In light of the UN’s recent Climate Conference in Paris, their inability to address the intrinsic link between our habits of meat consumption and its ramifications upon the environment could prove a fatalistic error.
It’s Time to Talk About Meat and Climate Change
The majority of the focus regarding the much-publicised Paris talks centred around the escalation and development of renewable energy, constructing eco-friendly infrastructures within developing countries and attaining more prudent measures of the energy that we presently squander. These talks were positive and constructive in many ways, but critically overlooked the impact that the food industry and our paradigm of dietary predispositions have upon reaching that magic number of 2 degrees.
Specifically, meat production (and consequently our consumption of it) is a behemothic issue. Livestock production is accountable for 30% of all the planet’s land surface: almost one third of the Earth’s entire terra firma. Such a staggering statistic reflects both the harmful culture we have constructed with regards to gorging on meat, as well as our capitalistic systems’ propensity to pander interests of purely financial and economic gain to the detriment of our planet.
The Meat Industry
The meat industry plays a pivotal role when considering the effects of climate change. The dietary decisions we make can contribute a startling amount of greenhouse gases to our environment. In 2006 a report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warned that our diets (and explicitly the meat within them) pumped more greenhouse gases into the planet than either heavy industry or transportation.
There are a number of variables which account for a food source’s carbon footprint. For example, whilst it is estimated that it takes around seven pounds of grain to produce one pound of beef (not to mention the agricultural land usage), things such as food miles and water consumption also need to be taken into account. Eating Iamb in the UK which has been reared in New Zealand, over 18,000 kilometres away, actually produces a smaller carbon footprint than it you’d have consumed lamb reared in the UK. The reason for such a discrepancy is because lamb raised in New Zealand commonly graze on grass, whereas Britain’s lambs are fed on grain, requiring far more energy, land and water.
Aside from the environmental damage associated with transporting the meat, the problem undoubtedly lies in both the methods and scale of meat production. However, though the transportation of the meat contributes only 11% to its total carbon footprint, consumers should still be encouraged to buy locally and sustainably when possible. This alone, however, will not solve the problem. A drastic alteration of our consumption habits must be embraced both in developed and developing countries. We are not talking of insignificant, muted changes to our diets, but rather a worldwide paradigm shift of our nutritional intakes; moving away from processed meats towards fresh and local vegetables and free range eggs. (Alternatively, a vegetarian/vegan diet can be a positive move. For more information, please visit the Cruelty Free Shop)
In 2014, independent UK think tank, Chatham House, published a damning report of climate change’s “forgotten sector”; livestock. The report acknowledges the dire consequences we face if drastic and far-reaching changes are not implemented and lambasts the government and green organisations for failing to tackle the issue for fear of a consumer backlash. A point contained in the report carrying particular weight reads:
“Even with ambitious action to reduce the emissions intensity of livestock production, it is unlikely that global temperature rises can be kept below two degrees Celsius in the absence of a radical shift in meat and dairy consumption”.
Perhaps Paris should have been listening.
The report also identifies an “awareness gap” between consumers and the perceived consequences of such a rampant livestock industry. This is of particular importance, it argues, because “low awareness translates to a lack of willingness to change behaviour in order to reduce emissions”. Closing the awareness gap is thereby a key prerequisite to bringing about a meaningful change in the industry.
Making a Difference
Such considerable changes often feel inaccessible because of the sheer scale. When considering what an individual could do to make a difference, the most important criteria should remain raising awareness. Changing diet habits and discussing the issues online, with friends and family or even helping to raise awareness in the public sphere will help. Campaigning against the livestock industry, writing to your political representative or getting involved with activist website cowspiracy.com are all further ways to implement change.
There is an argument that grassroots change should not be fully relied on, because of the natural short-sightedness of consumers. Chatham House argues that governments should be striving to achieve change above all else. Introducing a revised RDA (recommended daily allowance) of the different food groups would be a positive if superficial start. Spending money on advertisements discouraging meat gorging, or introducing a blanket “carbon tax” across the livestock industry would prove that they really meant business.
Changing the paradigm of the meat industry, and instigating greater climate consciousness relies on the collaborative efforts of world leaders, companies, NGO’s and consumers.
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