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EarthSave promotes a shift toward a healthy plant-based diet.
Vol 20 No. 2
June 2009

City Says Eat Less Meat To Cool Planet

The City of Cincinnati has become the first US city to recommend eating less meat to combat global warming. A six-month long effort by nearly 200 volunteers produced, in early 2008, a Climate Protection Action Plan (CPAP), including a recommendation to reduce meat consumption. The plan was renamed the Green Cincinnati Plan and officially endorsed by City Council in June of 2008. The stated goal of the Plan is to reduce city generated green house gas emissions by eight-percent in four years, 40% in 20 years, and 84% by 2050.

The meat consumption reduction recommendation is the last, but far from the least, of the 80 recommendations in the plan. It was proposed and written by artist and environmentalist William Messer. Messer, a former co-chair of EarthSave Cincinnati has served for years on the City’s Environmental Advisory Council. He joined the CPAP Transportation Task Team (one of five Teams developing the Plan, along with Advocacy, Energy, Land Use and Waste) intending to produce a locavore recommendation re. food, as well as building materials, etc. “But data was difficult to obtain, inconsistent or non-supportive, and the Team could not advance a draft recommendation,” Messer says; “so I decided to focus independently on meat.”

Messer researched and wrote the draft on his own but discovered that, as it had not been developed within an existing Task Team, none wanted it. But the science was solid and undeniable, and the director of the City’s two-year old Office of Environmenatl Quality, Larry Falkin, himself a vegetarian, helped keep the recommendation alive.

The recommendation cites the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) 2006 report Livestock’s Long Shadow which reveals that the production of animals for food is responsible for a larger percentage (18%) of the Earth’s greenhouse gas emissions than its buildings (8%) or all the planet’s cars, trucks, ships, trains and planes (13%). It also draws upon a 2005 University of Chicago report, Diet, Energy and Global Warming, which concluded that the average driver of a Toyota Camry can reduce his/her carbon footprint the equivalent of switching to a Prius hybrid by eating just a fifth less meat. The recommendation ends, “You can change your light bulbs, buy a hybrid car and plant more trees till the cows come home, but nothing is as effective, available, inexpensive, quick, and powerful for the individual in affecting global warming as the choice of where to put your fork.”

Recent remarks by the chair of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggest that the 18% figure reported in 2006 may be significantly lower than actual and that meat production must be a principal focus in rapidly affecting global warming (because of the global expansion of meat consumption and deforestation, and the new understanding of methane’s primacy).

The Meat Consumption Reduction Recommendation immediately became the most controversial part of the Climate Protection Action Plan, even before its approval and public announcement. Messer’s original recommendation of an already modest 14% reduction – effectively a one-day-a-week elimination of meat in people’s diets (a Meatless Monday, for example) – was twice reduced, ending up the equivalent of a one-meal-a week reduction of 5%. A prominent conservative columnist for the Cincinnati Enquirer railed against the entire Plan, claiming inconclusive evidence exists for global warming being man-made, and declared he would fight the plan with a fork in one hand and a cheeseburger as his shield. The city’s Chamber of Commerce even declined an appointment to the CPAP Steering Committee (likely concerned about being perceived as anti-meat by the restaurant community).

Messer kept up the pressure, reading out the evidence at public hearings, and Falkin told a committee that, even in its less potent form, the Meat Consumption Reduction recommendation is the second most powerful of the Plan’s 80 recommendations. “Only [local electricity provider] Duke Energy switching from coal would have a greater impact” in reducing greenhouse gas emissions affecting global warming, he stated. Eventually, a nominal Food Task Team was created as a temporary home on paper for its lone recommendation, and the Meat Consumption Reduction recommendation remained in the Plan that was passed.

The City’s need to get behind the Green Cincinnati Plan – including the Meat Reduction recommendation – was underscored by a Brookings Institution study released concurrent with the plan’s adoption ranking the Greater Cincinnati region third worst in the US for greenhouse gas emissions.

In the months following the plan’s approval, new committees went to work developing partners and marketing strategies to implement it recommendations. The City’s Vice Mayor, David Crowley, proposed a Cincinnati Farms Program to turn vacant urban land parcels own by the City into vegetable gardens, while another Council member promoted a green rooftops incentive program. Crowley’s plan became the Urban Gardens program, passed by City Council in late April, 2009; planting by volunteers began immediately at most of the plots. In early 2009, a regional Food Congress was convened to address a multitude of food issues. Meanwhile, the City Council is on the verge of making Cincinnati the first US city to pass an Environmental Justice Ordinance.

The principal deterrent to all these plans is financial. The City’s reduced population compared to its past has reduced its tax base, making spending difficult, particularly during an economic downturn.

However, the beauty of the Meat Consumption Reduction recommendation is that, in addition to its remarkable effectiveness and ease of application by individuals, it has none of the costs associated with nearly any of the Plan’s other recommendations (whether buying quarter-million dollar hybrid busses or just flourescent or LED lights) In fact, it will likely save money for those who adopt it.

The on-paper-only Food Task Team is now actual, having met physically nearly monthly in 2009 to address implementation of the Meat Consumption Reduction recommendation as well as to consider other ways in which food and climate change intersect. The majority of its 20 or so members are vegan, although it’s co-chairs were not initially (one is now). Actions recently taken include writing a letter to local restaurants urging them to provide more vegetarian/vegan entrees (and offering to help by creating an Earth Friendly logo and a web site directing viewers to their locations and menu options), and approving a Food Task Team booth promoting vegan dishes and recipes at the local Taste of Cincinnati festival. They are also considering community kitchens, food distribution centers and a vegan festival. Messer’s current proposal is to alter menus and food availability in captive eating situations, begining with Cincinnati Public Schools and hopefully eventually including private and parochial schools, prisons and hospitals, an effort he began almost a decade earlier but which only now may be possible in support of slowing global warming.

he Green Cincinnati Plan is also intended to serve as a model for the country’s climate protection plan. Messer hopes the Meat Consumption Reduction recommendation inspires other cities and regions to look at reducing their meat consumption, not only to help slow global warming but for all the other benefits doing so will achieve for planetary, animal and human health.

The entire, 211 page Green Cincinnati Plan can be read on the City of Cincinnati’s web site: http://www.cincinnati-oh.gov (cllick features); the food recommendation is on pages 210-11.