So it turns out that meatless Fridays, which for generations inflicted fish sticks and tuna casseroles on millions of school-age children, Catholic and otherwise, were actually saving the planet. The United Nations is now urging wealthy nations to make a dramatic shift in eating habits, saying the best way to curb climate change is for people to go at least one day a week without meat.
And Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change -- which shared the Nobel Peace Prize last year -- isn't just asking diners to bypass a burger now and then. After achieving a weekly day without meat, he said, they should embark on a progressive reduction of their meat intake.
The problem isn't so much with hamburger patties as it is with cow patties. Meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. Cows and other ruminants, such as sheep and goats, release methane and nitrous oxide in amounts that put to shame the carbon dioxide belched out by cars. In fact, a red-meat-eater in a Prius is probably hurting the environment more than a vegan in a Hummer.
The U.N. also is calling for governments to launch campaigns to reduce meat eating. If they do, such efforts will probably start in Europe, then sweep through every city, town, village and hamlet in Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica before the U.S. Department of Agriculture stops propagandizing on behalf of meat without any regard for human or environmental health.
Which brings us back to individual abstinence. We're not calling for a vegan revolution, but this page has noted that a sincere personal effort to fight global warming must include a reduction in eating red meat. Were fish sticks on Fridays really that bad?