Original article published on IJR by Madison Dibble available here
With the threat of climate change, 2020 Democrats have been looking everywhere for possible solutions — including the American kitchen table.
As IJR previously reported, several candidates have considered changing U.S. dietary recommendations in order to limit meat consumption. Here is everything you need to know about this climate-based food fight:
Addressing climate change is a top issue for Democrats.
Climate change has been a top issue for Democrats. Several candidates, including frontrunners Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt), and Joe Biden have all unveiled comprehensive policy proposals to combat climate change.
All of the top 10 candidates in the 2020 Democratic primary participated in a seven-hour long climate change town hall event on CNN, and MSNBC has a two-night climate town hall with 11 of the 2020 Democrats and one Republican, former Governor Bill Weld.
Candidates have been dedicating a lot of time to the issue in hopes to win over voters. According to a poll from CNN, 82% of registered Democrats claimed that it was “very important” for their candidate to have an “aggressive” plan to confront climate change. Only 4% of Democrats felt addressing climate change was unimportant.
Democrats have many proposals to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions.
With pressure building to come out with a strong climate strategy, 2020 candidates aren’t leaving any options off the table.
Many have found inspiration in Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez‘s (D-N.Y.) Green New Deal. The plan calls for the U.S. to be carbon-neutral — meaning it captures as much carbon as it emits — by 2030. While others, like Biden, have a more relaxed timeline of being carbon-neutral by 2050, but with either plan, major changes to the U.S. economy and American carbon consumption will have to take place.
All of the 2020 proposals include heavy investments in renewable energy, rejoining the Paris Climate Accords, and encouraging green innovation, such as electric car manufacturing, to reduce the amount of carbon produced globally.
While many of the plans are focused on carbon, carbon dioxide (CO2) is not the only greenhouse gas. Greenhouse gasses are special types of gas that trap heat in the atmosphere, causing the temperature to rise. Carbon dioxide is the most notorious greenhouse gas because it makes up 82% of U.S. emissions, but methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gasses also cause the planet to warm.
Methane, a greenhouse gas that makes up 10% of emissions, is more potent than CO2 when it comes to global warming.
Cows pass a lot of methane gas.
Because methane can be so detrimental to the environment, climate activists have been looking for a way to cut back U.S. emissions. The problem for many Americans is that the agricultural industry is one of the top methane producers.
Livestock, including cows and pigs used for meat and dairy production, emit methane when they belch or pass gas. Additionally, organic decay and plant composting contribute to methane emissions in the United States. In total, agriculture is responsible for nearly 7% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 27% of all methane production in the U.S.
Beyond just methane being emitted straight from the cow, the meat processing procedure is also greenhouse-gas-intensive. Livestock must be fed grains harvested from millions of acres of land, transported to processing facilities, and eventually butchered and packaged before being transported to marketplaces. In total, 41% of contiguous land in the U.S. is used for grazing cattle, according to a report from Bloomberg.
In addition to the land usage in the U.S., meat production is also being blamed for the current burning of the Amazon rain forest because the Brazillian government finds it more profitable to use the land for agriculture. With fewer forests, less carbon is being removed from the air as part of the respiration process of plants, increasing net global emissions.
Some Democrats want to change U.S. policy to curb meat consumption.
The drive to combat climate change has led some 2020 Democrats to consider policy changes to cut back meat consumption in the U.S.
The U.S. is the number one consumer of meat in the entire world, with the average American consuming nearly 214 pounds of meat per year according to the World Economic Forum. Some candidates, including entrepreneur Andrew Yang and Senator Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), have contemplated changing dietary guidelines to help the U.S. cut back on their meat-filled meals.
Watch Harris’s proposal below:
Harris vaguely suggested “creating incentives and then banning certain behaviors” in an attempt to cut meat consumption, while Yang noted that he doesn’t know the extent to which the government should intervene.
“I think it would be healthy on an individual and societal level to move [away from meat],” said Yang, “But again, this is a country where there is a lot of individual autonomy and so you can’t force people’s eating choices on them. All you do now is try to shape our system so that over time we evolve in a productive way.”
Beyond the 2020 candidate pool, Ocasio-Cortez’s office released an explainer on the Green New Deal with the goal to “get rid of farting cows” as soon as possible to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, New York City’s Green New Deal will “phase out” processed meats — including hotdogs — from government-housed dining centers when their plan is implemented.
Many Republicans find the proposal enraging.
While some Democrats see cutting back meat consumption as one small step for Americans to take to fight climate change, Republicans see the move as a massive government overreach.
Several Republicans have mocked the policy online, warning Americans that Democrats are coming for their hamburgers.
For now, it looks like hamburgers and steaks are here to stay — at least as long as President Donald Trump is in the White House. President Trump has called climate change a “hoax” and has fundraised by selling plastic straws, another target of climate activists.