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Meaty Climate

At Bowdoin we recently had a teach-in on the topics of Climate and Social Justice.  I had come across the statistic that 18% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry (includes dairy), which is 40% more than the entire transportation industry!  I was very surprised by this since I, like most people, associate greenhouse gas emissions with cars, trucks, planes and boats.  After looking further into the matter, I decided to lead a panel  titled, Food for Thought: Eating for a Healthier Planet and a Healthier You.  For my class I assigned an article related to the Papal Encyclical, On Care for our Common Home, that is a well written overview on the plight of the poor and impacts of agribusiness on the disenfranchised.

When I lead QR workshops for faculty, we often discuss leading conversations in class on sensitive topics, like climate change.  Indeed faculty views vary widely regarding the role of humans in causing climate change.  Mathematics faculty are not used to handling difficult issues in class, but I believe it is imperative that we model civil discourse in our classrooms.  QR is about informed decision making, and we need to teach our students to analyze issues from all sides and weigh appropriate evidence.

In the following quiz, question #2 was problematic as my students were confused by the word “inconsistent“.  They correctly recognized that while both ratios (9:1, and 16:1) are comparing grain to meat, the units are different (calories for 9:1, versus pounds for 16:1).  Thus the ratios are NOT inconsistent, meaning they do not contradict each other.  My students thought the opposite saying the ratios are not consistent since they involve different units.  It is a subtle semantic issue at play here, but important for us to discuss as language obviously plays an important role in quantitative literacy.

For those interested in reading more about the connection between diet and climate and diet and health I highly recommend these two books:

hot planet     china study

Q4 Climate and Meat
Please type answers if possible and print this document with extra space so you do not have to mush all your work together.  Change font for your answers so they stand out.  Thanks!

  1. In the article, Does Pope Francis Practice What he Preaches, they mention 18% of annual greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to the meat industry; and say this is 40% more than the annual greenhouse gas emissions from the entire transportation industry.
    1. What percentage of annual greenhouse gas emissions come from transportation using these statistics? Round to 2 decimal places (if you attended my panel you know the answer rounded to 0 decimal places :O).
    2. Next they say that animals must be fed a minimum of 9 calories of grain for each calorie turned into meat. I have found another statistics saying that you need 16 pounds of grain to produce 1 pound of meat.  Are these two ratios (9:1 and 16:1) inconsistent?  Explain!
    3. Lastly they say meat produces about 52 grams of greenhouse gases per calorie, which is 25 times more than legumes (beans), 10 times more than wheat, and 7 times more than soy. How many grams of greenhouse gases are produced per calorie of soy?
    4. What is the ratio of grams of greenhouse gas emissions produced per calorie of legumes to grams of greenhouse gas emissions produced per calorie of wheat? Scale the second quantity to 100, you must use the order of quantities given in the sentence.
  1. Approximately 10 billion animals are slaughtered each year in the U.S. but that does not include another 500 million that die from disease and mistreatment. Would these 500 million be considered false positives or false negatives?
  2. Joel Best talks about the “dark figure” associated to every social problem. Which social problem, births out of wedlock or illicit drug use, do you think has a larger dark figure?  Explain!
  3. Joel Best talks about broad and narrow definitions. Imagine that you are part of a committee mandated to write the definition of plagiarism to be enforced at Bowdoin by the Judicial Board.
    1. Give a broad definition of plagiarism.
    2. Give a narrow definition of plagiarism.
    3. Which of your definitions will create more false negatives? Explain!
    4. Which of your definitions would you want adopted? Explain!




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