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Monday, February 2, 2009

A taste of Cincinnati's Climate Protection Action Plan

In September of 2007, Mayor Mallory pushed for the creation of an Environmental Quality Department. This department would oversee the City’s efforts to reduce carbon emissions and hopefully bring Cincinnati in alignment with goals set forth by the Kyoto Protocol set globally in 1992 (183 parties have ratified the Protocol as of 2008).

The Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP) is the primary document and driving force behind Cincinnati’s localized efforts to reduce Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. The plan has short, medium, and long term Greenhouse Gas reduction goals which average out to an annual GHG reduction of 2%.

  • Short Term – Reduce GHG emissions 8% below 2006 levels by 2012
  • Medium Term – Reduce GHG emissions 40% below 2006 levels by 2028
  • Long Term – Reduce GHG emissions 84% below 2006 levels by 2050

Within the CPAP there are 5 identified categories that include more than 80 Emission Reduction Measures. One of these measures – eating less meat – has gotten significant coverage over the past 24-36 hours and has caused quite a stir.

The idea is that people try to go one day a week without eating meat. It’s not a mandate or policy, just a suggestion. The response though has been chaotic and emotionally charged with comments filled with anger and misunderstanding.

The fact is that reduced meat consumption can have a very significant impact on our GHG emissions (read CPAP excerpt below). If all Cincinnati residents were to, on average, eat meat one less day per week it would constitute a 14% reduction in meat consumption. That 14% reduction would translate into the reduction of 26,400 tons of GHG emissions by 2012 (short term) and 52,800 tons by 2028 (medium term). This reduction is more profound than the estimated GHG emission reduction by Energy Star Residential Construction (2,500 tons by 2028), Programmable Thermostats (35,000 tons by 2028), Increased Bicycle Usage (6,300 tons by 2028), or Hybrid Transit Busses (12,771 tons by 2028).

Summary of specific issues – A 2006 report by the United Nations‘ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Livestock’s Long Shadow, found that the production of animals for food is responsible for over 18% of the planet‘s greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than twice that of the office buildings and homes (8%) and nearly 40% more than transportation emissions (13%). This figure represents 9% of the planetary carbon dioxide emissions, 37% of the methane (mostly from livestock flatulence and waste matter) and 65% of the nitrous oxide; the latter two gases having 23 times and 296 times the global warming potentials of CO2.

The report concluded ―The livestock sector emerges as one of the... most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global and finds it must become a major policy focus.

A 2005 University of Chicago report, Diet, Energy and Global Warming (597kb pdf) found that the added burden of meat diets above plant based diets accounts for 6% of US total greenhouse gas emissions. The Standard American Diet (SAD), of which around 28% of the caloric intake is derived from meat, produced 1.485 metric tons CO2 equivalent emissions (per person per year) more than an all plant based diet (a conservative figure). A red meat eater‘s mean diet increased this number to 2.52 tons CO2e. This is the equivalent difference between driving a sedan (Camry) and an SUV. A diet of just 20% meat produced an added GHG burden of 1 ton CO2e per person annually; this is the difference between a year of driving a standard sedan (Camry) and the highest efficiency hybrid (Prius).

With 80% of annual world deforestation connected to animal agriculture, an area the size of a football field is razed every second, a practice which has been termed ―"the 'hamburgerization' of our forests." A single SAD meal levels 55 square feet of rain forest.

Estimated greenhouse gas reduction to be achieved – 26,400 tons by 2012 (10% reduction in meat consumption x 20% of the population and 100% reduction by 3% of the population x 1.6 tons/person); 52,800 tons by 2028 (20% reduction in meat consumption x 20% of the population and 100% reduction by 6% of the population x 1.6). The goal will be to have all Cincinnati residents, on average, eat meat one less day per week by 2012, which would be a 14% reduction in meat consumption. The projected GHG emission reductions are based on a more conservative forecast of actual behavior.

Read the full report here (1.94mb pdf).


Charlie Green said...

Nice work on all the math. This lays out the argument much more clearly than the Enquirer article. (I know that's a low bar, but still.)

Bernard Brown said...

I'd like to echo the other comment - great job laying out the argument. It's also a good idea to present this as much as a question of eating more of other plant-based food we already know and love (we suggest PB&Js, but also bean burritos, falafel, etc.). Maybe people won't react quite so strongly against it (maybe wishful thinking).

Even with all the negative comments on the Enquirer article, this is a good general step in getting the concept on the sustainability agenda as something besides the typical veg or nothing presentation.

Bernard Brown
PB&J Campaign

Quim said...

Some of the numbers concerning meat production are from a Greenpeace goon. Take 'em with a grain of salt. I am assuming they are assuming buying South American beef. If the city concentrated on promoting local meat production it would probably address a lot of what is mentioned in that report as well as help support the local agri-businesses.
Is the city or the school board in charge of school lunches ?

Randy Simes said...


Even if the meat were local you would still see the loss of energy through the overall process (meats require much more energy and give back much less than other foods). There would also be the land costs and loss of trees that remove carbons from the air.

Local products are always better though, and would be a great start if you want to have an impact without altering your habits.

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