Offset Your Lunch?

The next time you grab a burger for lunch, you’re part of the global warming problem. That, at least, is the upshot of a new study that finds that agricultural meat production is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions:

Their analysis showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate, and consumes 169 megajoules of energy (Animal Science Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-0929.2007.00457.x). In other words, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

So what could be the answer to this? We could consider a meat tax to deter people eating meat — although given that meat is an important source of protein, this might lead to increased dietary problems. We could go down the cap-and-trade route and give everyone a personal meat allowance as in times of war, so vegetarians could sell their allowances to those who like a half-pounder rather than a quarter-pounder, but that might just prove difficult politically. Enterprising businesses might sell lunch offsets (McOffsets?), but no-one seriously thinks offsets are the answer. Or we could just ban meat entirely, just at the same time as we’re diverting the world’s corn and soy supplies towards biofuels. Save the planet through starvation! It would have also reduce the human population of the planet substantially. The planet would be able to have its ice ages again!

Or, of course, we could adapt: use technological, resiliency and property rights approaches to mitigate emissions while lessening the impact of warming. That’s an approach that isn’t even being considered in the command centers of alarmism.