While many people believe that vehicle and factory pollution are the main contributors to green house gas emissions, guest speaker Gidon Eshel, a research professor from Bard College, refuted this belief in his seminar entitled, “Feeding 9 Billion People: New Insights from the U.S. on the Role of Individual Choices.”
In his talk, given on Feb. 3 in the Coykendall Science Building auditorium, Eshel explained the detrimental effects that feeding and maintaining livestock — specifically cows — have on our planet.
The amount of water and grain that farmers need to feed and maintain their cattle have poor effects on the already impoverished people living across the globe, according to Eshel. People living in poverty do not have the means of eating much — let alone beef — while the beef itself consumes more calories than they would on an average day.
According to a recent study from online British publication, The Guardian, “agriculture is a significant driver of global warming and causes 15 percent of all emissions,” half of which are from livestock.
Since cattle need such a large amount of grain and water to be raised, researchers, including Eshel, are concerned with feeding an extra two billion people by the year 2050 (the projected global population increase).
In an interview with The Guardian, Eshel explains that beef is “dramatically impactful” in comparison to other meats, such as poultry and pork.
During his talk, Eshel also explained that even grass-fed cattle have a much more harmful effect on our planet than that of other livestock because they are ruminants, meaning that they make “far less efficient use of their feed.”
“Only a minute fraction of the food consumed by cattle goes into the bloodstream, so the bulk of energy is lost,” Eshel said in the interview with The Guardian.
Though it seems unlikely and steers away from a traditional American diet, Eshel suggested switching from eating beef to eggs.
During the seminar, Eshel said that even the least efficient car having 10 miles to the gallon would have less of an impact on the Earth than that of a human diet consisting of beef consumption.
Peter and Anne Muller, two New Paltz locals and animal rights activists, attended Eshel’s seminar.
The couple co-founded an animal rights organization called Wildlife Watch and Peter stated that he has been a vegan for 35 years.
“People who are on a plant-based diet are usually much healthier and live much longer, and most people like to live longer,” Peter Muller said. “If you eat a hamburger a day and ride your bicycle every place, and I drive a polluting car on a plant-based diet, I’d do much more for the environment than you do by not eating [beef].”
His wife agreed and added that consuming all meats, especially beef, is not just an animal rights issue, but a planet issue as well.
In the couple’s newsletter, The Wildlife Watch Binocular for Fall/Winter 2014-2015, they advertise a documentary by intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen entitled, “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.” The Mullers explain that animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more green house gases than the transportation industry and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones” and many other environmental ills — all of which Eshel explained in his talk.
“It is truly emphatic,” Eshel said. “It is beef versus everything else. Their rumination is an issue. They have long gestation, small liters and require five times more dry matter than [fully-grown female pigs].”
Eshel explained that when compared to dairy cows, beef cows can be considered “couch potatoes” while dairy cows are “endurance athletes.”
This comparison exemplifies the detriments that go along with raising beef cows compared with any other meat product within the United States and around the globe.
In a study done at the University of Oxford, researchers found that meat-rich diets consisting of 100 grams of meat per day resulted in 7.2 kilograms of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, while vegetarian and fish-eating diets cause only about 3.8 kilograms of CO2 per day and vegan diets produced a mere 2.9 kilograms.
Tim Benton, a professor of population ecology at the University of Leeds in West Yorkshire, England, explained in an interview with The Guardian that the biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.
“In terms of an environmental impact, beef should be avoided whenever possible,” Eshel said.