Wednesday, May 28, 2008


Recently in the news there was a story about environmentalists targeting obese individuals as being major contributors to global warming. When the interviewer basically asked how an obese individual’s carbon footprint fromsitting on the couch all day compared with someone like a skinny Barbie girl that went to work, drove to a smoothie bar and had an organic smoothie, then drove to a climate controlled gym and spent 2 hours utilizing their electric powered equipment before stopping by the local organic market on the way home compared, they quickly changed the subject.

They immediately attacked meat consumption. I’ll admit, it is probably true that someone that eats a healthy well balanced diet probably has a lower carbon footprint than others. However, there is no reason that beef could not be part of a healthy diet, considering that there are 29 cuts of lean beef that have barley more than 1 gram more of saturated fat than a comparable serving of skinless chicken breast. In addition beef delivers many times more iron, zinc and vitamin B12.

It may be true that beef consumption requires more fuel to produce than say rice, but you are getting a lot more nutrition from beef than rice. Further, it does not make sense to focus so narrowly on one aspect of our lives when it comes to energy consumption and GHG’s ( greenhouse gas). We all know how much fossil fuel consumption and GHG production results from driving automobiles, but we don’t stop driving. Instead we focus on improving emissions and efficiency.

In the same way with beef, improvements in genetics, nutrition, and management will ( and have) lead to less pollution, and increased efficiency with regard to how much food we are getting from a given amount of animal units, land, water, and other resources ( especially compared to 'hormone free' and 'organic' meat production).

Despite rhetoric in the media, there is no scientific consensus to support the drastic sort of changes that these people want us to make in our lifestyles to combat climate change. If you read the IGPCC’s 4th Assessment report, all you will find is that there is a ‘consensus’ agreement that humans have contributed to increased temperatures over the last 100 years with about 90% certainty. When it comes to the changes to our environment, violent storms, draught, and loss of coastal areas, the consensus amounts to a coin toss. When economists take the consensus science about climate change into account, they find that the damage from implementing Kyoto style policies on a magnitude similar to what Al Gore or the ‘Stern Report’ advocates would be worse than doing nothing at all.

With congress debating a GHG emissions bill next week, let’s hope our political candidates and representatives are responsible about what they do in this regard.


Sara said...

Thanks for a good laugh(obese people cause global warming?)as well as some thought provoking statements. In my heart, I still believe global warming is real, but you make a good point about needing to look at the economic impacts of any changes we implement.

agEconomist said...

Thanks for your comments.

I feel I should also clarify that by considering the 'economic' impacts of policies, we are not just considering 'profits' and GDP, but also the disparate impact that policies would have on the poor and technological innovation.

It is important that we realize how uncertian the science is with regard to the effects of climate change,( even though we may be certain that it is happening) and we must consider the consequences of taking drastic actions with such uncertain benefits to doing so.

Jake said...

You keep referring to negative impacts that implementing policies such as the ones described in the Kyoto Protocol would have on the poor. As for "disparate impacts" on technological innovation, there would be no such thing. If anything, technology would take great strides in order to reduce emissions.

Ageconomist said...

Yes there would be negative impacts on technological change. It is true the climate change legislation attempts to price carbon and provide incentives for companies and consumers to invest in 'green' technologies, but you must also consider the opportunity costs of the increased spending on higher energy costs. If we incorrectly over price carbon then too many resources will be devoted directly to reducing carbon as opposed to other technologies ( like biotechnology) that have many benefits in addition to reducing our carbon foot print.

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