy side of the debate because 90% of Americans rationalize meat as part of a healthy diet. We may agree that climate-change mitigation is vastly further-reaching and more complex than an uninformed comparison between cars and cows. Looking at the big picture, Drawdown, accessible online, is a compendium of the top 100 scientific solutions to mitigate climate change. Food waste, a plant-rich diet and deforestation are top-five solutions. The point is, however, that all 100 solutions must be pursued vigorously to reduce (drawdown) greenhouse gases to sustainable levels.
We’re all in this together.
Ron Baumbach, Bloomington
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Scott provides an entertaining ramble through thickets of illogic with the apparent goal of outing an international capitalist/vegetarian cabal falsely blaming cattle for global warming. His thesis is that vegetarian diets offer no advantage over high-meat diets in terms of climate/environmental impacts. In the process he scornfully discards the science of epidemiology, notes (irrelevantly) that there are natural sources of methane, decries a trend of young people eating more veggies and contends that shaming folks into avoiding beef will make dealing with climate change more unbearable. A cognitive marathon to nowhere.
The cattle industry contributes to our environmental crisis by generating methane, accelerating deforestation, consuming prodigious amounts of antibiotics (think resistant bacteria), contributing to cardiovascular disease and producing vast toxic manure “ponds.” Recall that when Hurricane Florence drowned the Carolinas, vast liquefied manure deposits were flushed down rivers to the sea.
Methane is a major contributor to planet-warming, but at this point historic melting of ice caps and tundra are the largest sources, so on that count the cows deserve a break. However, the rising demand for meat has accelerated the clearing of rain forests for pasture. This is also an environmental-justice issue.
Human activities release about 40 billion tons of heat-trapping gases annually. Beef-related releases account for about 10 to 15% of that. In our increasingly desperate need to sharply drop emissions, this is one of many pieces that can’t be ignored or covered up.
Bruce Snyder, St. Paul
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It is important to take note of the fact that the article appeared in the opinion section and not the science section. It is also worth noting that Scott is a writer and not a climate scientist.
Among the eyebrow-raising statements in the article is this one: “That soy in your plant-based burger? It required fertilizer, which released nitrous oxide, which is 300 times more potent than CO2.” Not all fertilizers release nitrous oxide — only those that contain nitrogen compounds, such as anhydrous ammonia, urea, and plain old animal manure. However, to quote the University of Minnesota Extension website, “The soybean is a legume and if properly inoculated, can use the nitrogen in the atmosphere (N2) for plant growth. Therefore, nitrogen fertilizer is not needed for soybean production in most situations.” The row crop that does need lots of nitrogen fertilizer is corn, which is needed to feed all those cattle and hogs and other meat producing livestock. In other words, on this point Scott is wrong. I wonder what other facts he twisted or just plain got wrong in order to make his case.
Randy Graham, Afton
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Scott responds at length to arguments for following a plant-based diet but fails to address what is, for many ethical vegans, the most damning fact: that animals suffer and die horrible deaths to satisfy humans’ desire for meat. We need to be compassionate stewards of all beings as we seek to improve our health and the health of our planet. One way to do this is to reduce our consumption of meat.
Susan Weinlick, Minneapolis
Letter argued that those arriving don’t embrace our values. Wrong.
I wonder if the July 7 letter writer who claimed that recent immigrants beliefs are “diametrically opposed to our Constitution” has actually met an immigrant or just gets his information from television? The recent immigrants I have personally met are enthusiastic participants in all aspects of American society, including capitalism, the democratic election process and the freedom of religion. These are the same reason my ancestors came to the U.S. and I’m guessing the writer’s as well.
Dean Carlson, Minneapolis