A Vegetarian’s Case Against Vegetarianism

“Meat is so bad for the planet carnivores should be treated with the same disgust as smokers.” Maybe that’s not yet a universal sentiment, but you don’t have to search hard to find people who believe such rubbish.

Take Christiana Figueres, the former Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the 2015 Paris climate agreement. She thinks carnivores should be banished from restaurants.

“How about restaurants in 10-15 years start treating carnivores the same way that smokers are treated?” Figueres suggested during a recent conference. “If they want to eat meat, they can do it outside the restaurant.”

We think that statement is evidence Figueres’ vegetarian ways may have led to a softening of her brain tissue, until we stumbled upon Bjørn Lomborg, a vegetarian with a decidedly different analysis of meat consumption.

Lomborg, author of The Skeptical Environmentalist, and a visiting professor at the Copenhagen School of Business, says he’s been a vegetarian his entire adult life because he doesn’t “want to kill animals,” so he has a certain empathy with those who promote a meatless diet. But he also says he wants to “make sure the science is right.” Well… in Lomborg’s words, those pushing for humans to extinguish meat eating like a cheap cigar are “often cherry-picking the data while ignoring basic facts.”

Ohhh….really? Tell us more!

Popular articles suggest eliminating meat consumption could cut greenhouse-gas (GHG) emissions by 50% or more. “That’s massive,” Lomborg says. “It’s also massively misleading.”

He says the 50% reduction number is achieved only if we go much further than vegetarianism. It requires going completely vegan. As in, no meat or animal products. No milk, no eggs, no honey, no leather, no wool, no gelatin, and on and on. Yeah, not gonna happen.

But many in the popular press still insist going vegetarian can reduce an individual’s emissions by 20% to 35%. Lomborg says that’s not a person’s entire emissions, just those from food. “Four-fifths of emissions are ignored, which means the impact is five times lower.”

Citing academic literature on emission cuts from switching to a vegetarian diet, Lomborg says, “a systematic survey of peer-reviewed studies shows that a non-meat diet will likely reduce an individual’s emissions by the equivalent of 540 kilograms (1,190 pounds) of CO2. For the average person in the industrialized world, that means cutting emissions by just 4.3%.”

Wait, he’s not done being a skeptical environmentalist.

“In a developed-country setting, the reality is that going entirely vegetarian for the rest of your life means reducing your emissions by about 2%.”

Did I mention Lomborg is a vegetarian?

In Lomborg’s opinion, “Figueres’s plan for meat-eaters is disturbing, because it suggests that the former UN climate chief is focused on banning behavior she doesn’t like, based on flimsy evidence and over-the-top newspaper reporting.”

He says such thinking also focuses narrowly on the world’s rich. “It is incredibly self-obsessed to talk about banishing steak eaters from restaurants when 1.45 billion people are vegetarian through poverty, wanting desperately to be able to afford meat.”

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