As the IPCC’s latest report shows we need to urgently deal with climate change, Jordan Rivkin says the solution lies in reducing meat consumption – will you do anything about it?


Ask yourself the following; what would you be willing to sacrifice in order to bequeath a better world to your children and grandchildren?

Moralistic though this may sound, it is a pressing question in light of the latest scientific data on global warming.

Last, year, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the Nobel prize-winning body that collates and evaluates climate data for the world’s governments, released its first report since 2007 and the findings were alarming. It is an unambiguously damning appraisal of our planet’s predicament, which calls for, among other things, fossil fuel power generation to be phased out entirely by the end of this century.

We need no reminding that should we fail to heed such warnings, the consequences are dire. Extreme weather conditions, melting polar ice, rising sea levels, food shortages, refugee crises, the flooding of island nations and coastal cities, the mass extinction of plant and animal species…a bleak, dystopian wilderness awaits future generations unless tangible sacrifices are made by us as present custodians of the planet.

As we saw with the Coalition’s farcical Direct Action policy that saw passage through the Senate last year, our politicians can’t be relied upon to do the right thing when it comes to the environment. Implicit in our system of government is the inescapable reality that most politicians are as shortsighted as the electoral cycle in which they operate.

So with governments dragging the chain on this issue, it falls upon us to act…which brings me back to my question; what would you be willing to sacrifice to arrest climate change?

I’d wager you’d gladly purchase those carbon offsets next time you fly, but what about a more substantive sacrifice, like reducing your meat consumption? Would you forgo some of your gastronomic indulgences to help secure a better future for your kids and their kids after them?

This week, the US’s foremost nutrition advisory panel, the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, released its report to the American public. In what is an unprecedented move, the panel has thumbed its nose at the powerful meat lobby and recommended that in addition to the health benefits of a largely plant-based diet, Americans should consider eating less meat on account of the concomitant environmental benefits.

If the US government chooses to act on the panel’s recommendations, the impact on the meat industry could be substantial, and it should… the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that direct emissions from meat production account for approximately 18 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than all global transport, which contributes 13 per cent of our greenhouse gas footprint.

The IPCC’s report also emphasised the role that reduced meat consumption has in cutting greenhouse gas emissions. Livestock production generates unprecedented amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, which are 23 and 310 times more potent than carbon dioxide respectively. In addition, vast habitats are destroyed to make way for animals to graze and for the growth of soybeans used in feedstock.

The former head of the IPCC has previously called for people to consider reducing their meat consumption in an effort to mitigate climate change. “In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity,” he said. He also urged the observance of at least one meat-free day a week, with a view to increasing this temperance over time.

The latest research goes even further, warning that meat eaters in developed countries will need to cut meat consumption by 50 per cent to avoid the worst consequences of future climate change. According to Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds, “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.”

It’s easy to see why. A study conducted by scientists at The University of Oxford, analysing data from tens of thousands of people, revealed that greenhouse gas emissions from meat-eaters are roughly double that of vegetarians. Those who consume diets rich in meat generated an average of 7.2kg of CO2 per day, while vegetarians and vegans generated 3.8kg and 2.9kg respectively.

The evidence is incontrovertible, the sources unimpeachable, the advice unequivocal. So will you do anything about it? Albert Einstein once presciently said, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” It’s easy to pass the buck and wait on governments to slowly make changes around renewable energy.

But I’m talking about you, making a sacrifice, here and now. Would you entertain the notion of two or three meat-free days a week? When you really think about it, is that such an enormous sacrifice for those you love most in this world?


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