Front page news today in the Honolulu Advertiser is that "a private company that state officials hope will put Hawaii on the road to the widespread use of electric vehicles expects to begin installing infrastructure here in about six months."

The company plans to install "between 20,000 - 30,000 recharging stations that can be used by electric vehicles in homes, office buildings, parking lots and public and private facilities."

The recharging stations will use energy from the electric grid, currently produced from fossil fuels, to recharge car batteries. It is hoped that in the future the electricity used to recharge the vehicles will come from clean energy such as solar, wind, and ocean power.

However, given Hawaii's unfavorable attitude towards business (note the irony that the Honolulu Advertiser article shares space with news of Superferry abandoning the ferries) maybe these clean energy projects won't get off the ground. We could end up with the illusion of green power, i.e. we could have electric vehicles powered by fossil fuel electricity sources.

In addition to this, according to a report by the Boston Consulting Group, the cost of electric vehicles is prohibitively high and will require large government subsidies to make it economical for the already ailing auto manufacturers to make them. In other words, the switch to electric and hybrid vehicles is going to be very very expensive.

There is a big contradiction here. Individuals and governments are prepared to spend large amounts of money in an effort to reduce their environmental footprint, yet the things they spend the money on will actually only have a small impact on greenhouse gasses and global warming. In contrast, adopting a plant based vegetarian diet will have a huge impact on reducing greenhouse gases, yet the government is not prepared to come out and do anything about it. In fact they do just the opposite by supporting the meat industry through huge (mega $billions) grain and other subsidies.

The following article from the United Nations News Center explains the environmental impact that the meat industry has on the release of global warming greenhouse gases:

"29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released today.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

"Cattle-rearing is also a major source of land and water degradation, according to the FAO report, Livestock’s Long Shadow–Environmental Issues and Options, of which Mr. Steinfeld is the senior author.

“The environmental costs per unit of livestock production must be cut by one half, just to avoid the level of damage worsening beyond its present level,” it warns.

"When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

"And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

"With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes."

Rearing cattle produces more greenhouse gases than driving cars, UN report warns.

If you are concerned about the environment, and want to participate in reducing the impact of global warming, please consider that adopting a vegetarian diet is the single most important thing you can do to reduce global warming. If you are not vegetarian then all your efforts to reduce your impact on the environment are more or less window dressing, they look good but don't accomplish much.

Thanks for reading.

Mark Fergusson