Vegetarianism and BP

For people who know me personally, you will probably agree with two things: 1. I’m a vegetarian, and 2. I’ve never been interested in telling other people how to eat or using my vegetarianism to feel holier than thou. Unlike some, I recognize the multiple factors that keep people from being vegetarians: lack of access to vegetables, high prices for good produce, culture and traditions that surround cooking, really liking a juicy burger. Vegetarianism has always been a very personal choice for me (and an easy one, since I’m not a big fan of meat), and I’ve never felt telling people how to eat is a useful cause.

But I read one little fact that struck me in the new book Eaarth by Bill McKibben, which describes a planet that we’ve changed so entirely that it no longer resembles the Earth that we’ve known. This fact is that, “It takes eleven times as much fossil fuel to raise a pound of animal protein as a pound of plant protein.” McKibben suggests that this means we should either turn to vegetarianism or Chinese cooking practices, which “use meat almost as a condiment.”

The BP oil spill has been the most glaring, physical evidence in recent history of just how destructive our reliance on fossil fuels is. Our use of them is complex; as I’ve pointed out before, electrical generation is the highest producer of pollution, yet uses a negligible amount of oil. The fossil fuel it relies on most is natural gas, which is usually extracted onshore. But even so, we clearly use a whole lot of oil as a country, as our thirst for it has driven rigs deeper and deeper into the ocean and is drying up the assets in the Middle East.

One of McKibben’s points in Eaarth is that the large scale must become smaller in our new world. Rather than corporate farms, we need community gardens; rather than national roads projects, we need local governments to upgrade infrastructure that can handle a shifting climate. Personal choices are also becoming more and more important in the fight against global warming. Conservation, the least glamorous and most personal solution, could be one of the most important tools: “The energy analyst Amory Lovins recently calculated that Americans could, relatively cheaply, save half the oil and three-fourths of the electricity they use” through actions such as insulating water heaters and turning off videogame consoles.

So personal choices really matter. And perhaps more vegetarians could make a really big difference, if it takes so much fossil fuel to raise meat. If you were flirting with the idea of becoming a vegetarian, now is a great time to consider a serious relationship with it.


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