Environmentalists, especially of the veggie persuasion, are quick to point out that meat accounts for nearly 20 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing consumption, giving meat up even one day a week, is the easiest way to reduce your carbon footprint, Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N.’s panel on climate change, said last fall.
But not all meat is created equal, Lisa Hamilton writes for Audubon. Some methane production is unavoidable (file this fact under “cow burps”), but “animals reared on organic pasture have a different climate equation from those raised in confinement on imported feed,” asserts Hamilton, author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness.
In large-scale farming confinement systems, manure flows into (disgusting) lagoons, where its decomposition releases millions of tons of methane and nitrous oxide into the air every year. “On pasture, that same manure is simply assimilated back into the soil with a carbon cost close to zero,” Hamilton writes.
What’s more, grass-fed livestock can be an essential player in a sustainable set-up. Manure revitalizes soil (in lieu of chemical fertilizers or shipped-in compost), and grazing encourages plant growth. Hamilton also points to Holistic Management International, an organization that proposes managed, intensive grazing as part of a climate change solution.
“In order for pasture-based livestock to become a significant part of the meat industry, we need to eat more of its meat, not less,” Hamilton writes. “So if you want to use your food choices to impact climate change, by all means follow Dr. Pachauri’s suggestion for a meatless Monday. But on Tuesday, have a grass-fed burger—and feel good about it.”