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Forward On Climate: The Pipeline—or the Plate?
February 21, 2013

Tens of thousands of protesters asked President Barack Obama to reject the Keystone XL oil pipeline at the Forward On Climate rally in Washington, D.C., last weekend. But the source of an even more insidious greenhouse gas—methane and nitrous oxide—needs to be added to the climate change debate: meat.

This is no tempest in a teapot: Cows and sheep constantly release methane—which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. That leads to rising temperatures—2012 was the hottest year ever in the United States—that exacerbate extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy.

Let cooler heads prevail: If you eat one less burger a week for a year, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group. If a four-person family skips meat and cheese once a week for a year, it’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks. If a four-person family skips steak one day a week for a year, it’s like taking your car off the road for almost three months.

But it’s challenging for the millions of Americans who rely on federal nutrition assistance programs, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), to improve their health and the environment by reducing meat and dairy consumption. The programs rely on subsidy foods—mostly meat and dairy products. Federal subsidies to dairy producers totaled $4.8 billion between 1995 and 2009. During the same time period, three federal programs provided $3.5 billion in funding to livestock producers. Fruits and vegetables receive less than 1 percent of government subsidies.

As long as meat and dairy producers continue to receive incentives like these, climate change will intensify and the health of animals, humans, and the planet will suffer.

The World Health Organization also says that climate change will result in increased human deaths from heat waves and natural disasters and life-threatening diseases such as malaria and other existing and emerging infectious diseases.

To move forward on climate and help the Earth weather this crisis, we need to end subsides that keep meat and dairy products on America’s plate.


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