It is not enough to cut down on fossil fuel emissions. Its also important to think about how meat consumption harms the environment
Written by Leilani Münter
As a professional race car driver, I’m all too aware of the impact driving has on the planet. That’s why I don’t work with any fossil fuel companies and, since 2007, I have adopted an acre of rainforest for every race I run in order to offset the unavoidable emissions of my race car. But as much as that is making a difference, I know my vegan diet has an even greater impact on the planet.
Off track, I am proud to have now driven more than 33,000 miles in my electric car over the past couple of years and thanks to the solar panels on the roof of my house, I am driving on sunshine. I often drive my electric car to my races and my race car often carries messages about clean energy like wind and solar. Beyond just messaging, in July of 2014 my race team became the first in history to power our pit box using 100% solar power.
But cutting down on fossil fuel emissions alone is not enough to reduce one’s carbon footprint. Currently, one-third of all the arable land on the planet is being used to grow feed for livestock. Combined with the animals themselves, this means that the production of meat is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. It results in more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector. Beef production for example, emits 150 times more greenhouse gasses than soy. It’s a little-known fact, hidden in large part by powerful corporate interests.
So when the US Department of Agriculture’s advisory council proposed last year that the new dietary guidelines encourage people to eat less meat, I was thrilled. I thought this was an important way to help every American reduce their carbon footprint.
The draft guidelines were scientifically sound and forward-looking, acknowledging the realities that we all need to make changes in our everyday lives in order to battle climate change. A recent report found that government education on the climate-meat connection presents a valuable path forward to reducing emissions, and that reducing global meat consumption is critical to meeting the 2C warming goal of the Paris Agreement.
But then, unfortunately, we ran into politics as usual with powerful lobbyists representing meat and other big agricultural sectors using their vast influence in Washington to have their profits put ahead of the health of the American people, the welfare of billions of animals – and the future of the planet. So despite countless studies that show meat’s impact on our bodies and our environment, the proposed change didn’t make it into the final guidelines.
The USDA put the brakes on their plan to help inform Americans of how their food choices matter when it comes to sustainability and how we can make cleaner and healthier choices at the dinner table. The only people who gain from this decision is the animal agriculture business. It is disappointing that the USDA puts their interests above ours.
By including climate concerns in its guidelines, the department of agriculture had the opportunity to give Americans more information on how to accelerate the transition to a safer climate. Instead it chose to ignore those emissions, stalling out in the drive towards sustainability. If Americans don’t realize the environmental impact of their food choices because the USDA chooses not to include these factors, we all lose – the planet loses, our health as a nation loses, the billions of animals slaughtered for food lose with their lives.
Information is the key to people making informed decisions and creating a better world for our future. This is why I use my platform in racing to talk about these issues. Before I became a race car driver, I earned a degree in biology from the University of California in San Diego.
Ironically though, it is my race car that gives me a voice as an environmentalist – it is at the racetrack where I have my biggest audience and where I am definitely not preaching to the choir. By bringing environmental messages to the racing world, I’m raising awareness on critical issues to that audience that isn’t otherwise engaged in discussions of climate change.
I hope Americans will not wait for the government to catch up and will educate themselves about their food and the impact it has on our planet.