Author's Note: This article first appeared on Counterpunch.org
Thanksgiving is quite a U.S. holiday. In one day, we manage to eat and enjoy 44 million turkeys, twice the number consumed at Christmas. Yes, vegetarians may live longer and vegans even more so, but the smell of a roasting turkey in the kitchen, lingering in the nostrils, titillating appetites as friends and relations gather, is synonymous with Thanksgiving -- a meal where it is politic to keep politics away from the table.
Yet the news about our world cannot cease. The annual greenhouse gas bulletin issued by the World Meteorological Organization reports a new high in CO2 levels of 405.5 parts per million reached in 2017; it is 46 percent higher than preindustrial levels. The rising trend continues for on May 14, 2018, another high of 412.60 ppm was recorded.
The enthusiastic consumption of meat in industrialized countries is one cause. The worst culprits are lamb, mutton and beef because sheep, goats and cattle are ruminants and their digestive systems release methane mostly through belching rather than the other end. Cattle emit so much greenhouse gas that if they were a country they "would be the planet's third largest greenhouse gas emitter." They produce an astounding 270,000 tonnes of emissions over their agricultural life cycle per tonne of protein, multiple times more than pork or poultry or eggs. Transferring our carnivorous instincts from beef to poultry reduces so much emissions as to be near as good as being vegetarian although not quite.
Another way of imagining the effect is to translate a kilo of food sources into the number of car miles driven to produce the same emissions. A kilo of beef equates to 63 miles. Eating chicken reduces this by 47 miles, rice by another 10, lentils by 4 more.
When people ask, 'but what can I do about climate change?' we have an answer, 'eat less beef.' We can also drive less by cutting unnecessary trips -- for example, grocery shopping only once a week. Turning down the thermostat in winter and up in summer to reduce energy consumption (and lower gas and electricity bills), walking or bicycling instead of driving short distances for better health and for our environment, are suggestions we have heard before. It's time we complied.
COP24 or to give it its official name the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is upon us (December 3 rd to 14th in Katowice, Poland). Its purpose is to develop an international agreement compelling all countries to implement the Paris accord on climate change; it limits global mean temperature rise to 2 degrees C.
Meanwhile the IPCC was charged with comparing the 2C rise with a 1.5C rise and the risks to the world of both. The IPCC report unveiled to the world on October 8, 2018, was far from sanguine. There the matter rests as we await COP24.