Lord Stern has just given environmental leaders food for thought and an important topic to discuss at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen. A leading authority on climate change, Lord Stern recently told The Times, “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better”. He indicated that he favours significantly higher prices for meat and other foods that contribute to climate change.
A 2006 United Nations (UN) report revealed that the livestock sector generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars, trucks, trains, planes and ships in the world combined. The report attributed 18 per cent of annual worldwide greenhouse-gas emissions to cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other farmed animals, but new research from the Worldwatch Institute indicates that the figure actually could be much higher. According to Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, co-authors of “Livestock and Climate Change”, raising animals for food produces 51 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions.
The meat, egg and dairy industries are also responsible for heavy deforestation, and according to the World Resources Institute, deforestation is responsible for approximately 20 per cent of all greenhouse-gas emissions. As the world’s appetite for meat increases, countries around the globe are bulldozing huge swaths of land in order to make more room for animals and the crops that feed them.
If we are ever to halt climate change and conserve land, water and other resources –and reduce animal suffering – we must kick our meat habit. The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint”. Researchers at the University of Chicago in the US have determined that switching to a vegan (pure vegetarian) diet is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a gas-guzzling car to a hybrid.
When you factor in water and air pollution; the amount of water that’s squandered on animal agriculture (it takes more than 4,000 gallons of water per day to produce food for a meat-eater, whereas a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons of water per day); the energy it takes to operate factory farms, feedlots, slaughterhouses and trucks that transport animals; and all the edible crops that are used to feed animals instead of hungry, malnourished people, it’s easy to understand why going vegan is the best solution to our pressing environmental problems.
As the above-mentioned UN report concluded, the livestock sector is “one of the … most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”. The report also recommended that animal agriculture be “a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”.
Thanks to Lord Stern’s leadership, this issue may finally be addressed at the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference.
Ingrid Newkirk is founder and president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)