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Want to give your public pronouncement a little zing? Try throwing in the words Hummer and Prius and imply that the SUV is better for the earth than the Prius. CNW sure knows the value of making the false claim. Last week, author Michael Pollan tried a similar trick when he said at the 2009 Poptech conference that, "A vegan in a Hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius." Guess who's had to issue a mea culpa?
Pollan, who wrote The Botany of Desire, The Omnivore's Dilemma and other books, was blasted by people armed with facts. Specifically, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin from the University of Chicago found that shifting from eating meat to veganism saved about 2 tons of CO2 equivalent per person per year. A Hummer driver, on the other hand, emits 4.76 tons more per year than a Prius. Pollan later said that:

After digging into it further, and consulting Gidon Eschel, I don't feel comfortable defending [my earlier statement]. It's much more important to keep the focus on the central thrust of the environmental case against eating industrial meat, which is not in dispute and certainly does not stand or fall on the case of the vegan Hummer driver.

We're not against people making attention-getting statements for effect, but what's with constantly attacking the Prius? Can't a car just get 50 MPG in peace?

[Source: HybridCars]


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  • 21 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am no Pollan fan, but he was almost right, its equal by this study.
      University of Chicago geophysical science professors Gideon Eshel and Pamela Martin found that the typical meat-heavy American diet generates as many greenhouse-gas emissions — compared to a vegetarian diet — as driving a sport-utility vehicle vs. a fuel-efficient sedan.

      Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin, “Diet, Energy, and Global Warming,” Earth Interactions, April 2006, pp. 1-17. For background, see Marcia Clemmitt, “Climate Change,” CQ Researcher, Jan. 27, 2006, pp. 73-96.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I think people bash the Prius because it gets all the attention, and less-informed people often think "Prius = hybrid = high mileage; anything else = not a hybrid = bad." So a lot of other alternatives, that might be worth considering instead of (or alongside) the Prius and hybrids like it, get overlooked.

      Doesn't make the Prius bad, it just makes it overhyped.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Check out this uplifting and inspiring video on why people choose vegan: http://veganvideo.org/
      • 5 Years Ago
      Sebastian, I think you meant mpg instead on mph on the last line.

      • 5 Years Ago
      I have no issue with people choosing to be vegetarians or vegans. It's their choice, as long as we live in a democratic society. And I choose to eat meat as I want. That is my choice, period.
        Sanat
        • 3 Months Ago
        Great, more "freedom" without context. You're familiar with the whole "free to swing your fist until you hit my nose" thing? This applies to our consumption patterns. As much as we'd like to think--and as much as we're living as if--our choices exist in a vacuum, they don't. Your "choice" has huge implications regarding carbon emissions, water usage, environmental pollution, worker rights, and countless other factors. We really need to move beyond that individualistic way of thinking, and start raising people to be conscious of the choices they're making and how they affect the world around us.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Now see, here's where I draw the line. Life in its entirety is a wasteful experiment by the universe and yet it really benefits us all quite well. While changing from a Hummer to Prius (or even just a hybrid SUV to keep the storage capacity) isn't going to impact my life very much at all; not having the protein and other goodies from eating meat will surely affect my life quite adversely. Not to mention the fact that its just so damn tasty and we're built as omnivores instead of herbivores anyway.

      With all due respect to the Vegan movement, getting people to not eat meat to have a smaller carbon footprint isn't going to go over well. Just the same as getting people to not eat meat by committing suicide. It's counter productive to being a healthy and long-lived human.
        • 5 Years Ago
        I agree it's unrealistic to expect people to completely give up meat and become vegans. But *reducing* meat consumption is a worthy goal, and extremely easy to do. Just reducing portion sizes for meat and making up for it with vegetable dishes would do it. Instead of a steak, have a stir fry or pasta dish containing small bits of meat and a lot of vegetables. And it wouldn't hurt to have every other meal be vegetarian or seafood-based. I'm hardly a vegan but only about half of my meals contain any meat, and I can't remember the last time I cooked beef at home. (But I eat it occasionally when I go out for lunch.)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Meh, I'm not sure I agree with your quality of life comparison there. I'm veggie as a way of reducing my footprint, since I don't currently own a car (biking is way faster in the city, anyway). If I can cook for myself, I don't miss meat at all. Most restaurants are terrible at preparing good vegetarian meals, but there are some good ones out there. Especially in big cities.

