Choose chicken over beef – cut your dietary carbon footprint in half!

❝ Replacing the carbon-heavy beef on your plate with carbon-light chicken will cut your dietary carbon footprint a shocking amount: in half. That’s according to a first-ever national study of U.S. eating habits and their carbon footprints.

❝ To find out what Americans are actually eating, the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey asked more than 16,000 participants to recall all the foods they had consumed in the previous 24 hours…The study then calculated the carbon emissions of what people said they ate. If a meal involved beef, such as broiled beef steak, researchers estimated what the carbon footprint would be had they chosen to eat broiled chicken instead.

❝ The study shows that one simple substitution can result in a big reduction in a person’s dietary carbon footprint—the amount of carbon dioxide emissions that result from energy, fertilizer, and land use involved in growing food, Rose said. It also shows you don’t have to give up animal products to improve your carbon footprint. Food production accounts for about a quarter of total carbon emissions globally.

At a minimum – in our household – chicken provides well over half the animal protein in our diet. And, um, the rest is pork and fish. Which probably would come in with a lower carbon footprint than beef, as well.

Our species’ environmental footprint is not sustainable

Substantial, fundamental changes in the world economy are required to reduce humanity’s overall environmental footprint to a sustainable level. This is the conclusion of Arjen Hoekstra, professor of Water Management at the University of Twente. He publishes his findings in the article “Humanity’s unsustainable environmental footprint[.pdf] in Science magazine.

Hoekstra, mainly known for the water footprint, has published the research together with his German counterpart Thomas Wiedmann, employed by the University of New South Wales in Australia. In Science, the authors describe how intertwined the global economy, politics, consumption and trade are in their effect on global land, water and raw material consumption and on the climate.

“Our article mainly focuses on understanding the interdependence of the different types of footprints and the role that businesses, consumers and governments play in creating our overall footprint,” says Hoekstra. “We know that we are not sufficiently sustainable in our actions. But the interdependence has not previously been shown in this way. The various players have divergent interests and take too little responsibility. Consumers do not feel responsible for what producers do and politicians focus too much on growth, exports and cheap imports. For example, who feels responsible for the distress caused when we deplete the resources in China because of cheap imports? If you buy a stolen bicycle, you are liable to punishment and individually responsible. But isn’t the consumption of products that are not produced sustainably also irresponsible behaviour? Rethinking the global supply chain, that’s what it’s all about.”

Hoekstra and Wiedmann map out mankind’s total environmental footprint in a scientific, unique manner, but also realize that a solution is not immediately obvious. “This of course requires fundamental changes in the global economy and international cooperation. But understanding the role of the various parties and the enormous complexity underlying our overall footprint is a first step. Everyone should assume and be given greater supply-chain responsibility; only then can we sustain our society“, concludes Hoekstra.

I don’t think this will provoke anymore examination and thought in the bowels of our government than, say, in the boardrooms of Western Capitalism.

That is not to say it will be ignored in the ever-burgeoning hinterlands of Brazil or China or the few centers of Realpolitik that engage with science. None of which are within the borders of the United States. Unfortunately.

Thanks, Mike

Prescribed burns help reduce US carbon footprint

The use of prescribed burns to manage Western forests may help the United States reduce its carbon footprint. A new study finds that such burns, often used by forest managers to reduce underbrush and protect bigger trees, release substantially less carbon dioxide emissions than wildfires of the same size…

The study is being published this week in Environmental Science and Technology. It was funded by the National Science Foundation, NCAR’s sponsor.

Drawing on satellite observations and computer models of emissions, the researchers concluded that widespread prescribed burns can reduce fire emissions of carbon dioxide in the West by an average of 18 to 25 percent, and by as much as 60 percent in certain forest systems.

Wildfires often destroy large trees that store significant amounts of carbon. Prescribed fires are designed to burn underbrush and small trees, which store less carbon. By clearing out the underbrush, these controlled burns reduce the chances of subsequent high-severity wildfires, thereby protecting large trees and keeping more carbon locked up in the forest.

When fire comes more frequently, it’s less severe and causes lower tree mortality,” says Matthew Hurteau of Northern Arizona University, the study’s co-author. “Fire protects trees by clearing out the fuel that builds up in the forest…”

The authors cautioned, however, that the actual impacts in the Western states would likely be lower. Their study assumed that prescribed burns could be set in all suitable forests, whereas forest managers in reality would be hard-pressed to set so many fires, especially in remote regions or near developments.

The study is of special interest for me- since it determined the greatest positive effect would result in the forests of New Mexico. In fact, since we kicked grazing out of the bosque along the river running through our community, trees and brush have regrown sufficiently enough to require our first ever prescribed burn this winter.

Wimps who would rather ignore anything of scientific import, who wet themselves when they see the word “carbon” in the same sentence as “United States” can stick with studies invented by drugstore cowboys rubbing two Republicans together.

Camelina could diminish jet fuel’s carbon footprint over 80%

The seeds of a lowly weed could cut jet fuel’s cradle-to-grave carbon emissions by 84 percent.

David Shonnard analyzed the carbon dioxide emissions of jet fuel made from camelina oil over the course of its life cycle, from planting to tailpipe. “Camelina jet fuel exhibits one of the largest greenhouse gas emission reductions of any agricultural feedstock-derived biofuel I’ve ever seen,” he said. “This is the result of the unique attributes of the crop–its low fertilizer requirements, high oil yield, and the availability of its coproducts, such as meal and biomass, for other uses.”

Camelina sativa originated in Europe and is a member of the mustard family, along with broccoli, cabbage and canola. Sometimes called false flax or gold-of-pleasure, it thrives in the semi-arid conditions of the Northern Plains; the camelina used in the study was grown in Montana.

Oil from camelina can be converted to a hydrocarbon green jet fuel that meets or exceeds all petroleum jet fuel specifications. The fuel is a “drop-in” replacement that is compatible with the existing fuel infrastructure, from storage and transportation to aircraft fleet technology…

Because camelina needs little water or nitrogen to flourish, it can be grown on marginal agricultural lands. “Unlike ethanol made from corn or biodiesel made from soy, it won’t compete with food crops,” said Shonnard. “And it may be used as a rotation crop for wheat, to increase the health of the soil…”

I’m a firm advocate of running biofuel wherever and whenever possible. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. It’s even high in omega-3 fatty acids.