We’ll do anything to save this planet except give up meat

All of these delegates chose the chicken.

All of these delegates chose the chicken.

COPENHAGEN–Tens of thousands have converged on Copenhagen to stop global warming, either through a new treaty or through protests demanding more dramatic measures. Thousands more have come to lobby those people, film them, and write about them.

And untold thousands of chickens, cows, and fish have died to feed them, revealing the reluctance of even the most concerned human beings to reduce their global warming impacts by giving up meat. (Full disclosure: this reporter sampled the pickled herring at an ancient canalfront tavern here, and found it delicious.)

If we can take the United Nations as representative of the world, its climate change conference as representative of world initiative on environmental conservation, we may glean a sense of which environmental practices are in and which are out.

Despite an array of benefits vegetarianism offers the environment, including dramatic potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, vegetarianism remains mostly out. Many delegates to this convention, like the people they represent, love their meat.

The average carnivorous American produces a ton and half more greenhouse gases than the average vegetarian American, according to a 2006 study by two University of Chicago geologists. Those greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide as well as more noxious varieties including methane and nitrous oxide that derive from flatulence and manure.

A 2006 UN study found that livestock contribute 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the transportation industry.

“Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale, and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large,” according to the UN study. “The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency. Major reductions in impact could be achieved at reasonable cost.”

There’s a massive encampment of protesters at Christiania, a self-proclaimed autonomous state near Central Copenhagen, planning their assault on the UN Climate Change Conference next week.

But during the first week, the most persistent protesters at the Bella Center have been the smiling followers of Supreme Master Chiang Hai, sometimes clad in chicken suits, who have picketed the conference’s security gate with signs urging vegetarianism.

“We have only a short time to save the planet,” said Thi Thu Pham, a protester from Germany. “Technology takes a long time and need a lot of money and this is the easiest way. Everyone must be vegan to save the planet.”

Vegetarian choices are available at the 17 restaurants and cafes inside the Bella Center, including quiche and a hummus and squash goulash, plus puck-like patties made from beets, others that resemble garden burgers. But most delegates select the chicken or beef dishes.

Denmark has guaranteed participants a minimum of 65 percent organic food and beverages including fair-trade coffee and tea.

Meat is not the only target of ravenous consumption here. Thousands of reems of paper have been consumed to produce and reproduce the documents of the conference. Much more has been consumed to produce and reproduce the materials of advocacy that surround the conference.

Delegates can rarely cross a hallway without being handed a brochure, a booklet, a packet, a press release, by some group expressing an outrage, a hope, or an agenda.

Much of the paper used is recycled stock, and much of it will be recycled again, but most is unnecessary and probably ineffective. Somewhere in the history of each paper-wielding activist is a calculation that the environmental cost of the paper consumed is worth the benefit of the message printed upon it.

What’s in:

Recycling. Recycling isn’t just in, of course, it’s obligatory. Recyling stations throughout the Bella Center feature bins for paper, plastic, “organic” waste, and other waste. The Media Center is collecting reporters’ dead batteries. Because there are many recycling bins, few trash containers, compliance is high, though not all participants have been as careful as they could be about sorting.

Public Transporation. If you’re one of more than 100 heads of state arriving at the conference next week, the Danish Foreign Ministry will provide you with a sedan, a minivan, and a security detail. But if you’re almost anyone else, you’ll be arriving by bus, train, Metro, or bicycle. Private cars are not allowed near the center, including taxis, although its possible to park some miles away and transfer to a Metro train or shuttle bus. Participants are randomly offered rides home in one of several model electric vehicles at the site, all participants can receive a free transit pass, and there are more than 200 bright blue bicycles that participants can borrow.

Alternative energy. The Bella Center is a low-lying Legoland of structures dominated by a single towering windmill, and the symbolism fits. Denmark is an alternative energy leader, deriving 20 percent of its energy from windmills. All of the energy used at the conference derives from renewable sources of electricity. The Bella Center underwent an efficiency overhaul before the conference, reducing its energy consumption by 20 percent.

Carbon offsets. To ensure the conference would be carbon-neutral or better, the Danish government estimated the amount of carbon likely to be expended, including the emissions incurred by the travel of visiting delegates and members of the press: 40,548 tons of carbon dioxide equivalents. It offset those emissions by spending 700,000 euros to replace coal-burning kilns used to manufacture bricks in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Twenty new Danish-funded kilns will operate with higher efficiency and lower emissions. They will use half as much coal to produce just as many bricks, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 100,000 tons per year. The old kilns were notorious for polluting the city and contributing to lung disease.

Tap not bottled: Bottled water is available in vending machines throughout the conference for 20 kroner, or about $3.65 a bottle, its standard price throughout Denmark. But tap water stations have been located throughout the Bella Center to encourage participants to forego the bottled, and its bottles, and to drink filtered tap water instead.

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