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Meat: Not on the Menu of the Future says Lord Stern
Sarah Kuck, 28 Oct 09

meat.jpg Any passionate vegetarian can quickly tell you why eating meat contributes to global warming: methane from cow farts and carbon from deforestation for cattle land and cattle crops are a significant source (18 percent) of global carbon emissions.

Faced with facts like these, it's no wonder that that climate advocates, such Lord Nicholas Stern, are speaking out against eating meat. Recently Lord Stern told The Times Online:

"Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better...”

...“I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am 61 now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”

With views like this becoming more prevalent, the responsibility tipping point Lord Stern refers to may be closer than we think. Do you think being a climate conscious omnivore will be an oxymoron anytime soon? Is it already?

Image credit: Splorp, CC License

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Comments

I totally agree! People need to eat much less meat. I have been a vegetarian for the last 8 1/2 years and life is wonderful. I continue to encourage people to make the conscious decision to make the switch to vegetarian or at least cut down on their meat eating habits. Its much better for the environment not to mention their health..


Posted by: kate on 28 Oct 09

Motivated by environmental and animal welfare considerations, I've reduced the amount of meat I eat, partly by eating smaller portions and partly by replacing some meat-based meals with vegetarian dishes. However, I see some problems with Lord Stern's claims.

First, it's ruminant animals that produce most of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) Lord Stern refers to, and not all animals are ruminants (e.g. pigs, fowls and rabbits are non-ruminants). Second, research on rumen microbiology is progressing well and is likely to result in ruminant animals that produce very low levels of GHGs. Third, although water shortages are and will increasingly be one of the world's major environmental issues, water in some places is abundant and is unlikely to become scarce (e.g. the West Coast of New Zealand). Fourth, farming animals for meat does not necessarily require deforestation (countries like New Zealand produce meat without further deforestation). Finally, not all animals used for meat are deliberately farmed: some are pests, and when these are also ruminants, killing and eating them has substantial environmental benefits (e.g. feral deer in New Zealand eat native vegetation, contribute to accelerated erosion and produce GHGs).

In short, while reducing meat consumption in general would have advantages, generalisations are not appropriate. "Being a climate conscious omnivore" should NOT be an oxymoron anytime soon. Where I do strongly agree with Lord Stern is in his assertion that it's important for people to think about what they're doing.


Posted by: pohanginapete on 28 Oct 09

Vast quantity of methane is also produced by rotting vegetation. hmm. Perhaps we should stop eating fruit and vegetables too. We currently pay haulage to buy vegewaste from supermarkets who would normally put this stuff in landfill. We feed it to our farting cows. The fruit comes from cleared forests in third world countries. Just sayin.


Posted by: cyberdoyle on 28 Oct 09

Without policy changes, individuals cutting back on meat consumption will just make meat cheaper for others to eat. It's a version of Jevon's Paradox. Instead, tax carbon and methane production. Tax factory farms. That will raise meat prices for everyone, encourage organic meat production, and cut overall consumption.


Posted by: BlackSun on 28 Oct 09

Sorry to rain on the parade of my friends, but "there are people here among us who feel that life is but a joke", and unfortunately they are the ones who would eat you in a heartbeat if they had no other meat.

(Quote is from All Along The Watchtower, by Dylan).


Posted by: Dredd on 28 Oct 09

Thanks for this post. I used to eat red meat many times a week. Not only do I get tired easily and feel depressed, I also feel very heavy. I hate stairs, I don't like long walk and most especially I don't run. Somebody advised me to change my eating habit. It was not easy, but I did it anyways. I now eat white meat, more veggies and fruits and lots of drinking water. And then, there was a change, I'm happy, I'm smaller, I can go through the stairs, though I still prefer the elevator if there's any, I can run and I can do long walk. Most of all, I'm healthier. I'm doing this for my health and not for global warming. However if I am contributing to save the earth, then the more I should eat veggies.


Posted by: Rental Property Chicago on 28 Oct 09

All of the negative effects described above are not actually due to eating meat - they are due to intensive agricultural practices. But for a significant number of us to switch to a vegetarian diet, we're going to need intensive agricultural practices to grow food from those other sources.

Moreover, if you look back at our history, humans have been eating meat a lot longer than we've have been growing grains. What would probably be best is to return to a hunter-gatherer diet, with small amounts of meat and low-intensity fruits, vegetables, and grains.

