Monday, August 10, 2015

What is a climatarian?

Alan passed me a call from the Climatarians and asked what I thought. They're a group within the Climates Network who are looking into mitigating global warming by changing what we choose to eat. They have a chart plotting 93 different food types against greenhouse gas emissions to illustrate their main point:
"Beef and lamb have about five times more climate impact than pork and poultry ... Food overall causes up to 30% of all greenhouse gas emissions so this simple change can have a big impact - and cutting down on red meat is good for your health too.”
By taking the most greenhouse-gas-emitting (cud-chewing, crop-consuming, methane-farting) animals out of our diets, Climates Network hopes to contribute to keeping global temperature rise below the critical 2 degrees beyond which the effects are expected to be catastrophic rather than just hard to manage.

I have a lot of time for Climates Network's pragmatism. I don't think any of their claims are wrong. If they figure people aren't going to stop eating animal then what they propose seems to be the most promising action on climate change. It's good to see them advocating "high welfare, organic, free range, pasture raised meat" for ethical reasons. Of course, because this more ethical meat is more expensive what they are basically implying is that we should eat less animal. But realistically this is the era of Aldidl and the expectation of cheap, so what they're recommending would likely see a spike in eating pigs, birds and fish. And although for the animals there's a world of difference between 'high welfare' and intensive agriculture, the growing body of evidence of higher order thinking in the animals we eat (self-awareness, reasoning, planning, complex emotions that we used to think were exclusive to humans) tells us that animal agriculture is cruel, ultimately.

So basically, presumably because Climates Network assume people are more likely to respond to a non-challenging, gradualist approach, they are suggesting a fudge. And talking of fudge, fairly low down the page they finally mention dairy foods. Milk products require humans to intervene to stop calves getting their mothers' breast milk so that humans can have it (why we, mostly adults, are consuming the baby milk of another species is a weird question I can't answer). Obviously that entails farming the greenhouse gas emitting female cows and killing the males off only when profitable. So Climate Network says a diet including chicken is more climate friendly than one including dairy.

And again, nearly at the bottom - which is presumably where they put the true stuff they think readers might find unpalatable up front - they mention vegan in these simple terms - "if you want to choose the best diet for the planet, go vegan". That's probably because a year's vegan diet requires 1/6 acre - 18 times less than a meat eating diet. In Barkingside we're very concerned about preserving green spaces, so we're bound to be impressed by this. And in Barkingside thanks to the religious eaters, healthy eaters and people with allergies, eating vegan is local, easy and enjoyable.

So, yes, every step counts, and yes, it's definitely not all or nothing - but don't let the Climatarians curb your aspiration to do more.

Just a bit on the effects of global warming - they're mainly to do with water or lack of water and take the form of melting ice, sea rises, floods, droughts and extreme weather. The effects are poverty, leading to mass migration, leading to conflict, death, and goodbye material security, welfare, civil liberties. The world is predicted to become an unrecognisably brutal place. My source for this is Nicholas Stern, author of a UK government report from the heart of the establishment. The effects will be irreversible but they'll also lag far behind the emissions and this is the cause of our current complacency. Yet in the decade or so since Stern the permafrost and polar ice have melted more quickly than expected, even though cleaner energy technology has also developed more quickly than expected. 

Given the major role of rich countries' diets in global warming, if we carry on like this the next generation may well have cause to think of ours as feckless squanderers of their legacy. After all, as well as emissions, animal agriculture is associated with rainforest destruction, wasting water (over half of total water use - for example, 900 gallons for a pound of cheese), wasting land (which can grow nearly 100 times more plant food than meat), wasting crops (50% of grain fed to animals), causing antibiotic resistance, causing deserts, and polluting land and ocean. 

So, take steps - if not for the animals then for the kids.


  1. What is the vegan view on meat-eating pets?

  2. Hello Anne,

    I can't justify meat-eating pet ownership. In the case of cats, my reasons are that their food is made out of meat with far lower welfare standards, and that they tend to be bad for wildlife if allowed to roam around outside (Australia's Threatened Species Commissioner is trying to get this outlawed and hopefully will succeed). I'm really upset by cats in my garden, where I try to attract wildlife with a bird feeder and pond. I don't blame the cats, but I feel really let down by their owners.

    Three of my vegan friends have or plan to have cats but I personally can't reconcile this with being vegan.

  3. I have never read such a load of codswallop in my life! Pure Jabberwocky. This is false global warming theory carried to Olympic standards (including, as always, the misuse of the word 'hopefully' which does NOT mean 'it is to be hoped'. It's an adverb, lady!) As a vegetarian I can think of nothing more satisfying than a world where people stopped eating dead animals but this is not going to happen any more than the ridiculous proposition that those same people should eat dead animals which are less damaging to the environment. You might as well attempt to stop cattle farting! Why not harness their output to replace the internal combustion engine? What an interesting exercise that would be - perhaps something for Dragons' Den? Would you put up the money Weggis and how much of the equity would you need? Look fellas,no petrol. Sorry about the smell.

    1. Do keep up Alfred.
      It's already being done, see the Daily Mail.

    2. Isn't the real issue the burgeoning human population? As a species we are too successful for our own good.

  4. No it isn't, B21. Not unless you've seen it in Barkingside High Street. Mind you I have spotted a few cars with a cow in the front seat - but perhaps we'd better not go into that.