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You can be a carnivore and an environmentalist.
— Nathanael Johnson on Sat. July 18, 2015 6:00 AM PDT
Should we eat meat? That’s the big question, which—for this series—I’m asking three different ways: in terms of environmental sustainability, morality, and practicality.
Today, to begin: Can meat be sustainable?
In any comparison of the environmental impact of meat eaters and plant eaters, we have to start by noting that plant eaters have a powerful ally on their side: physics. Every time energy moves from one state to another, a little is lost along the way. Flip on an incandescent bulb and only 8 percent of the electric energy turns into visible light—the majority of energy is lost as infrared light and heat. Convert the calories in corn into meat by feeding a chicken, and you’ve got the same problem.
In even the most efficient, high-tech farms, it takes a pound and a half of grain to grow a pound of chicken—because that chicken is constantly radiating heat and burning energy to move around. The picture gets worse if you just look at the parts of the chicken that people like to eat. The scientist Vaclav Smil, who has a reputation for objective number-crunching, considered this basic issue of thermodynamics in his book, Should We Eat Meat? Evolution and Consequences of Modern Carnivory, and came up with this table:
See original: Can meat actually be eco-friendly?