The meat of the matter

Bob Chase is something of a “green building” star around Sacramento. An architect with 35 years of experience in the private sector, Chase was the city of Sacramento’s chief building official, and helped write Sacramento’s green-building policy. Sacramento Magazine, in its annual “Power & Influence 100” feature, said Chase’s “vision is nudging Sacramento toward a dynamic, sustainable future.” He even helped SN&R brainstorm its world headquarters on Del Paso Boulevard.

Chase left the city last year due to budget cuts, but the county was pretty stoked to put him to work as their CBO. “It was really his leadership that put us on the forefront of some new and exciting programs,” said Steve Pedretti, Chase’s boss at the county, and the county’s chief engineer.

But one of Chase’s competitors for the job complained that Chase applied for his position after the official application period was closed. Keep in mind, no interviews had been held at that point. And according to Pedretti, the person who complained was not among the top candidates for the job. Nonetheless, the Sacramento County Civil Service Commission said Chase had to give up the gig.

He then accepted a much lower-paying job as a county building inspector. But the commission, acting on the complaint of another county employee, nixed that position, too, saying Chase wasn’t sufficiently qualified to be a building inspector. That’s despite all his years in the private sector and with the city. Chase declined to talk about his forced exit from public service. But in an e-mail he sent to friends around town, he said, “It’s interesting and ironic that 35 plus years as an architect in the private sector would not equate to the equivalent of a year of public service.”

Interesting and ironic is one way of putting it. Stupid would work, too.

Meat is bad for the planet, right? We’ve certainly said so many timesin the pages of SN&R, noting research on the global-warming impacts of livestock. It’s just that the “less meat equals less heat” argument is entirely wrong, says UC Davis professor Frank Mitloehner.

Bites was a little wary of Mitloehner at first, after listening to “ClimateGatewackos for the last week or so. But after a few minutes, he proved reasonable enough. He explained that the number that’s got everybody so concerned comes from the United Nations report called “Livestock’s Long Shadow.”

That influential report says that livestock accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions—outstripping even transportation in its planet-warming power. In fact, SN&R published a feature story (“What’s driving global warming?” by Jim Motavalli; August 28, 2008) inspired by that very report.

But Mitloehner said the 18 percent number is misleading because it counts livestock’s carbon footprint “from farm to table” while taking much narrower accounting of other sectors, like energy production and transportation. Referring to the high-profile anti-climate change/anti-meat campaign by pop star Paul McCartney, Mitloehner said, “A ‘Meatless Monday’ would only have a tiny, tiny effect on greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Mitloehner also takes issue with the orthodox tree-hugger vision of local, organic farming for everyone. Modern meat and dairy production, he argued, are fairly efficient, and a large-scale move to boutique food would “by far increase livestock’s contribution to greenhouse-gas pollution.”

Better, he said, to focus on the harmful effects of coal and gas used in our transportation and energy sectors.

Of course, it’s not the fossil-fuel companies that are underwriting Mitloehner’s work. Rather, his $26,000 grant came from something called the Beef Checkoff Program, a cattle research and promotion fund.