The inconvenient truth of eating meat

Global climate change is probably the greatest concern of our times, a looming disaster we’re all slowly waiting for. But as individuals we all play are part, we recycle, we turn off lights and put on jumpers instead of the heating. But despite mounting evidence, most of us aren’t making one simple change to our everyday lives that could have the biggest impact.

Numerous reports claim that our over-consumption of meat and other animal products is one of the largest contributors to climate change. To help slowdown climate change and limit global warming to 2oC, what we eat or more importantly what we don’t, could be the key.

This is unlikely to be a particularly popular argument and is probably why the issue is rarely brought up. Even world leaders meeting in Paris later this month at the Climate Change Conference won’t be broaching the issue of meat consumption and its impact on the environment.

According to an analysis by Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, less than 30% of people surveyed in 12 nations (minimum 1000 participants per country) believed that meat and dairy production had a significant impact on climate change. The report pointed out that key actors, who could raise awareness of the issues simply aren’t: “The received wisdom among governments and campaign groups appears to be that trying to reduce consumption of animal products is at best too complex a challenge, and at worst risks backlash.”

But the facts speak for themselves and the issue is too important to ignore, the Chatham House report states that the 2oC global warming limit target is unlikely to be met if consumption of meat is not reduced. Even if efforts are made to reduce the carbon emissions of the livestock industry, the sheer rise in demand over coming years will prove too costly.

The environmental price of meat production is clear. Greenpeace claim that the livestock sector produce as much greenhouse gasses as cars, trucks and other automobiles combined. Beef production stands as the most environmentally costly meat, due to the land required to raise the animals, the food needed to feed them and the methane they emit.

Add to that, the fact that global meat consumption has risen from just over 24kg per capita in 1966 to over 41kg per capita in 2015, according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO). This figure is anticipated to increase in 2030 by a further 4kg per capita.

A big contributing factor to this rise in demand is down to the population and wealth growth in developing countries, such as China, Brazil and India. The desire for animal products which has been so prominent in the Europe and North America is being replicated in the developing nations as their citizens become more affluent.

Currently, agriculture is estimated to create around 14% of all the greenhouse gases, making it the fourth largest emitter behind energy production (26%), Industry (19%) and forestry (17%). However, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also point out that a large portion of land use change or forestry, is deforestation for the purpose of agriculture. Agriculture has also been cited as the single biggest driver of biodiversity loss and an unsustainable 70% of our fresh water supply is used for farming.

Reducing the amount of meat, we consume as a society because of the environmental impact, is not a vegan or vegetarian ploy, but one part of a complex and multi-faceted strategy which can help sustain the planet we all share. Even if you aren’t interested in animal welfare or the health implications of a meat heavy diet, protecting the world we live in is a pretty good reason to reduce the amount of meat we eat.

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