What’s responsible for all this climate change? Most Canadians will point to the closest SUV or freeway. As it turns out, our sky-high gas prices have a plus side; they are forcing us to reconsider our highly polluting transportation habits.
Yet transportation isn’t the biggest contributor to global warming. Livestock generate even more global warming gases, including immense volumes of methane from enteric fermentation by ruminants (gas from both ends of cows) and of nitrous oxide from manure. (1)
The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report summarizes livestock’s threats to the environment as follows:
Greenhouse gas emissions: Livestock are responsible for highly damaging methane and nitrogen emissions.
Land degradation: Livestock damages grazing land, encourages soil loss, and destroys sensitive areas.
Water pollution: Animal waste from factory farms and manure on croplands pollutes our water.
Biodiversity loss: We lose wildlife and its habitat. (1)
In the 1970’s, when I lived on a ranch 15 miles south of Kamloops, I came to see that the ranch’s 3000 “beef” cattle would be trucked 600 kilometres to Alberta’s Feedlot Alley for fattening. After slaughter, many would be trucked back to BC supermarkets, in parts.
With a methodology that includes the entire commodity chain of feed, water, fuel (for feed, “farm” animals”, meat), and emissions, the FAO estimates that livestock are responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a bigger share than that of human transport. (1)
Yet there is good news. For example, 26 North American universities and colleges have been given a grade of “A-” or better on the four categories of campus sustainability. (2) One of these leaders in sustainablity is our own UBC. To quote the report, “The University of British Columbia’s ECOTrek program, the largest water and energy retrofit in any Canadian university, was finalized in 2006 and has tallied energy savings that represent a reduction of 15,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions. The program is saving the University $2.5 million annually as a result of a 20 percent reduction in energy use. Since 1990, carbon dioxide emissions per square meter of building have been reduced by 30 percent.” UBC committed to sustainability targets such as a 25 percent reduction in campus emissions below 2000 levels by 2010. UBC’s sustainability office assists with building design and a campus energy and water retrofit. Other universities buy food from local farms; have cafeteria menus that are more plant-based, and recycle. (2)
Along with eating low on the food chain, sustainable farming and organic food make sense. We used to think that “organic” was synonymous with “more expensive”. An E-book that you might enjoy is David Hennessey’s “How to Buy Organic Food Inexpensively.” This book, packed with practical information, is available online for the tremendous bargain of $5. (3)
WindSong Cohousing Community, where I have the immense good fortune to live, had the vision to allocate funds for green solutions for our heating, lighting, energy use, and car-sharing. These initiatives are led by community members Patrick Meyer and Kim Rink. This planet-friendly pair develop green, sustainable communities (www.ecotek.ca). Their efforts are now starting to save us money.
How can you show that you care? At your next picnic, opt for a veggie burger. (There are many brands; you can find one you like.) Test plant-based recipes with your friends and family. Frequent vegetarian restaurants. Search at www.vegdining.com where you’ll find 52 listings for Vancouver and 13 others for BC. If you know of other veg-friendly restaurants that ought to be listed, email them in to that website and to www.happycow.net which has 97 food-related listings for BC. Encourage the young and older people you know for their healthy eating, recycling, and in so many ways taking care of our dear planet.
Vesanto Melina is a dietitian and author of nutrition classics “Becoming Vegetarian”, Becoming Vegan”; Raising Vegetarian Children” and the “Food Allergy Survival Guide”. Her newest book is the “Raw Revolution Diet” She does personal consultations from her office near Fort Langley. Phone: 604-882-6782. Web: www.nutrispeak.com
- Livestock Impacts on the Environment. http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm
- College Sustainability Report Card.
- David Hennessey. How to Buy Organic Food Inexpensively. www.buyorganicfoodinexpensively.com