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Some Critical Omissions from Climate Change Discussions

Many critical aspects of climate change are missing from key discussions on the subject. I will refer to many of those in future articles. In this article, I focus on The Greens political party in Australia.

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The Greens have produced policies on the environment, climate change and sustainable agriculture. In none of those is the issue of animal agriculture specifically mentioned. That’s despite referring to issues such as: soil degradation; ecologically sustainable approaches to land use; greenhouse gas emissions; the ecological and resource limits of the planet; and the desire for an equitable distribution of global resources that delivers sustainable and meaningful prosperity for all current and future generations.

The Greens acknowledge that “climate change is real, urgent and the greatest threat facing the global environment at the beginning of the 21st century”.

The Greens cannot claim to be unaware of animal agriculture’s impact on the environment generally or on climate change specifically. The issue has been widely addressed by prominent individuals and international organisations, some of which have been referred to in my earlier article “To retain a habitable planet, what we eat is critical”. They include: United Nations Environment Programme; Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations; World Health Organization; Dr James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies; Dr Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change; PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency; Lord Nicholas Stern [1]; Zero Carbon Britain 2030 [2]; and The World Preservation Foundation [3].

A summary of the Zero Carbon Britain 2030 plan states: “Zero Carbon Britain 2030 will revolutionise our landscape and diets. An 80% reduction in meat and dairy production will free up land to grow our own food and fuel whilst also sequestering carbon from the atmosphere. The report also represents an opportunity to tackle the relationship between diet and health in the UK by promoting healthier diets and lifestyles.”

In 2008, I wrote to former Greens leader Bob Brown and the current leader Christine Milne. The responses indicated that they did not intend addressing this issue. A representative of Bob Brown’s office suggested that change on any issue needs to come from “grassroots movement”, rather than politicians. I argue that politicians should use their position to inform the community and attempt to convince the people of the right course. It comes down to leadership, which is tragically lacking when political parties are driven by opinion polls and focus groups.

In 2011, I wrote to the Greens Federal Member for Melbourne, Adam Bandt. He did not respond. Also in 2011, I raised the issue with Mr Bandt at a community forum in the inner Melbourne suburb of Fitzroy. I referred to the fact that the Greens were intending to support the Labor Party in exempting agriculture from the carbon tax. His only comments were that it was difficult to measure methane emissions, and that some of the carbon tax revenue would be used in research.

Estimates of methane emissions (which are one of many factors influencing animal agriculture’s impact) have been included for many years in national greenhouse inventories produced by The Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency and its predecessor, The Australian Greenhouse Office.

Some responses from the Greens have included reference to the party's Animals policy. I have responded by pointing out that I had raised the issue of climate change and the environment, not animal welfare.

Do the Greens not understand the issue, or are they concerned that voters will walk away or that the livestock industry will run scare campaigns? Are they are a party of principle or pragmatism? They need to help inform the community and stand up for the environment on this issue in the same way they do on others.

I concur with former cattle rancher and current campaigner for animals and the environment, Howard Lyman, who said: "To consider yourself an environmentalist and still eat meat is like saying you're a philanthropist who doesn't give to charity." [4]

Some may suggest that my comments are undermining a critical organisation within the environment movement. Should that be said, I would respond by saying that the issues are too urgent, and the consequences of failure too great, to remain silent.

Any group that campaigns for meaningful action on climate change is wasting its time if it ignores or overlooks the issue of animal agriculture.

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Paul Mahony is a member of Vegetarian Victoria, Animal Liberation Victoria, Animals Australia, Bayside Climate Change Action Group (BCCAG) and Locals Into Victoria’s Environment (LIVE).

In 2009, he prepared Vegetarian Victoria’s submission to the Victorian State Government in response to its Climate Change Green Paper. His question on animal agriculture and climate change finished second in polling for The Sunday Age’s 2011 "Climate Agenda", and prompted an article prior to the close of polling and another subsequently.

Paul has had many letters published in major metropolitan newspapers and has been involved in the land use component of “ZCA 2020”, a joint project between Beyond Zero Emissions and The University of Melbourne. His work is also featured on the websites of BCCAG and LIVE, and he has  presented to organisations and groups such as: The Greens; Australian Youth Climate Coalition; Australian Climate Action Summit; Monash University; The Animal Activist Forum; Rotary; insurance industry seminar groups; and climate change action groups.

Find Paul on Twitter & Slideshare.

References:

[1] Pagnamenta, R., “Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet”, The Times, 27 October, 2009, http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/environment/article2144741.ece

[2] Centre for Alternative Technology, Wales, “Zero Carbon Britain”, 2010, http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/ and http://www.zerocarbonbritain.com/resources/factsheets

[3] World Preservation Foundation, http://www.worldpreservationfoundation.org

[4] Howard Lyman, http://www.all-creatures.org/quotes/lyman_howard.html

Image: Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, © Dan Breckwoldt | Dreamstime.com

Note: References and comments in relation to other people and organisations mentioned in this article can be found in the article “To retain a habitable planet, what we eat is critical”, dated 9th October, 2012.

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