When the University of Chicago undertook an assessment of the global warming caused by our diets, they found exactly what many vegetarian activists have been telling us about for many years, and that is that being vegetarian is the new Prius. Eating local, they found, was a mere 4 percent of the carbon footprint in our food, whereas the growth and production accounted for 83% of the total. The United Nations confirmed this in a report last month: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Much of this has to do with the fact that methane gas (a, ahem, by-product of animal agriculture) has 18-24 times the capacity for warming the planet than an equivalent amount of carbon dioxide, upon which much of our legislative efforts have focused.
But not all meat, and not all production methods are created equal. Rob Ludlow, co-author of Raising Chickens for Dummies, owns the website BackyardChickens.com. The site has been featured in some pretty high-profile places: the New York Times, Economist Magazine, and now, for Pete’s Sake, TRIPLE PUNDIT! Full disclosure, Rob is a friend of mine who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Regardless, the concept of localizing food is a terrific step toward lowering your carbon footprint. Localizing it to your backyard is the ultimate in local. And of course, chicken raised humanely and the eggs that they produce have a far lower carbon footprint than beef and pork.
Rob and Kimberly’s book did dispel a myth I had always believed about chickens: true, they do eat just about anything (including styrofoam, paint chips…it’s not that they’re dumb, they just don’t have well-developed taste buds), but they will not necessarily produce an abundance of high quality eggs if they are just eating your compost (wouldn’t that be nice?). The book is a must-read if you are planning some backyard chickens, and the discussion forum at BackyardChickens.com is, as advertised, highly addictive!
But let’s talk seriously for a minute. You can reduce your carbon footprint by up to 90% by eating organic, vegetarian, and local. With 1/5 of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (and powerful ones, like methane) coming from agribusiness (cited from the same UN report as above), wouldn’t some pet chickens that produce breakfast for you every day and lower your carbon footprint feel (and taste!) really good?
Scott Cooney is the author of Build a Green Small Business: Profitable Ways to Become an Ecopreneur (McGraw-Hill), has been a vegetarian for 17 years, and is dreaming of fresh eggs in his backyard in San Francisco.