Recycle. Don't litter. Plant a tree. There are lots of easy — and noncontroversial — suggestions for ways to help the environment. But as environmentalists geared up for Earth Day this past Saturday, they also pushed a litany of lifestyle changes: Don't eat meat, stop using plastic, and don't fly.
Ironically, however, a number of environmentalist policies and lifestyle proposals aren't actually good for the environment. Consider some of the claims about what we eat.
Environmentalists often decry the use of antibiotics in livestock, citing fears of "superbugs" resistant to antibiotics that will spell doom for the human race. Antibiotic use on farms is overseen by the Food and Drug Administration and veterinarians, and scientific research points to the misuse of human antibiotics to be driving antibiotic resistance. Nevertheless, environmentalists want further restrictions on farms. Just this month, pressure from environmental groups led KFC to announce that it would only buy chicken from farmers with restricted antibiotic use, starting next year.
But there's a cost to this advocacy. Without preventive medical care, more animals will get sick. Some of these animals will die. As such, farmers will have to breed more animals to meet consumer demand. With more animals in the flocks and herds, more greenhouse gases are produced.
Given years of environmental advocacy to reduce greenhouse gases, this is a bit odd.
Greenhouse gas reduction, in fact, is their reason to encourage people to eat less meat. For years activists and celebrities have campaigned for people to go meatless one day a week to help the environment. Meatless Mondays were born in this effort.
Environmentalists make several claims that all rely on the notion that vegetables are better for the environment than meat. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture produces 9 percent of the nation's total greenhouse gas emissions. Plant agriculture, through soil management, represents more than half of that total, with the remainder coming from animal agriculture. By having to pick up the nutritional slack created by removing animal agriculture it is possible that we'd see an increase in the total greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.
Or consider organic food, which is the cream of the crop — so to speak — for environmental groups. We've been led to believe organic food is better for people and the planet. But science doesn't support this soundbite.
Time after time scientists have found zero evidence of higher nutritional content in organic food. And organic crops, which eschew genetic modification technology, require more farmland to meet the same consumer demands from lower yields. With full organic production, the farm footprint could increase by as much as 25 percent to meet today's level of food output. In the United States, that would mean an increase of about 109 million acres — or an area greater than the entire state of California.
Moreover, the use of pesticides would increase. Though it's commonly believed that organic means little or no use of pesticides, it only means a ban on synthetic pesticides. And while this might seem like a win, don't confuse "organic" with "harmless." Organic pesticide can cause massive environmental disasters, like rotenone, which attacks mitochondria and has a secondary application as a piscicide. Also, since they are less effective than synthetic pesticide, then more organic pesticide must be applied to fields. Just because they're natural, doesn't mean they aren't toxic.
Environmentalists want you to believe that their solutions are forward thinking, positive, and most of all, simple. But even a cursory look at the data shows that their solutions would make the problems worse.