For those of you who read my blog frequently (and I know at least two of you guys are out there), you would probably agree that I know a thing or two about cheese. For those of you who either know me personally or have followed my posts and publications from time to time, I think you'd also garner that I consider myself a reasoned progressive. About 9 months ago, I posted an essay connecting lead paint in toys to environmentalism. I've also written that the green choice for beer lovers should be homegrown microbrews. Organic hops are healthy hops.
Needless to say, when a fellow blogger deridingly chided the notion of a carbon footprint, ie, the attempt to measure the amount of greenhouse gas emissions caused by a particular activity, as well as a story he saw on the news purportedly attempting to quantify the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger, I took it as a bit of a challenge.
Up to the task, I posted a comment on this individual's blog. However, for reasons unbeknownst to me, my thoughts never made it to the great cyber marketplace of ideas. Since I quite rationally concluded that it would be a grave loss to this community if my thoughts on the topic of carbon footprinting weren't made known, I've decided to give the world what it wants: the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger. With very little editing (mainly to make my original thoughts seem snappier and wittier than as first drafted), what follows below is the text of my original comments...But before I start, let's just be clear--I'm not really trying to pick a cyber-fight. Although, honestly, I don't eat cheeseburgers. But that's another story.
CHEESEBURGER IN PARADISE
While I fear the notion of carbon credit trading may be dubious, the notion of carbon footprints most certainly is not. It's a manner of quantifying and tracking the energy that you use from non renewable sources that cause global warming. Though it's not a perfect science, it's one in an arsenal of tools designed to help limit emissions and make our world a healthier place to live. The entire value of the concept and application of carbon footprinting shouldn't be discredited because a bad television news show doesn't do the math well.
To appreciate the energy that goes into creating a cheeseburger, don't just consider the energy it takes into cooking the patty or the bun or heating or air conditioning your favorite fast food place. Don't just consider the gas it takes for you to drive there. Don't just consider the treatment of the cows that provide both the beef and cheese (and the energy it takes to send the beef across the country if not the hemisphere). Don't just consider your wait in the drive-thru lane. Don't just consider deforestation to create grazing land and cut down trees for burger wrappers and to-go bags. Don't just consider waste disposal costs (the restaurant's waste and yours).
That's right. Don't consider the costs. Instead, consider the benefits. Consider the benefits of a more carbon-neutral lifestyle, and how conservation and alternative sources of energy will satisfy you, protect you, and protect the environment in the long run.
The word's out: global warming's bad and it's killing our Earth. We all need to do what we can to conserve energy and protect the environment. After all, what's more democratic--or American--than every person doing his or her part? The first step is to become aware of your impact on the environment.
By the way, the answer to your specific question--"What's the carbon footprint of a cheeseburger?"--is quite easy to ascertain. I Googled it. There are several articles out there, but the upshot is that researchers conclude the total energy use amounts to somewhere between about 7 and 20 megajoules per burger. (See http://openthefuture.com/cheeseburger_CF.html.) For comparison purposes, the site states, "...the greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs. There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US." That's pretty bad, unless, as I guess, you don't think SUV's contribute to un-earth-friendly greenhouse gas emissions, either.
One of my favorite factoids is that beef
cows must be at least 21 months old before slaughter (affecting the costs of
growing, feeding, raising and storing cattle), and cows contribute volumes of
methane gas (another not-so-good greenhouse gas) into the atmosphere. Yes, we're back to cow farts again. And, I guess, I've also left the door open for someone to argue that veal is the better environmental choice for carnivores (or that bovine antacids are the key to curing global warming).
This also occurs to me--SUV sales have been plummeting as people swear off high gas prices and head for more environmental driving alternatives. Maybe we'll see a cheeseburger rebellion soon, too. Or maybe congress will take action once cheeseburgers pass the $200 per barrel mark.
The point of carbon neutrality is not an accounting game: it's intended to shine light on how we live our lives and affect positive change. What can we take from this information? For starters, we can go out for burgers a little less often. If we go to a fast food place, we can park the car and forego the drive-thru. Another idea? Buy your beef from a local farmer or butcher that uses locally grown meat and make your own patties...
...or, you could just go kosher!
NEXT TIME: Those silly things politicians say when they think the mike is off. Also, "John McCain: Our First Hispanic President?". And, "This Bud's For E.U."