Beyond Meat – A Climatarian Solution to a Burgeoning Reliance on Ruminant Meat newsroom.unfccc.int
Paris 2015. UN Climate Change Conference

Increased publicity is, of course, a good thing for proponents of climate change. If states are to be encouraged to achieve their targets the pressure needs to come from us. Curbing emissions will never be popular from an industry perspective without huge subsidies.

Pressure from below will galvanise a politicians to make pledges. Already there are promises to combat fossil fuel emissions - if all achieved we are assured that this will reduce the global emissions deficit and even reverse heating by the end of the century - but is the focus of COP-21 misdirected? A report by Chatham house suggests that 14.5% of harmful emissions are caused by the livestock sector, specifically in the production of ruminant meat such as beef and lamb. Yet a major awareness gap exists. We as a people vastly devalue ruminant meat’s contribution to global warming. So fossil fuels are only half the story, the elephant in the room is the already massive and still growing meat production industry.

This industry could as much as double by 2050 as the world’s population increases to 9billion people[1] and would then constitute 76% of GHG emissions. Meat has long been a symbol of wealth in aspirational cultures, in the developed west, the UK and America specifically, beef and lamb consumption is the highest in the world, and China is hot on their heels. If the developing trend prevails then as more countries Westernise, the meat industry will expand. Due to the disregard of methane because of its relatively short half-life, a prominent radiative forcer is being overlooked. Methane has 72 times the heating potential of carbon dioxide over a 20 year period and warming from animal agriculture is almost equal to the warming from CO2 each year[2] [3]. If tackled, we could massively reduce the cost associated with curbing emissions.

The good which comes out of this realisation however is that the answer does not solely rely on the lumbering  bureaucratic institutions involved in COP-21, which have taken over two decades to begin to gain traction. Even if talks break down, or take another twenty years to recognise the importance of the meat industry in tackling climate change there are things you can do yourself which will ameliorate the issue.

The Climatarian Solution:

Australia is a country which is understandably wracked with internal debate on the issue of climate change. The estimated impact of climate change on Australia’s advanced economy is $8billion, higher than any other state. No wonder then that it is in Australia that a small NGO has developed an approach to meat consumption which tackles the problem head on.

Less Meat Less Heat are the inventors of the Climatarian diet which suggests a reduction of red meat consumption to 50grams a day, still within healthy guidelines but much more responsible in terms of environmental impact. In other words, eating lamb or beef only on special occasions if at all, and only then no more than once a week.

Mark Pershin, CEO of Less Meat Less Heat, says this:

“We are taking a pragmatic approach and thus not telling people to go vegan for the climate or even vegetarian. We want to engage the mainstream public who are mostly omnivorous”[1]

Finally, if we can recognise and combat ruminant meat’s negative impact on the environment, the gains are radical. In a report published by the Climate Health Alliance and The Climate Institute called ‘Our Uncashed Dividend: The Health Benefits of Climate Action’ a correlation is made in terms of economic prosperity, human health, and knock on benefits for cost savings in the health service[2]. Furthermore, a worldwide reduction of meat and dairy consumption to within healthy eating limits couldreduce the costsof staying within a 2°C climate target by50%[3].

Climate change is not a problem with a single solution, reducing the harmful by-products of the meat industry is an integral cog in a much larger machine. In the coming weeks nations should take up the challenge to tackle climate change at this year’s COP-21. More than that, in the months and years to follow hopefully they won’t be blinkered to the wider issues and will take up the Climatarian Challenge as well. If all else fails, the encouraging part of this is that change can come from below. You don’t have to rely on politicians for results, because little changes in your own lifestyle will make a big difference.


 



[1] Climate benefits of changing diet., Elke Stehfast, Lex Bouwman, Detlef P. Van Vuuren, Michel G. J . den Elzen, Bas Eickout, Pavel Kabat. Climatic Change, (2009), 95:83-102

[2] Solomon, S., Qin, D., Manning, M., Chen, Z., Marquis, M., Averyt, K.B., Tignor, M. and Miller, H.L. (Eds.) (2007). Contribution of Working Group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK & NY: Cambridge University Press

[3] http://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/

[4] Meat the Biggest Threat and Opportunity to Climate Change Written by Mark Pershin, Founding Director of Less Meat Less Heat, July 2015

[5] Our Uncashed Dividend The health benefits of climate action. A briefing paper prepared by the Climate and Health Alliance and The Climate Institute August 2012