Climate Change / ILRI / Livestock

Stop eating meat and save the planet?

Delegates arriving at the gates of the climate conference in Copenhagen last month were met by women in furry animal suits holding placards showing pictures of lambs, cows and pigs and warning, “Don’t Eat Me.”

But the virtues of vegetarianism as part of the battle to curb climate change are far from being an issue just for the spiritually inclined.

Long before the summit meeting in Copenhagen, rising demand for meat and dairy products, particularly among the burgeoning middle classes in countries like China and India with fast-developing economies, meant that links between climate change and food policy were becoming an important element in the debate over what to do about the rising levels of greenhouse gases.

The issue appeared to have gained traction in the weeks leading up to the Copenhagen conference, with prominent figures from the worlds of science and entertainment stepping into the fray.

Speaking at the European Parliament in early December, Paul McCartney, a former member of the Beatles, said there was an urgent need to do something about meat production, not only because of its effects on the climate but also because of related issues like deforestation and ensuring secure supplies of water.

In fact, like a number of other areas of research in climate science, the greenhouse gas intensity of meat production is contested.

When a study in the November-December issue of the magazine World Watch claimed more than half of human-produced, planet-warming gases were caused by meat industries, a research group for the livestock industry countered that a study by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization already had shown that the relevant figure was closer to 18 percent.

The study published in World Watch failed “to enlarge on any counterfactuals, such as what a world without domesticated livestock would look like,” Carlos Seré, the director general of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, wrote to Green Inc. in November.

Read more … (New York Times)

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