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Eating Meat Is Worse Than Driving a Truck ... for the Climate

Reducing our meat consumption may not be popular, but we need to view our love affair with burgers in the same frame as gas-guzzling SUVs.

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A Better Way

However, there may be a better approach that gets politicians out of the business of micromanaging production of food crops. Some environmental scientists, like the late Alex Farrell of the University of California at Berkeley, have advised against setting specific targets by fuel type. Instead, they favor an approach that has been adopted in California. In January, 2007, Governor Arnold Schwartzenegger signed an executive order mandating that by 2020 the carbon content of any and all passenger vehicle fuel sold in the state -- including petroleum -- be reduced from current levels by 10 percent, a preliminary goal. How fuel suppliers make that cut will be up to them. They can get there by mixing a cleaner fuel into gasoline, for example, or by buying and trading carbon credits.

Because Californians use about 11 percent of all the gasoline consumed in the United States, the order is expected to have substantial impact.

More comprehensive standards on an international level are also in the works. A draft of an international rating system for biofuels may be ready early in 2009. It could result in a labeling system that takes into account the impact of fuels not only on the environment but also on social justice concerns including food security and workers' rights. "Many people are worried about biofuels contributing to deforestation and air pollution in the name of protecting the planet," said Claude Martin, member of the board of the International Institute for Sustainable Development and chair of the steering committee of the Roundtable on Sustainable Biofuels. The roundtable, whose headquarters are at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, has been holding a series of meetings that include manufacturers, conservation leaders, government and UN representatives and non-governmental organizations. "The roundtable will bring together all these actors…to ensure that biofuels deliver on their promise of sustainability," he said.

That is unquestionably a tall order. But so is every aspect of the revolution necessary to end the era of fossil fuels. Biofuel production is not the silver bullet for global warming, but it can be part of the solution. Generating electric power entirely from solar, wind and geothermal by the end of 2018, as Al Gore has boldly proposed, would be another big piece. But there's also a need to break the silence around the role of American eating habits in global warming and global hunger. Reducing our addiction to meat may not be popular, but we need to view our love affair with burgers and barbecue in the same frame as gas-guzzling SUVs.

Copyright 2008 Frances Cerra Whittelsey, used with permission.

Frances Cerra Whittelsey is an author, award-winning journalist and freelance writer who teaches journalism part-time at Hofstra University. Read more of her work at TheEqualizerFCW.blogspot.com.

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