I've Got Beef with the NY Times!

Last week the New York Times published an article called "Save the Planet, Put Down that Hamburger"

A pretty bold headline for sure.

And its immediately followed by a subheading and first sentence, both claiming that "vegans are responsible for 75 percent less in greenhouse gases than meat-eaters."

If you are anything but a die-hard vegan, or the CEO of a fake meat company, that number probably sounds a little weird....

I mean, could eating 4 ounces of meat a day (the amount from the study) really equal 75% more emissions than a base line of riding around in cars, living in buildings, using power, heating your home, etc.?

Well of course it doesn't, and as you dig into the article a little more, it becomes more clear that the study only refers to agricultural emissions.

Although the NY Times never actually comes out and says that, continuing to refer simply to "emissions". And they certainly don't offer this very important context...

According to the US EPA, agriculture represents roughly 10% of our emissions. The UK appears to be similar, with their government citing 12%.

So, in reality the article employed a comically bold headline, and intentionally misleading language, to discuss a study of a fraction of 10% of emissions.

I guess "Totally change your life and damage your health to make a marginal emissions difference, if all the assumptions in our data analysis are 100% correct" must not have tested so well....

Jokes aside, you see this kind of irresponsible reporting and/or statistical illiteracy constantly. For whatever reason, agriculture has become a hot button emissions issue.

Based on the mainstream media, one might assume cows were right up there with coal and gas in terms of environmental threats.

Which is odd, because a cursory glance at that the EPA's own data makes it pretty obvious that we'd be better served focusing our attention on the three industries (energy, manufacturing and transportation) that produce 80% of emissions!

So the question is, why is it so popular to argue about our diets?

Would we not be better served spending 80% of that time focusing on the massive industrial systems that produce 80% of the emissions?

Especially since most people could probably get behind something like.... better concrete manufacturing practices

While messing with agriculture would disrupt a massive, decentralized sector, that is also a way of life for billions of people.

And of course, the uncomfortable fact that replacing meat with a vegan diet is extremely unhealthy for the vast majority of people.

Why focus on a 'solution' with such horrible tradeoffs for basically all of humanity, to achieve incremental emissions benefits?

It's ALMOST enough to make me throw on my tinfoil hat and rant about conspiracies and "agendas"

But the truth is, the media's agenda is pretty obvious. They go after meat exactly because it is divisive.

Putting a ridiculous headline on that article is going to get the link, and the accompanying Instagram post, shared way more than a reasonable analysis with context.

Vegans in cities will pat themselves on the back. People who eat meat (and definitely farmers and ranchers) will freak out at the suggestion that our lives and diets are going to be destroyed.

The NY Times will make some ad revenue. Then Fox will respond and they'll make a few bucks. And the soap opera will continue.

But what about the study itself? Is there some truth there? After all, we are environmentally minded folks, so is there anything to learn from the series of anti-meat studies that keep popping up?

Well I'm glad you asked, because that's a complex and fascinating subject (if you're into cows and a little soil science).

So in PART 2 I'm going to dive in to the truth about cattle emissions, and the absolutely critical real world context that data scientists tend to miss while staring at their computers.

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