New research shows that the environmental impact of animals raised for food has been underestimated, and in fact accounts for 51% of annual greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, or 31.6 billion tonnes of CO2.
The report in this month’s World Watch magazine refutes the claims of a United Nations report (2006) which suggests that livestock emissions contribute 18% of GHG emissions. The authors, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, argue that sources of livestock emissions have been underestimated, including respiration (as cattle is ‘man-made’), cost of land use (due to deforestation), release of methane and quantity of animals kept worldwide. Other sources have been overlooked entirely, such as cooking and disposal of waste, impacts of offshoot industries such as leather and fur, and packaging of products.
Franny Armstrong, director of ‘The Age of Stupid’ and a spearhead of the 10:10 campaign suggests that the most environmentally friendly action mankind could take is to become vegetarian, and that we have no chance of avoiding vast anthropogenic global warming without a massive decrease in livestock reared for consumption. Lord Stern has also contributed, saying that eating meat will soon become ‘socially unacceptable’ due to its carbon footprint.
So what to do? Eating meat is so ingrained in the British psyche that it is unlikely people will give up completely because of this news. But, by keeping issues in the limelight, we have seen encouraging signs of change from other environmental and health industries. We are still a way from having people cut down on flying or driving, but the need to reduce energy use is well documented, and energy saving actions have started to occur in even the most steadfast of homes. If the idea of eating meals without meat is given the same public attention as switching off the lights, turning down the thermostat and recycling, it is likely that gradually more and more people will see the environmental benefit and act accordingly.
However, we British don’t mind advice that benefits both the environment and our pockets, but when it takes food off our place, a line is crossed. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a veggie revolution just yet.