Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Post Pleistocene Eating Blues

I posted the following response to Mark Bittman's depressing article Rethinking the Meat Guzzler over at and figured I'd cross-post it here to give it a bit more play. If you get the sense that I'm more than a little fatigued by the current discussion over the anthropogenic causes of global warming, you'd be correct.

'm so glad that I don't eat too much meat and also consume a lot of vegetables. My diet keeps me pretty healthy and fit, and affords me the opportunity to, unlike Mr Bittman, NOT have to wring my hands too much over how much my eating contributes to global warming.

Of course, I am not off the hook entirely, even the produce I consume organic and otherwise contributes to global warming in a variety of ways. Crops don't absorb as much CO2 as the forests and grasslands they replace and the fallow fields reflect much more heat into the atmosphere than natural vegetation.
Even the best managed land loses topsoil which runs off into streams and rivers thereby increasing heat absorption by the water.

It's too bad that I was not born closer to the end of the Pleistocene, when global warming had finished off the last vestiges of the great continental ice sheets, and the forests and plains of what would become the temperate regions were aborning. I read that the hunting was great back then, farms had not yet been invented and the warming of the climate that continues to the present was in no way anthropogenic.

AND, there was no omnivore's dilemma.



Sean said...

I can sympathize with your sentiment though perhaps for different reasons. Environmental awareness has inspired a cottage industry looking to capitalize on what has become a high end status symbol. As obstinately as some argue that local, organic, or humane products fresh from the farmer's market or Whole Foods are accessible to all, the reality is that few have the time, inclination or resources to adopt this lifestyle. Far too many people have adopted the local (organic/retro food) mantra as an extension of their consumerism, itself an element of privilege that they are unwilling to acknowledge. Since the media exists, at least in part, to sell itself, it is no wonder that this topic has been rehashed to an excessive degree.

With that being said, global warming remains a serious concern particularly for those who will most likely never see or appreciate the eco-posturing so many now engage in. A one degree Celsius rise in sea temperature may mean nothing to you but it might be the root cause for a plague of malaria in sub-saharan Africa or even more frequent floods in Bangladesh, both with the prospect of killing millions. No one (besides the animals involved) is going to die because you chose to eat steak over wild mushroom risotto on any given night. However the overall effect of the Western world's lifestyle choices has and will continue to be problematic for the rest of the world which doesn't have the luxury to waste, and anxiously worry about, so wantonly.

Egaeus said...

I personally don't understand why there *is* any discussion about the anthropogenic causes of global warming. I haven't quite even figured out what global warming deniers actually dispute about global warming. Do they dispute

-That carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas?

-That the concentration or CO2 is increasing?

-That the global average temperature is increasing?

-That the increase in CO2 is anthropogenic?

-That there is nearly perfect correlation between the increase in global average temperature and the increase in CO2 concentration?

I mean with the fact that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and it's concentration is increasing, and the fact that the global average temperature is increasing, and the fact that the two are nearly perfectly correlated, I don't see how any honest, thinking person can deny it. But hopefully I'm preaching to the choir about that.

And on a related topic, while other things such as crops not holding as much carbon as forests, and agricultural methane are legitimate concerns, I feel that they're a less serious issue than carbon from fossil fuels. The carbon released from forests is still part of the carbon cycle, not from reservoirs of sequestered carbon, and methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it breaks down in the atmosphere unlike CO2.