Thursday, October 29, 2009

Telling it like it is about meat

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.


Rayna said...

Whilst I agree wholeheartedly with the need to reduce agriculture on this planet. It does kind of annoy me how absolutist the data is when comparing diets. There are so many different types of carnivorous diets and they'll all have different impacts. A person who eats one serving of organic red meat a week has a very different impact to a person who eats mass-produced cheap meat every day. And a lot of the research uses the latter as the example of the carnivore.

It's not that I'm defending carnivores I just don't think it helps the argument sometimes.

On a semi-related note, check the 'things we think might be bullshit' segment' from the ace new show over here Hungry Beast. Last night they did vegetarianism, it's not online yet but should be over the next couple of days pretty funny.


Nandor Tanczos said...

Quite right Rayna, and I could have make a more complex arguement but didn't. Stern himself is not a strict vegetarian, and I've always had the view that the key is to move carnivores away from thinking every meal has to be based on meat.

In defence I'd say that your scenario doesn't describe most meat eaters - in fact it would be nice to have a way of describing the kind of moderate meat eating you outline.

Of course objections to the meat industry are not only on environmental grounds...

ps I liked your x stitch CC camera.

Rayna said...

yeah good thing you got a good price for it :)


Anonymous said...

Save the planet - Kill yourselves...

Nandor Tanczos said...

whassamatta diddums, is going without meat just too much for you?

George said...

Nandor, I think he or she is quoting from the Church of Euthanasia. We did a stall as the Church once, as a piece of performance art to get people thinking about population.

There are of course many reasons to be vegetarian, and this is just one of them. For me it's about not being in a position of domination against any living creature, and for that reason I'm (mostly) vegan. It's this attitude of domination and aggression that is symptomatic of our relation to this world, the things on it, and our fellow human beings that needs to be changed. Showing people how their action - buying a steak at the supermarket - work within these fundamental relations of power can be very instructive. I think most (but not all) people sense there is something wrong, but aren't sure what, and don't want to be accused of being part of the problem - they'd rather be part of the solution.

Anika_Vegan said...

Maybe all these people ate an average of enough extra carbs that the added fats from the meat contributed more to the slightly higher average build-up of CHD in the highest quintile.