The Greenhouse Hamburger: Mmm Mmm Good

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Scientific American’s feature, “Greenhouse Hamburger” is less an example of outstanding writing and more an example of a scientist who can write. The article kept my attention largely because interesting scientific facts and figures were made accessible, but were I uninterested in the topic, it would have been fairly ineffective. The author starts off awkwardly with somewhat of a direct address lead. Using phrases like “our cars” and “our coal-generated electric power” is, despite bulky construction, actually fairly effective given the subject matter: it directly implicates the reader in the issue, thus demanding personal attention and action. The ending works in a similar way, concluding by saying “The take-home lesson is clear: we ought to give careful thought to diet and its consequences for the planet if we are serious about limiting the emissions of greenhouse gases.” I appreciate the message, but unfortunately, such a closing is anticlimactic and uninspiring, no matter how much responsibility it tries to place on the collective “we.”

The writer uses a kabob structure, interspersing hunks of beef (literally) with veggies (literally). (Pun intended.) It works, of course, because it leaves the author the freedom to slide in interesting hunks of scientifically valuable information. A spine structure, however, that would follow the process of meat–from the grass it grazes on to your dinner plate–would have been a much more creative way of actually making the reader see, feel, and truly understand the long and environmentally-expensive road that a steak travels. Given, however, the audience of Scientific American and the subject matter, it’s difficult to legitimately criticize such failures: I doubt many scientifically inclined readers would complain that they got plenty of good information in an easy-to-read format.

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