Livestock Are the Real Climate Pigs

If the auto industry is only part of the problem, it cannot be 100% of the solution.

Commentary

“Climate Pig” is an insult that will sting European auto makers for some time to come after getting an earful from Greenpeace at the most recent Frankfurt auto show.

But it turns out that real pigs – along with cattle, sheep and other livestock – impact climate more swinishly than cars and trucks.

This underscores how cynical, selective and politicized the war on global warming has become.

All over the world, the auto industry is being singled out as the main villain in the global- warming crisis. In addition to a rising tide of ultra-tough government mandates designed to bully auto makers into building more fuel-efficient vehicles, politicians are devising punitive legislation and lawsuits that grow more ridiculous by the day.

A lawsuit by the State of California, seeking monetary damages from the nation’s six largest auto makers for causing the state’s wildfires and poor skiing conditions, was thrown out of court in September.

Last month, the European Parliament proposed that car advertisements in the European Union carry cigarette-style labels warning of the environmental dangers they cause.

Yet, a little-publicized report released last year by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations says livestock are responsible for a greater portion of global warming than the transportation sector.

The guilty parties are methane, a natural byproduct of bovine digestion and oxides of nitrogen emitted by manure. Methane is a particularly virulent threat, the report says, because it has 23 times the global-warming potential as carbon dioxide.

Livestock also outnumber vehicles by a wide margin. The number of cars and trucks worldwide is expected to hit 1 billion sometime in 2008, but according to “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” there already are 1.5 billion cattle and domestic buffalo on the planet, plus 1.7 billion sheep and goats and billions more pigs and poultry.

The global damage is amplified by the fact ranchers chop down forests to create more grazing land.

Believe it or not, experts say it is possible to curb livestock methane emissions by modifying diet and other changes, if only it was required. And we all would be better off if we consumed less meat and more vegetables.

Yet, there is little concern over the impact livestock has on the global environment. Burger King has no mandate to reduce the size of its Whoppers 4% annually; Denny’s has not been ordered to serve one less slice of bacon in its Grand Slam breakfast by 2012.

Instead of being a noble battle on many fronts, the crusade to limit global warming is devolving into a petty culture war: in Europe it resembles a populist rebellion aimed at depriving the wealthy of their toys, and in the U.S. it looks like a campaign by city dwellers to stamp out the tragically un-hip lifestyles of suburban and rural America.

The auto industry needs to put out a memo that reminds everyone that saving the planet is not something you force your neighbor to do; it is everyone’s job.

Even so, if the auto industry is only part of the problem, it cannot be 100% of the solution.

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