EM=C2 Eating Meat = Catastrophe2
Written by Aryan Tavakkoli
Created Tuesday, 17 January 2012
Several years down the line, the situation has become even more critical. All over the world, scientists are speaking out, warning governments, leaders and the public alike, that we need to act, we need to change. Time is running out, fast. For those aware of the climate crisis, every other problem pales in comparison. It is something affecting, or that will affect, every person on the planet. There is no escaping the changes heading our way, unless we change our track, now. Yet observing what is going on, one sees many people still live as though there is no problem at all.
Feeling helpless, take action!
Do we feel helpless to make any noticeable change in averting the predicted disasters? Have we given up hope, leaving it instead to our governments to find all the solutions? Perhaps individuals feel powerless and think it’s up to the multi-billion dollar enterprises and our leaders to make the changes. There’s no denying the role of governments and leaders is crucial in alerting the public to the dangers ahead and actions
required to avert catastrophic climate change but it would be a mistake to believe individual action is ineffective. Nothing could be further from the truth.
One powerful action can have a significant impact on climate change. It’s a lifestyle change bringing more carbon savings and environmental benefits than probably all other lifestyle changes put together. Our diet, specifically, reducing or eliminating meat has largely been ignored but is now gaining recognition and earning its rightful place as one of the foremost influential factors in curbing climate change.
a chilling figure. The impact of a meat-based diet on our individual carbon footprint has also been calculated. According to a team of researchers from Chicago University,2 we would reduce our individual carbon footprint more by switching to a plant-based diet (an estimated
reduction of one and a half tonnes of carbon emissions per person annually) than by switching to driving a hybrid car. For a family of four, there
could be a potential household reduction of carbon emissions of one tonne yearly, if the family car is changed to a hybrid and by six tonnes per year if the family cuts out animal produce from their diet. This explains the saying that a vegan driving an SUV is more environmentally friendly than a meat-eater riding a bicycle.
Cutting out meat, or at least significantly reducing it in our diet, will potentially have a far more rapid effect in reducing the effect of greenhouse gas emissions than relying on corporate industries to reduce their emissions. To understand this, one must appreciate the full impact of methane, the greenhouse gas generally less mentioned.
times as toxic as CO2 over a 100-year period, but over a 20-year period, it is 72 times as potent as CO2. In Australia alone, the cattle industry currently releases about three million tonnes of methane yearly, and their coal-fired power stations release about 180 million tonnes of CO2. Although it seems coal-fired power stations contribute much more to global warming than do cattle, when you multiply three million tonnes by 72, to calculate the correct potency of methane, compared to CO2, it becomes very clear that cattle and sheep actually contribute more to global warming than coal-fired power stations.3
Near climate tipping point
We are already close to “tipping point,”4 where a further small rise in Arctic temperature is predicted to be the catalyst for runaway global
warming.5 The potentially dangerous release of toxic amounts of methane gas from the ocean bed and thawing permafrost is a real and imminent danger. If temperatures continue to rise, the subsequent release of an estimated 400 Gigatons6 of methane could be the final tipping
point spelling the end of civilization as we know it. There is no time to lose in reducing our emissions dramatically and rapidly. There is a practical way this can be achieved, by focusing on reducing human-induced methane emissions.
While it is imperative to sharply reduce our carbon dioxide emissions, an emphasis on reducing methane emissions is a faster, more practical approach to address rising temperatures in the short term. The urgency with which we need to do this does not allow time to research methods to reduce methane emissions from livestock. Reducing the amount of meat we consume and numbers of animals bred for meat will reduce the amount of this powerful greenhouse gas in the atmosphere, which strongly affects global warming in the short term. On an individual level,
cutting out animal produce is the single most effective way to reduce our eco-footprint. On a collective level, the effects would be enormous.
If everyone in the UK ate no meat for just one day a week, it’s been calculated this would save 13 Megatonnes of CO2,10 resulting in greater carbon savings than taking five million cars off the road in the UK (10.4 Megatonnes CO2). If everyone in the UK abstained from eating meat for two days a week, they would save 26 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of almost 73 million return flights from London to Ibiza.
Closer to home, significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions could also be achieved. New Zealand’s animal farming industry produces an
amazing 50% of the entire nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, a higher figure than any other country.11 It could be argued New Zealand’s total emissions comprise a very low proportion of the world’s emissions, but per capita, our level of emissions is high at 12th in the world, so there is a moral responsibility for more affluent nations to lead the way by showing a switch to a more plant-based diet is not only achievable but also sustainable in the long term. It is time for all nations to consider the survival of the human race as the priority, rather than short-term economic benefits.
Scientists, like Dr James Hansen, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute, politicians and other high profile figures are speaking out about the benefits of a plantbased diet. Amongst them is the chief of the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, who has spoken widely about the excessive carbon emissions associated with the livestock industry and the environmental damage
caused by meat production.12 He advises we should aim to reduce our meat consumption by at least 50%, and says, “if we eat less meat, we would be healthy and so would the planet.”
