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To truly help the environment, try cash for ‘cluckers’

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Car dealers are breathing a sigh of relief now that the popular “cash for clunkers” program has been extended by $2 billion. With the new funding, as many as a half-million more Americans will be able to junk their gas guzzlers and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles.

I’m not impressed. If we are serious about wanting to put the brakes on climate change, we should be offering “cash for cluckers.” Encouraging meat-eaters to trade in their chicken for chickpeas and their pork chops for “fib ribs” is the best way to help the environment. 

Under the original $1 billion set aside for the “cash for clunkers” program, officials expect that a quarter-million gas guzzlers will be taken off the roads. According to calculations done by the Associated Press, replacing those clunkers with more fuel-efficient cars will reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by about 700,000 tons a year. Sounds pretty good, right?

It does until you consider that America spews out more carbon dioxide than that—728,000 tons on average—every single hour. Last year, the U.S. emitted nearly 6.4 billion tons of carbon dioxide—and that figure was lower than in previous years.

Now consider this: In its groundbreaking report Livestock’s Long Shadow, the United Nations concluded that the meat industry generates approximately 40 percent more greenhouse gasses than all the cars, trucks, SUVs, ships and planes in the world combined. The report summarizes the devastation caused by the meat industry by calling it “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”

The best way to fix this problem isn’t to junk clunkers but to kick the meat habit. Researchers at the University of Chicago have determined that switching to a vegan diet (which includes no meat, eggs or dairy foods) is about 50 percent more effective in countering climate change than trading in a standard American car for a Prius. And according to the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook, “refusing meat” is the “single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.”

Vegetarians could drive Hummers and still do less damage to the planet than meat-eaters who cruise around in hybrids or switch to energy-saving light bulbs.

Even eating less meat can help. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, if every American ate just one meat-free meal per week, the emissions savings would be the same as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads. If we all went meat-free one day per week, the group says, it would be like eliminating 8 million cars.

It’s time for us to face facts: Raising animals for food is destroying the planet. Not only do today’s meat factories spew greenhouse gasses, they also gobble up precious resources, sicken nearby residents, contaminate the air, pollute the water and, of course, abuse animals. If we want to tread more lightly on the Earth, taking clunkers off the road is not enough. We need to take “cluckers”—and other animals—off our plates.

Chris Holbein is the project manager of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Special Projects Division, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org.

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

August 20, 2009 at 4:18 pm

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