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Environmental News

"EARTH TALK"

From the Editors of E / The Environmental Magazine

THIS WEEK'S COLUMN

Dear EarthTalk: I heard that the less meat one eats, the better it is for the environment. How so?
—Jason K., Sarasota, FL

David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences says that the grain currently fed to some seven billion livestock in the United States could feed nearly 800 million people directly.

Photo © Digital Vision/Thinkstock

Our meat consumption habits take a serious toll on the environment. According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the production, processing and distribution of meat requires huge outlays of pesticides, fertilizer, fuel, feed and water while releasing greenhouse gases, manure and a range of toxic chemicals into our air and water. A lifecycle analysis conducted by EWG that took into account the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products found that red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains.

Livestock are typically fed corn, soybean meal and other grains which have to first be grown using large amounts of fertilizer, fuel, pesticides, water and land. EWG estimates that growing livestock feed in the U.S. alone requires 167 million pounds of pesticides and 17 billion pounds of nitrogen fertilizer each year across some 149 million acres of cropland. The process generates copious amounts of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, while the output of methane—another potent greenhouse gas—from cattle is estimated to generate some 20 percent of overall U.S. methane emissions.

“If all the grain currently fed to livestock in the United States were consumed directly by people, the number of people who could be fed would be nearly 800 million,” reports ecologist David Pimentel of Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He adds that the seven billion livestock in the U.S. consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire U.S. population.

Our meat consumption habits also cause other environmental problems. A 2009 study found that four-fifths of the deforestation across the Amazon rainforest could be linked to cattle ranching. And the water pollution from factory farms (also called concentrated animal feeding operations or CAFOs)—whereby pigs and other livestock are contained in tight quarters—can produce as much sewage waste as a small city, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). Further, the widespread use of antibiotics to keep livestock healthy on those overcrowded CAFOs has led to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria that threaten human health and the environment in their own right.

Eating too much meat is no good for our health, with overindulgence linked to increasing rates of heart disease, cancer and obesity. Worldwide, between 1971 and 2010, production of meat tripled to around 600 billion pounds while global population grew by 81 percent, meaning that we are eating a lot more meat than our grandparents. Researchers extrapolate that global meat production will double by 2050 to about 1.2 trillion pounds a year, putting further pressure on the environment and human health.
For those who can’t give up meat fully, cutting back goes a long way toward helping the environment, as does choosing meat and dairy products from organic, pasture-raised, grass-fed animals. “Ultimately, we need better policies and stronger regulations to reduce the environmental impacts of livestock production,” says EWG’s Kari Hammerschlag “But personal shifting of diets is an important step.”

CONTACTS: EWG; David Pimentel; NRDC.

 
 

 

Dear EarthTalk: I’ve heard of the slow food movement, but what is “slow money” all about?
—Phil Nimkoff, New York, NY

Woody Tasch, socially conscious investing pioneer, founder of the Slow Money movement, and author of the book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered.

Photo © Tammy Green

“Slow Money” is the name for a movement started by socially conscious investing pioneer and author, Woody Tasch, who essentially borrowed the conceptual framework of “Slow Food”—whereby participants eschew convenience-oriented “fast” foods, instead filling up their plates with traditional, unprocessed and, ideally, locally produced foods—and applied it to personal finance and investing. As such, Slow Money is dedicated to connecting investors to their local economies by marshaling financial resources to invest in small food enterprises and local food systems.

Tasch’s vision for Slow Money, now not just a concept but also a non-profit organization, seeks nothing less than a complete overhaul of the way we think about and spend our money, channeling much more of it into producing healthy local food, strengthening local communities instead of multinational corporations, and restoring our flagging economy in the process. Instead of venture capital bankrolling far flung high tech start-ups, Tasch hopes to see “nurture capital” funding local merchants and producers who, in turn, plug half of their profits back into their communities, ensuring one small local virtuous circle that values soil fertility, carrying capacity, a sense of place, care of the commons, diversity, nonviolence, and cultural, ecological and economic health as much as financial return. Tasch hopes to get there by persuading a million Americans to invest at least one percent of their assets in local food systems by 2020.

Tasch started Slow Money in November 2008 after the publication of his book, Inquiries into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered. Hitting the road to promote the book and the nascent movement in 2009, he was able to attract 450 intrigued investors, farmers and other entrepreneurs to Santa Fe, New Mexico to trade ideas at a three-day gathering. “We just wanted to see who would show up, but four of the small food enterprises that presented raised an aggregate of $260,000,” says Tasch. Tasch then organized another event for some 600 attendees the following June in Shelburne, Vermont. Investors there poured $4.2 million into 12 more producers, and that’s when Tasch knew he was really on to something. More than 1,000 people converged in San Francisco for the third event in October 2011, and Tasch expects untold amounts of “slow capital” to be changing hands for the better as a result.

Whether or not you have money to invest in Slow Money’s virtuous circles, you can show your support by visiting the group’s website and electronically signing the organization’s Principles, a list of six core beliefs shared by the Slow Money community. Or if you have just $25, you could park it with the organization’s Soil Trust, which will seed small food enterprises that promote soil fertility in locales from coast to coast. Tasch sees the Soil Trust as key to opening up the Slow Money concept to all of us and achieving the group’s goal of getting a million Americans involved in the movement over the next decade.

Another key to achieving Tasch’s goal is growth of leadership at the local level. To that end, a dozen autonomous local chapters have sprung up nationwide, with more sure to come as word gets out. The local groups have already gifted or lent hundreds of thousands of dollars to entities working to improve their own community “foodsheds.” Now we all have a way to truly put our money where our mouths are.

CONTACTS: Slow Money.

A SYNDICATED COLUMN ONLY ON AMERICAJR.COM

 

 

SEND IN YOUR QUESTIONS...

GOT AN ENVIRONMENTAL QUESTION? Send it to: EarthTalk, c/o E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881; submit it at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/thisweek/, or e-mail: earthtalk@emagazine.com. Read past columns at: www.emagazine.com/earthtalk/archives.php.

 

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