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To Combat Global Warming, We Have To Eat Less Meat. Period.

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If you believe in global warming, and that people should take measures to limit its destructive effects, then you should also believe in eating less meat. Not no meat, necessarily (nobody is demanding you become a vegetarian), but less meat.

Photo Credit: Streetwrk via flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

The reason for this is abundantly clear: Satisfying the world's appetite for meat contributes to global warming in a massive way. More massive than most people realize, according to a new report from the non-profit, non-governmental thinktank Chatham House. Why don't more people understand the environmental impact of livestock? When it comes to global warming, meat is the pig, cow, and chicken in the room that nobody wants to talk about.


"There is a striking paucity of efforts to reduce consumption of meat and dairy products," the report reads. "A number of factors, not least fear of backlash, have made governments and environmental groups reluctant to pursue policies or campaigns to shift consumer behavior."

The Guardian's Damien Carrington summarizes some of the study's findings:

The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in [Chatham House's report] finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming.

"Preventing catastrophic warming is dependent on tackling meat and dairy consumption, but the world is doing very little," said Rob Bailey, the report's lead author. "A lot is being done on deforestation and transport, but there is a huge gap on the livestock sector. There is a deep reluctance to engage because of the received wisdom that it is not the place of governments or civil society to intrude into people's lives and tell them what to eat."

The recent landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that dietary change can "substantially lower" emissions but there is no UN plan to achieve that.


The article later points to two peer-reviewed studies that recently projected that, barring extreme cuts to existing trends in meat-consumption, "agricultural emissions will take up the entire world's carbon budget by 2050, with livestock a major contributor":

This would mean every other sector, including energy, industry and transport, would have to be zero carbon, which is described as "impossible". The Chatham House report concludes: "Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2C."

Emphasis added. Because damn.

One last thing, because it needs to be said again: Less meat does not mean no meat. "The research does not show everyone has to be a vegetarian to limit warming to 2C, the stated objective of the world's governments," said Bailey. Just balancing your diet – which, incidentally, would also reduce incidences of illnesses like heart disease – could have a huge impact. Says Brigitte Alarcon, sustainable food policy officer at WWF: "National governments should improve food education to encourage healthy eating habits and environmental sustainability as a first step."


For more analysis, visit The Guardian. Read Chatham House's full report here.