Wednesday, April 20, 2016

So, what's your beef with climate change??

Over the years, I have blogged in plenty (like here) about the environmental impacts of the foods that we eat.  I have even made fun of ardent environmentalists who are not vegetarians, because of the huge environmental footprint meat has.  As if I needed more, the Economist provides this:
Overall the livestock sector accounts for between 8% and 18% of global emissions—about as much pollution as comes out the tailpipes of the world’s cars. Ruminant livestock, such as cattle and sheep, have stomachs containing bacteria able to digest tough, cellulose-rich plants. But along the way, huge volumes of gases are farted and belched too. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that the world’s domesticated ruminants annually release 100m tonnes of methane—a greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
So, what can a typical consumer do?  More research findings, please:
 A recent study also published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences calculated the benefits of low-meat and no-meat diets using computer models through to 2050. The former daily regime included eating five portions of fruits and vegetables, less than 50g of sugar, up to 43g of red meat and a total energy content of between 2,200-2,300 calories. A vegetarian diet and a vegan diet were also analysed.
 How do you think the vegetarian and vegan diets compared with the "non-veg" habits, with respect to GHG emissions?  You need to think big numbers. I mean, big:
Following a modest meat diet, global greenhouse gas emissions were found only to increase 7% by 2050 (compared with an expected increase of 51% according to projections from the status quo). A widespread switch to vegetarianism could curb emissions by nearly two thirds and veganism by 70%.
Reduce emissions by two-thirds should be a great selling point, right?  Add to the GHG reductions the health benefits from not eating red meat or the "other white meat."  And then overlay the bypassing of the ethical issues about how we kill animals, especially the low-footprint chicken.  Going vegetarian is a win-win-win all the way around, right?

Which is why I, too, am puzzled that "People Still Don't Get the Link between Meat Consumption and Climate Change"
People who already eat less meat may be more open to hear and retain information on the climate impacts of meat, while people who eat lots of meat may be more inclined to deny or downplay it. That is, behaviors may inform knowledge as much as knowledge informs behavior. And as many studies have shown, although knowledge is an important aspect of behavioral change, it alone is rarely enough for people to change their lifestyles. Changing behaviors as intimate and culturally engrained as people’s daily dietary habits therefore demands a careful consideration of the psychological and cultural dynamics at play.
So, what can be done?
the greatest potential for a shift towards sustainable lifestyles is through a change in culture and worldview—a shift in assumptions about human nature, our relationship with the (natural) world around us, and our aspirations for the ‘good life’. Food touches on social habits and norms; plays a role in mediating power and status; is often key to social participation and acceptance; and is expressive of collective values and identity. Consumption and lifestyles therefore tend to be shaped more by people collectively than individually. The most effective strategies thus engage people in groups, and give them opportunities to develop their understanding and narratives about food in dialog together.
Tough luck, given that the youth in even the traditionally vegetarian culture is rapidly taking up serious meat eating!


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