Talking Points

Biden takes action to combat high-priced meat. Maybe that isn't a good thing.

Yes, a hamburger costs a lot more today than it did a year ago. But what if that's a good thing?

The Biden administration announced Monday morning that it will spend $1 billion to help independent beef and poultry producers, a plan designed to allay widespread frustration over surging prices of meat and other groceries. Beef has been particularly prone to inflation, with the cost at the grocery store rising by more than 20 percent over the last year. That's a pinch in the pocketbook for most Americans, who on average eat more than 55 pounds of beef every year — good for second in the world, behind Argentina.

You can't blame the White House for wanting to assuage consumer anger. Those folks tend to vote against incumbents. Once again, though, President Biden is taking a short-term action that's at odds with his administration's long-term climate goals. 

Steak is a carbon-making machine, after all — by one measure, beef creates 31 times the amount of carbon dioxide as tofu. Cow belches are largely to blame, exacerbated by the deforestation that occurs to create pasture land. Estimates vary, but livestock reportedly emit 14.5 percent of the planet's greenhouse gasses, and food production overall contributes around 30 percent. That's a big burden for a warming planet.

So eating less meat probably would be beneficial for the planet. And higher beef prices almost certainly encourage most Americans to cut back a little bit, perhaps to eat a few more salads and veggie-heavy pastas instead. (They could also try some of the latest "meatless" meats, which will never entirely replace the real thing for meat-lovers, but honestly aren't that bad.) It wouldn't have to amount to a ban on burgers — it would just be a gentle nudge on consumer behavior. 

If Biden is successful with the new initiative, that nudge won't happen. And it's no surprise: Back in August, as gas prices began to rise, the White House urged OPEC to bump up oil production just days after convening a task force that declared fossil fuels a chief culprit behind the climate emergency. 

This is why the fight against climate change can be so discouraging sometimes. Biden isn't a climate denier like his predecessor was, but his administration keeps putting other priorities higher on the list. We're running out of time to keep kicking the can down the road.