This weekend I enjoyed an unexpected amount of publicity when I asked Al Gore whether meat contributes to global warming and what we should do about it. Major papers covered the question, and Gore's answer. I fear that few will cover the real answer: Americans need to go on a "low carbon" diet.
A few years back, a University of Chicago study ("Diet, Energy, and Global Warming") likened different diets to greenhouse gas emissions of various cars. They showed a chart comparing, for example, how a change in diet might compare to swapping out your SUV for a Prius. For a Prius diet, one must go vegan, giving up all animal products.
Al Gore is not ready to go quite that far, nor is he comfortable urging others to do. His answer was honest, a sure sign that he is no longer a "recovering politician" but a recovered one. I have good news for Al Gore: he doesn't have to. By moving from conventionally raised animal products to sustainably raised ones, Americans can improve their dietary MPG without having to eat Tofurkey on Thanksgiving.
A friend of mine, Judith McGeary, produces sustainable lamb, chicken, turkey, and eggs on her small Texas farm. The sheep graze on pasture, harvesting their own food. Judith tries to source feed for the chickens and turkeys locally when possible.
Most of all, the farm represents an enormous carbon sink. Instead of collecting manure in polluting, smelly lagoons like a factory farm, Judith lets nature take its course. Dung beetles on her land take care of all of the manure and they improve the soil at the same time. Then she sells the meat to local customers who use little oil to transport the meat home. She uses a lot of energy for refrigeration but she offsets it with solar panels on her roof. Her new home, currently under construction, will be a green building.
Judith is a scientist and an environmentalist. She earned a degree in Biology from Stanford, a JD from UT-Austin, and she also studies graduate level eco-agriculture at UT-Austin. Thousands like her around the country are equally passionate about sustainable agriculture. They might not all have degrees from Stanford but they aren't starry eyed, idealistic hippies either.
The "eco" in "eco-agriculture" stands for "economical" as well as "ecologically-friendly." Sustainable farming is a fantastic business model, producing a valuable product that more and more consumers are embracing.
I support Gore's current efforts, promoting renewable forms of energy and greater energy efficiency, but if we have five years to save the polar icecaps (as he said shortly before I asked the question), we need to do what we can do now. Sustainable agriculture is something we can do now. Sustainable agriculture means you can have your meat and eat it too.