A global temperature rise beyond that limit, and you’re looking at major swathes of the earth becoming uninhabitable, sterile oceans that can no longer support life, world hunger on a scale last seen in the King James Bible, and weather events that make that tornado at the start of the Wizard of Oz look like a summer’s breeze. In short, the end if life as we would like to know it.
There will be much talk of cutting carbon emissions in industry, perhaps of moving to a post-fossil fuel society, reducing consumption, maybe even redefining our notions of progress, away from the more-is-more model pioneered by the United States in the booming 1950s.
All good, all worthy topics for this most crucial of global conversations. But will anyone dare to say so much as a word about…pies? Meat pies, that is. The kind you buy dirt-cheap at the shop and which are primarily crafted from lard and sundry other parts of deceased ruminant? Or chickens? Cheapo cheapy chicken, now going for 99p a chunk at KFC? In fact, meat in general, and its close cousin, dairy?
Meat and dairy consumption, despite the rise of the vegetarian celebrity, is soaring. By 2050, we can expect a 76 per cent rise on 2005’s meat consumption levels. Put it this way. In the Western world, we eat 176 pounds of meat per person per year.
If everyone in the world ate like that, then we would need to use two thirds more of the earth’s surface for intensive farming than we do now, according to Vaclav Smil, Professor of Environment and Geography at the University of Manitoba.
Or put it this way. There are 22 billion farmed chickens in the world; that’s three per person!
Meat-eating has gone exponential partly because it has become so cheap. Intensive farming methods mean a shit life for the animals, horrendous pollution of water sources and coastal regions from agricultural run-off, increased resistance to antibiotics thanks to heavy usage at farm-level, but…cheap deals on Sunday roasts at the supermarket, hurray! But it’s not much to celebrate if you consider the environmental impact of this global meat-fest.
The livestock industry—that’s everything from pork chops to pints of milk—accounts for 15 per cent of all global emissions, which is equal to the emissions caused by all vehicles, everywhere.
The link between carbon dioxide and global warming is well known, and understood, but far less is made of those other greenhouse gases, specifically methane, issuing from the digestive tracts of cows, sheep and goats, and nitrous oxide, a by-product of the manure and fertilisers used to grow animal-feed crops.
Add to this the CO2 emissions from clearing huge areas of forestry, most famously in the Amazon region, to make way for pasture and feed-crops, and meat-eating becomes much less of a side-salad. Perhaps, indeed, it should be served up as a main course in current climate discussions?
There are many reasons why politicians keep quiet on the issue, but none of them are compelling. First, there is a widespread lack of awareness on the subject. A survey, the first, of multiple countries, conducted by IPSOS-Mori on behalf of think-tank Chatham House, found this to be the case. People know about cars and planes, but just don’t have the beef on meat.
Other stumbling blocks appear to be that ‘don’t tell ME what to do!’ attitude so prevalent in our non-collective communities.
But this attitude has been overcome before. Consider how drink-driving, once almost socially acceptable as a kind of intoxicating blend of manliness and devil-may-careness, is now pretty much universally condemned, as witnessed by the fulsome support, across all sections of society, to the zero tolerance approach rolled out in Scotland this winter.
Ditto, smoking in public places. Almost ditto, driving your car round the corner to the shop and back again. Maybe not almost, but getting there, by slow degrees.
Perhaps the fact that the issue of vegetarianism has always been linked with animal rights issues, in what red meat enthusiasts work hard to popularise as an us versus them, humans versus animals, showdown, has ensured that career-minded politicians fight shy of allying themselves with the cause of plant-based diets.
They don’t want to be seen siding with vegan, new-age travellers against already beleaguered, family-run dairy farms, struggling to keep heritage cattle in business.
Hmm, not that family-run farms are the issue here. Most farms are falling into the hands of big business, such as Tyson, the chicken farming conglomerate in the USA, who seek to control the whole process, from egg to chicken sandwich, implementing intensive farming methods at every step. In America now, 40 per cent of the chicken industry is owned by just two companies.
Here, we are familiar with the supermarket squeeze on small farmers, who are given worthless contracts and, scandalously, paid scarcely enough to cover production costs. Exit picturesque family farms, enter the big brutes and their industrial animal-rearing.
And big business, as we know, always has friends in high places, fighting their corner against any notions of progress, world health, and even the future of the planet. Yet much could be made of reducing our meat consumption.
For one, it’s much healthier. Vegetarian diets are linked to lower incidence of certain cancers, heart disease and obesity. In China, a traditional, predominantly vegetarian society where meat-eating is associated with better times, a step away from subsistence, meat consumption is escalating.
And hand-in-hand with this adoption of Western-style diet, is a rise and rise in Western-style disease.
According to the China-Oxford-Cornell study China II, which surveyed diet, lifestyle and disease in 65 rural Chinese counties, the rise in Western-type diseases amongst the population ‘correlated highly significantly with increased concentrations of plasma cholesterol, which are associated with increasing intakes of animal protein.’
So not only are we killing the planet, we are also killing ourselves. It is high time we got meat off our plates, and on the table at every climate change discussion.
• Much of this info came from http://www.chathamhouse.org/expert/comment/16379