When your ideology states that climate change is the most important thing facing the world and some pesky pandemic has the poor judgement to interrupt The Cause, you need to act fast. There must be something that connects the pandemic back to my virtue signaling venture, thought the novelist and vegetarian activist Jonathan Safran Foer, before penning ‘The End of Meat is Here’ in the New York Times this week.
The canals of Venice are suddenly clear, gorillas and rhinos are saved, air quality of major world cities improved, and global CO2 emissions have dropped by some astonishing number, perhaps 17%. These are amazing developments, over and above what any green champion could have imagined – yet nobody is happy about them. The activists, the people they pretend to represent, or the politicians that got us into this mess seem more upset than ever. Being locked in our houses with society put on hold was not the great societal revolution that we imagined.
The pandemic had us reevaluating what is essential, writes Foer. And food is essential. And that slaughterhouse in South Dakota had a large corona outbreak. One thing led to another, and suddenly the pandemic teaches us that vegetarianism is inevitable. Braa-vo!
His story is the same old, same old of meat’s alleged outsized impact on the planet. The channel is varyingly land usage, cows’ methane emissions or deforestation. Foer’s piece is also stuffed with typical Animal Rights complaints – most of which are conducive and perfectly consistent with a libertarian worldview.
Let me abstract from all that and focus on the core message: meat is bad because it wrecks the planet.
Right off the bat, we are faced with the scientifically tricky question: does it? Despite Foer’s denouncements that his statement is “a banal truism” rather than “a refutable perspective” (if so, why bother writing an opinion piece about it?) what goes into the calculation of livestock emissions is not evidently clear. Investigating the research underlying the claim that animal agriculture accounts for a large share of global emissions, Frank Mitloehner, Professor in U.C. Davis’ Animal Science Department, writes
“For livestock, they considered every factor associated with producing meat. This included emissions from fertilizer production, converting land from forests to pastures, growing feed, and direct emissions from animals (belching and manure) from birth to death. However, when they looked at transportation’s carbon footprint, they ignored impacts on the climate from manufacturing vehicle materials and parts, assembling vehicles and maintaining roads, bridges and airports.”
The statistical mischief came about because