But the population of the planet during the hunter-gatherer times (10000 BC) was estimated to be only around one to two million. We are now 6000 times bigger than that. In addition, low intensity agriculture and hunting is time-expensive. Most of us today don't have the hours needed to get our food that way.

Much as I agree that we need to try and curtail the negative effects of intensive agriculture, and that we could likely improve overall human health with a lower consumption of meat, we're not going to do it either by rolling back the human development calendar, or with simplistic approaches that ignore the fact that some form of intensity is needed to feed ten billion people. Pushing forward on those approaches without understanding the effects on the rest of the involved systems will not get us to stable and sustainable conditions in the near, or far, futures.


Posted by: Chris S on 29 Oct 09

Glenn Beck thinks this is a stupid idea. Enough said.


Posted by: MikeP on 30 Oct 09

Chris S said: "But for a significant number of us to switch to a vegetarian diet, we're going to need intensive agricultural practices to grow food from those other sources."

Remember that in almost all cases (the major exception being pasture-fed livestock), food needs to be grown to feed the animals we later eat. I seem to recall hearing that somewhere between 1/4 - 1/2 of all grain produced goes towards feeding livestock.


Posted by: Chris L on 30 Oct 09

The way we eat is a hugely important consideration for today's society in terms of health and environmental impacts. But i don't believe its time to give meat away altogether.

Yes western society needs to increase its fruit & vege consumption. Bowel and other cancers, heart disease, diabetes, mental health would all benefit from an increase in daily fiber intake. Eating vegetarian frequently is a way to accomplish this.

This of course needs to done in a way that doesn't repeat previous mistakes in terms of farming and land usage practices (caution: organic farming?) and the increase carbon cost of delivering these fruits and veggies.

How ever humans have evolved to eat meat. The latest research is starting to propose that many of our chronic diseases stem from lifestyle behaviors that are removed from our evolution (or ability of our evolution to catch up with our lifestyle) including diet (see www.lifestylemedicine.net.au/health-information/lifestyle-medicine-evidence-base/index.htm).

What im not saying is that not eating meat will make you sick - it will if not done properly. What i am saying is that we need to be conscious of our decisions ever more so than before to make sure the impact doesn't have a similar flow on effect as past decisions.

In Australia for example we have many, lean and healthy sources of meat, suitable to our evolutionary progression that is, at the current time, sustainable if done in the right way - ie Kangaroo (yes our national symbol!) and almost every other country has a similar opportunity.

In summary my point is i agree, people need to begin to consider what they are eating, and doing. I believe we need to be cautious of the ever present human trait of whole heartedly making change in the opposite direction to our current situation (a change that is more often than not un-sustainable).

Change is needed but in an integrative way that aims to combine the effect across many of our considerable challenges for our future



Posted by: Andrew Pitkin on 1 Nov 09

For a timely and compelling argument that's it's not meat per se but how - and where - we raise it that's the problem see...

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/31/opinion/31niman.html?scp=1&sq=grass%20fed%20beef&st=Search


Posted by: herb on 1 Nov 09

Presumably one should eat humans and solve all problems. The Chinese eat fetuses, full of fresh vitamins and minerals.

Since when is it clear that humans ate meat first and then fruit or veg? Even if true, how does it affect us now? If something was done long, its ancient origin is hardly a good reason for current destructive behavior.

Avoid ALL meat and dairy, eat locally, naturally grown grain, vegetables and fruit and put doctors and psychiatrists out of business. Probably columnists too.
Enjoy scenery, other humans, animals and simplicity. You then need less money and find you have plenty of time to laugh, day dream and to really love Gaia.


Posted by: bharati on 9 Nov 09

The idea that humans should just stop eating meat (& dairy) is the same mentality that got us here in the first place. All or nothing approach. The GFC is another example, economic growth above and beyond anything that is sustainable. If the entire population, or even half of it gave up eating meat tomorrow what impact would that have on the environment, our ecosystems & ultimately Gaia. One of the ideas of Gaia is that she will take action to protect herself if threatened, humans not eating meat would result in a drastic change possibly introducing another threat to Gaia resulting in Gaia taking another unforeseen step to protect herself. PLUS our health systems would buckle with the impact of humans avoiding eating meat or dairy without making up for the nutrient loss in other ways

I say it again, Change is needed but in an integrative way that aims to combine the effect across many of our considerable challenges for our future


Posted by: Andrew Pitkin on 10 Nov 09

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