The global meat industry and climate change. And you.

I had to deliver a five minute persuasive speech at Uni today on a topic of my choice. I took the opportunity to do a bit of reading into the global impact of meat consumption on climate change. Genuinely shocked by what I read, I thought I’d share it with you.

When I was growing up, I didn’t think much about the environment. I didn’t have to worry about melting ice caps, rising sea levels or carbon emissions. As most of you probably were, I was gifted with clean air and water and always had enough to eat.

I’d like to hope that my children would grow up with the same privileges, but I am becoming more and more unsure that this won’t, that it can’t be the case. Why? Because we have been taking these things for granted for too long.

We now live within a cultural dialogue of climate change and global warming. They are inescapable realities that we can no longer ignore. Overwhelming scientific evidence indicates that climate change is both undeniably real, and largely irreversible.

We’ve all seen the devastating impact of droughts, floods, fires, earthquakes and tsunamis. Two close friends of mine narrowly escaped the Black Saturday fires, but watched their house burn down from the street while they held their baby who was unconscious in their arms. It was their first house, and they’d moved in three weeks before.

If you’ve had the feeling that these events seem to be getting more frequent, you’re not wrong. Climate change is linked to an increase in extreme weather patterns.

It’s also linked to a loss of glacial and arctic ice. Whilst this might not seem like much of a big deal, rising sea levels are actually pretty scary. Given that nearly a quarter of world’s population live in the near coastal zone, catastrophic is probably closer to the point.

So, you might ask: what is causing these changes? Well, scientists believe that it has to do with the increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases produced by human activity.

Now, we produce greenhouse gases through a whole range of activities. Transportation is a large contributor, but surprisingly only generates 13% of global greenhouse gases. Amazingly, worldwide livestock farming is responsible for around 18% of emissions. Can you believe that? 13% for cars and planes, compared to 18% for meat! The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimate this figure could be as high as 22%.

Why the meat industry? Well, meat production uses an extremely high amount of resources. Take water for example: 500L for a kilo of potatoes, or 100,000 for a kilo of beef. Between one third and one half of the world’s edible harvests are fed to livestock.

Then there’s methane (think: cow farts), which is 200 times more potent than CO2. It’s no wonder that meat produces such a high concentration of greenhouse gas.

And we’re sitting around waiting for politicians to come up with solutions, to put a higher tax on carbon and think of new ways to save the planet. But there are things we can do in the mean time. Eating less meat is the most obvious first choice.

The truth is, that eating a plant-based diet is the single most effective choice that an individual can make to reduce their carbon footprint.

Even reducing the serving size can make a difference. One serving of meat is only 110g, which is about the size of a deck of cards. 

Cutting down on meat is also good for your health. Famous Olympic athlete Carl Lewis switched to veganism more than twenty years ago and believes that it leads to improved athletic performance. As Carl says: “Your body is your temple. If you nourish it properly, it will be good to you and you will increase its longevity.”

As privileged members of developed society, we have an extreme amount of choice in where we get our nutrients. This freedom is not without responsibility. We must learn to balance this responsibility with our enjoyment, and think beyond the first world bubble.

We need to change our actions as well as our thought processes. I was babysitting my four year-old cousin a few weeks ago and as we were walking out of his bedroom he said to me, “We have to turn the light off or it will waste electric.”

My four-year-old cousin is more aware of conserving energy than my thirty-four year old friends. What happened in these thirty years? The world is changing rapidly, and this little boy represents our future, the future that we need to create in order to survive as a planet. We need to catch up with his way of thinking. We have to stop being the followers and start being the leaders.

I’m not saying that you need to become a vegetarian. I’m not even a vegetarian. I was for nearly ten years and now I eat meat about once a week. But we can make a difference by eating less meat. And we don’t have time to sit around waiting for politicians to come up with the solution. We need to starting acting now. It’s not up to them; it’s up to us.

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