        If I do occasionally cheat, it always strikes me as immensely disappointing if the meat that I do eat isn't incredibly delicious. Like treating yourself to an ice cream cone and then dropping it on the floor.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Reducing portion sizes entirely is a great goal! My wife and I are on such a diet where we aren't following any strict rules about what to eat, we're just eating less of what we would have already prepared.

        That also brings up a good point. What would be the average CO2 Equivalent of an American who actually eats correct portions as put out by the Dept. of Agriculture's food pyramid? Is this 2 ton CO2 equiv. based on a healthy diet that included meat, or on the average American's fast food meal plan?
      • 5 Years Ago
      I love red meat too, but lately I look it as more of a treat. If I go out to a nice restaurant I will get a hamburger if I am in the mood. Mostly I just buy fruit, pasta and bread at the market and my CSA provides me with delicious locally grown, organic veggies. I rarely keep meat in the fridge. Pollan's books are a good read by the way.
      • 5 Years Ago
      This is somewhat a stretch, but I'll put it out there anyway:

      What's the environmental cost of raising a human to maturity?

      Let's factor in the fact that a Hummer-driver is about 6 times as likely to kill someone as is a Prius-driver, due to size, weight, manoeuverability, bumper height, etc (I haven't seen the numbers on the Hummer, but extrapolating from other car-vs-SUV data, I'm guessing that the death rate in collisions with them is about 1 in 20, compared to 1 in over 120 with average cars (too many references, and too varied, to insert them all here)).

      So if my lifetime probability of colliding with someone is about 1 in 3, if I drive a Hummer I should add to my score 1/3 * 1/20 * the environmental cost of producing an average adult human ;)

      Another interpretation of the risk factor above:

      Driving just above the legal intoxication limit (or talking on the phone while driving--yes, even with a headset) increases your risk of collision by about a factor of about 4. So a legally drunk driver in a Prius is rather less dangerous than a perfectly sober driver in a Hummer.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Pollen really misses the whole point of not eating animals. How can you justify inflicting a lifetime of misery on an animal (especially chickens, pigs, and veal calves), or ending his or her life, for that matter, for a few moments of gustatory pleasure?

      Vegan for 15 years and thriving.
      • 5 Years Ago
      "but what's with constantly attacking the Prius?"

      I don't think he was attacking the Prius, and I don't think you think that either. He was trying to point out how bad it is to eat meat by comparing how great the Prius is. Unfortunately he didn't quite get his facts straight and was off by a factor of 2.38 or so.

      Anyhow, you'd have a much easier time getting me to drive a Prius than getting me to give up the occasional juicy stake. =)
        • 5 Years Ago
        Thank you!!! It seems like people just completely missed the point. His statement was a statement of magnitude rather than one which compared the efficiency of the vehicles. The truth of the matter is that industrial farming does create large amounts of greenhouse gases and it has nothing to do with cars! He was just making it visual for people...
      • 5 Years Ago
      The environmental impact of the lifecycle and supply chain of animals raised for food has been vastly underestimated, and in fact accounts for at least half of all human-caused greenhouse gases (GHGs), according to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, co-authors of "Livestock and Climate Change".

      A widely cited 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, Livestock's Long Shadow, estimates that 18 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions are attributable to cattle, buffalo, sheep, goats, camels, pigs, and poultry. But recent analysis by Goodland and Anhang finds that livestock and their byproducts actually account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.
      Read all about it here at the World Watch Institute:

      http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf

      Ronnie Wright
      www.worldchangecafe.com
      • 5 Years Ago
      Don't you mean 50 mpg, not 50 mph--oh, I see what you did there!
        • 5 Years Ago
        EDIT: Beaten by amtoro.
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