Other issues make the widescale widescale transition to a more plant-based diet both logical and compelling. There is substantial medical evidence confirming that animal protein and fats in the diet are major contributors to heart disease, stroke and obesity and other chronic degenerative diseases. The health benefits of adopting a plant-based diet and reducing or cutting out animal fats from the diet, are now well
documented. The World Health Organization recommends a move away from saturated animal fats to unsaturated vegetable oil-based fats.13
hamburger,15 when a nutritionally complete vegan meal of tofu, rice and vegetables requires less than 100 litres of water?16 Animal farming is also the number one polluter of water. The main cause of huge oceanic dead-zones and pollution of rivers and streams is due to toxic effluent from animal farms.1
Time is short. According to the United Nation’s GEO4 Report: “The need couldn’t be more urgent and the time couldn’t be more opportune… to act now to safeguard our own survival and that of future generations.”20 Technological advances take time, time we do not have. Neither do technological advances aiming to curb greenhouse gas emissions, address the environmentally destructive effects of animal farming:
deforestation, enormous water use in the face of rapidly dwindling fresh water supplies, water pollution, species disruption and biodiversity loss caused by livestock farming. Waiting for technology to avert catastrophic climate change and loss of millions of lives would be disastrous.
Cutting down, or even better, eliminating meat and preferably dairy, from our diets is the most powerful lifestyle change we can make as individuals to curb the disastrous effects of climate change. On a collective scale, according to the above calculations, effects would be significant. Media and governments can play their part by educating the public about environmental and health benefits of a plant-based diet. Adopting initiatives like “Meatless Monday” would be a good start, a suggestion already referred to President Obama. According to food writer Michael Pollan, if all Americans eliminated meat from their diets one night a week, the environmental effect would be equivalent to taking “30 to 40 million cars off the road for a year.”21
change and our planetary emergency which calls for drastic and urgent change, it will mean the difference between life and death. Each one of us has a responsibility to act in the short time that remains to ensure a future for ourselves, our children, and our planet. It’s time to take action. The quickest way to slash our greenhouse gas emissions on an individual and planetary scale, and the most effective means of preventing more environmental devastation on a major scale, is to reduce or eliminate meat and dairy consumption. Let’s make the connection in time.
This article was orginally published in the Pacific Ecologist Winter 2009
Dr Aryan practices as a Consultant Physician in Respiratory Medicine in the Hutt Valley, New Zealand. Dr Aryan is also interested in the many-fold and far-reaching effects of our diets, and particularly how our diet affects the environment. She has written and spoken widely about this topic and has presented her talk, Our Diet: Leading to a Sustainable Future or Killing Our Planet? in many venues around New Zealand. She has been interviewed about the link between diet and climate change by both local and national radio and newspapers and runs VegSense.
1. UN FAO Report, 2007, Livestock’s Long Shadow: http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/
2. ‘It’s Better To Green Your Diet Than Your Car:’ New Scientist 2005 Issue 2530, p.19
4. “Twenty years later: Tipping points near on global warming” http://www.guardian. co.uk/environment/2008/jun/23/climatechange.carbonemissions
6. Walter K M, Zimov S A, Chanton J P, Verbyla D and Chapin III F S 2006 “Methane bubbling from Siberian thaw lakes as a positive feedback to climate warming”, Nature 443; 71-75, 7 Sept. 2006 http://www.alaska.edu/uaf/cem/ine/walter/publications_docs/Walter_nature05040.pdf
8. Source: Foodwatch: Greenhouse effect form different kinds of eating habits, per capita and per annum, presented in car kilometers. Spiegel Online International, 27 August 2008 http://tinyurl.com/557yxs
9. Vegetarian Diets: American Dietetic Association Position Paper, J Am Diet Assoc. 1997, 97:1317-1321
10. Pieter van Beukering, Kim van der Leeuw, Desirée Immerzeel and Harry Aiking (2008) Meat the Truth. The contribution of meat consumption in the UK to climate change. Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM), VU University, Amsterdam, the Netherlands; HM Government (2006) Climate Change, the UK programme 2006 http://tinyurl.com/5q3vwx
12. “Global Warning! The Impact of Meat Production and Consumption on Climate Change”, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, London, 8 Sep 2008, http://www.ciwf.org.uk/includes/documents/cm_docs/2008/l/1_london_08sept08.pps
14. FAO of UN. www.fao.org/nr/water/infores.html ,‘Water 101: Water for Food’
16. Water Inputs in California Food Production, Water Education Foundation September 1991, Chart E3, page 28, http://tinyurl.com/6kd6kx
18. FAO 2008 “Food Outlook” http://www.fao.org/docrep/011/ai474e/ai474e01.htm
20. United Nations Environment Programme 2007: www.unep.org/geo/geo4
21. Michael Pollan’s “Food for Thought”: http://www.truthout.org/112708Y
22. Irreversible climate change due to carbon dioxide emissions Proceedings National Academy of Sciences PNAS February 10, 2009 vol. 106 no. 6 1704–1709, Susan Solomon, Gian-Kasper Plattner, Reto Knutti, and Pierre Friedlingstein.
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