What has meat go to do with climate change? At first glance, not a lot. But dig a little deeper and you’ll soon find that the sharp increases in meat consumption in the last decade or two is a major contributor to the problem of climate change and global warming.
The solution is that people should eat less meat to help combat the effects of climate change, that’s according to Dr Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He argues that people should aim for one meat-free day a week, before scaling down their consumption even further.
“Give up meat for one day a week initially, and decrease it from there”, is Dr Pachauri’s advice.”In terms of immediacy of action and the feasibility of bringing about reductions in a short period of time, it clearly is the most attractive opportunity.”
Meat production is responsible for almost a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to UN estimates. This of course is very bad news for Ireland, with our large national herd. Cattle, in particular, emit methane which is 23 times more effective as a global warming agent than carbon dioxide.
Added to this is the fact that producing animal feeds is also harmful to the environment. Dr Pachauri (himself a vegetarian) said people needed to look at every aspect of the their lives in terms of its environmental impact. “We really have to bring about reductions in every sector of the economy.” It is reckoned that if the average Irish household halved meat consumption that would reduce emissions more than cutting your use of a car in half.
Dr Pachauri’s comments were quickly attacked by Labour’s Agriculture & Food spokesman, Joe Sherlock, who put out a press release yesterday with a headline that could have been taken from the Daily Mail or Sun. It screamed: “UN BARMY TO CALL FOR CURB ON MEAT-EATING”. Barmy? What an interesting choice of language from an Irish political party.
Feigning to speak up for the Little Guy, Sherlock says: “”Taken in isolation, this statement (by the self-proclaimed vegetarian Dr. Pachauri) will let industry off the hook and puts primary producers like farmers in the firing line in the war on climate change”. More loaded language here: “self-proclaimed vegetarian”. Dr Pachauri IS a vegetarian. It’s not something he needs to proclaim. Nor am I aware of it being something he or anyone else should feel embarrassed about, as Sherlock’s statement intimates.
From here, the Labour TD dives straight into the shallow end: “Such a statement is potentially damaging in that any attempts to curb food production at a time when food shortages still exist will have potentially negative consequences for global food security”. Of course, Dr Pachauri never suggested for a moment that we should ‘attempt to curb food production’; meat production is far more resource and emissions-intensive than producing grains, vegetables, etc. for direct human consumption, and unless he’s a total eejit, Sherlock must know this.
Of course what’s really going on here is Sherlock pandering to the Irish agriculture lobby, presumably getting his prompts from IFA headquarters on the Long Mile Road. “Everybody acknowledges the potential negative effects of methane from cattle, but to suggest that the world should reduce their meat consumption without assessing the need to implement other environmental measures is a ‘bats in the belfry’ notion. It is technically possible to reduce methane in cattle by organically adapting feed”, says Sherlock.
This is vintage waffle, in the vein of Homer Simpson suggesting that “somebody else does it” being the answer to all our woes. As I reported a couple of weeks back in my Irish Times column, the IFA appears to be wedded to the ‘climate sceptic’ camp, throwing its lot in with one contrarian scientist from the University of Alabama while ignoring the entire weight of published evidence produced by the IPCC across its four giant Assessment Reports spanning two decades and backed by all the major international scientific organisations.
Small wonder then Sherlock seems so comfortable taking cheap shots at the IPCC using the language of the tabloids (“barmy”, “bats in the belfry”) rather than addressing the serious and substantive point being made by the IPCC chairman. Sadly, his party colleague and Environment spokesperson, Joanne Tuffy seems to share Sherlock’s ‘sceptic’ stance, as evidenced by some of her recent statements.
How about “Blaming flooding on climate change is an insult to people’s intelligence” (August 19th); “GREENS USING CLIMATE CHANGE TO MASK FAILURE TO PROTECT ENVIRONMENT” (July 3rd). One of Tuffy’s earlier contributions was to ridicule Government plans to introduce low-energy lighting, despite this being the single quickest and least painful way for householders to both cut their electricity usage and save money. Tuffy bizarrely suggested that the heat emitted by (hugely inefficient) incandescent bulbs was in fact not waste but was helping to heat homes and offices.
Brilliant, except that during the summer, many offices have to use energy-hungry air conditioners to REMOVE the excess heat produced by energy-hungry devices such as incandescent bulbs. Tuffy was one of six policians who took part in a debate in the Cultivate centre in Dublin late last January, which I attended and recorded on video. Her performance that evening, which you can view on this video, speaks for itself.
Some day soon, perhaps, the penny may drop and Labour may recognise there are some issues that are simply too important for cheap political point-scoring. On recent evidence, that day is some way off.