Sheep, Cows, and Priuses

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Matt Yglesias is startled by the chart below, which shows the greenhouse gas emissions produced by various kinds of food: “The carbon gap between lamb & beef on the one hand and pork & chicken on the other is larger than the gap between between pork & chicken and vegetarianism.”

Ezra Klein reposts something from a column he wrote a while back:

Two researchers at the University of Chicago estimated that switching to a vegan diet would have a bigger impact than trading in your gas guzzler for a Prius. A study out of Carnegie Mellon University found that the average American would do less for the planet by switching to a totally local diet than by going vegetarian one day a week….A Montanan who drives 40 miles to work might not have the option to take public transportation. But he or she can probably pull off a veggie stew.

This, of course, highlights the genius of the best answer to all of this: a carbon tax. If you tax carbon, nobody makes these decisions for you. You make them for yourself just by deciding what you want to spend your money on. If a carbon tax increases the price of carbon-intensive activities, some people will prefer giving up their hot rod to going without beef. Some will prefer eating more vegetables to giving up their SUV. Some will end up doing neither and giving up something else. But whatever it is, each individual will reduce his or her carbon use in the way that’s the least personally onerous. No regulation can do that and no PR campaign can do that, but a price on carbon can. And in addition to all the awesomeness of letting the market work its magic to reduce carbon emissions with minimum pain and maximum consumer surplus, it also produces a pot of money that can be used to motivate research into better energy alternatives for everyone. We are almost literally insane for not doing this.

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DEMOCRACY DOES NOT EXIST...

without free and fair elections, a vigorous free press, and engaged citizens to reclaim power from those who abuse it.

In this election year unlike any other—against a backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis, racial reckoning, and so much daily crazy—Mother Jones' journalism is driven by one simple question: Will America will move closer to, or further from, justice and equity in the years to come?

If you're able to, please join us in this mission with a donation today. Our reporting right now is focused on voting rights and election security, corruption, disinformation, racial and gender equity, and the climate crisis. We can’t do it without the support of readers like you, and we need to give it everything we've got between now and November. Thank you.

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