Lord Stern, author of the most comprehensive economic analysis of the impacts of climate change and former chief economist of the World Bank has told The Times that people need to become vegetarian to combat climate change.
Some people have been saying this for years. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation published a report in 2006 called 'Livestock's Long Shadow', which states that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems" and that "urgent action is required to remedy the situation". Pastoral farming contributes around 18% of global GHG emissions - more than transport, and is probably the biggest sectoral contributor to water pollution. In NZ, of course, pastoral farming contributes around 50% of our GHG emissions.
To put that into perspective, Gidon Eshel and Pamela Martin of the University of Chicago have calculated that a vegan driving an SUV has a smaller carbon footprint than a meat eater on a bicycle.
Seen in this light, the claim that NZ farmers 'feed the world' is really a bunch of disingenuous crap. Intensively growing animal protein is enormously profitable, but is ecologically destablising and destructive. It also produces a fraction of the food that growing plants would produce. In my view New Zealand needs start planning how to move to a more plant based economy rather than continue to argue that we can't cut GHG emissions (or improve water quality) because there are very limited ways to reduce emissions from livestock. I have a very effective method: reduce their numbers.
This is heresy in this country, and in the UK too, it seems. The meat industry has reacted with outrage and disbelief to Sterns suggestions. Kind of like the way the British arms industry reacted to the campaign to ban land mines.
Good on Stern - I admire his willingness to speak up on this very sensitive issue. Interestingly he didn't go so far as to suggest veganism. I don't know about the UK, but here in Aotearoa the dairy industry is a lot more of an environmental problem than meat. Still, its a very good start.