Guest Post by Geoff Russell. Geoff is a mathematician and computer programmer and is a member of Animal Liberation SA. His recently published book is CSIRO Perfidy.
There’s a gross cognitive dissonance when a Government who professes to think that climate change is the defining issue of our generation can’t face down a few blustering cowboys. This is implied in the anouncement that agriculture will be omitted from the CPRS.
Well, that’s not quite true. Doing good things like planting trees will be rewarded by allowing farmers to sell pieces of paper called offsets. Doing bad things … like generating more warming than all our coal fired power stations, like causing 6,000 new bowel cancer cases annually, like giving teenagers athlerosclerotic plaques. These will also be rewarded in the usual way … by the traditional head in sand approach on the emissions and by medical subsidies while continuing to allow Meat and Livestock Australia to mislead the public without being bothered by silly inconveniences like truth in advertising laws. This is analogous to the time honoured principle behind handling the Global Financial Crisis, privatise the profits and nationalise the losses.
Recall that it isn’t very much of agriculture which is the problem, it isn’t the potato growers or the wheat millers, or the fruit and vegetable growers. Their emissions are tiny and we have no low emission alternatives to these foods when it comes to eating. Quantitatively, even the downstream food processors and transporters are relatively low in emissions. For new BNC readers let me just spell it out once more … suppose the emissions generated by making pasta were the equivalent of a car using 5 litres per 100 kilometers. What are the emissions generated by lean beef equivalent to? About 1000 liters per 100 kilometers. Would we allow cars that were so inefficient? Obviously our current Government would, at best, merely ask producers of such cars to join the other pigs at the free CPRS permit trough.
So out of the whole of agriculture, the big emitters are just the sheep and cattle boys and there’s not too many sheep boys left after a couple of decades of culling by market forces and cheaper (and sometimes better) fabrics. Like I said in the beginning its really just a few cowboys calling the shots. The interests of these cowboys so dominates the Australian psyche that Kevin Rudd seriously thought a few BBQs would heal the rift over the bashing of Indian students. Apparently neither he nor anybody in his office seemed to understand that asking Indian students home for slashed and seared roast religious icon between 2 slices of limp white bread substitute wasn’t going to be quite the winner on the sub-continent that it is in Australia.
Leading the charge for the cowboys these days is Australian of the Year in 2007, Tim Flannery. He was recently paid by Meat and Livestock Australia to speak at a meat propaganda forum for young students at Roseworthy agricultural college just out from Adelaide. ABC’s Bush Telegraph last week discussed the forum and featured Flannery not only discussing the sustainability of red meat but prophetically outlining exactly what Government policy should be. And so it came to pass, that before the sun rose and set a few more times, the deal was done and announced. Bush Telegraph did a follow-up program the next day featuring a rerun of Flannery’s statements and a response from philosopher and well known animal rights campaigner, Peter Singer.
Questioned about the livestock methane problem, Flannery was broadly dismissive, playing the but it’s natural card with a typical sloppy, unquantified and totally irrelevant truism:
red meat has been part of our diet for a very long time … there’s always been cows and sheep and other large herbivores on land burping and farting … they’ve been part of the natural system
Bush Telegraph played some choice comments at the end of the program from students who attended the forum and these indicated clearly that this truism had made a great impression. Perhaps BT can reinterview the students in 7 years time and see if the famous Jesuit maxim is true. The Australian version would be give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the red necked bigot.
Flannery’s truism probably conjures up images of huge herds of bison covering North America and massive herds of wildebeest blanketting the African continent. For many, wildlife documentaries have made such visions far more common than those of livestock. But this all too easy vivid image fails to capture the quantitative essence of the way livestock now dominate the planet having all but totally eliminated wildlife. It is precisely Flannery’s brilliant inspirational capacity as a speaker and author which makes his fundamentally woolly headed romanticism particularly dangerous.
Wildlife rates of conception, growth, and the like don’t match what can be achieved by artifical selection, artificial insemination, good fences, irrigated feed production, predator extermination and all the other paraphenalia of modern agriculture. These have produced a totally unnatural and unprecedented explosion in numbers of those animals which people have designated as livestock.
Consider the following table. The left side is from a 1994 paper estimating methane flows in the year 1500. It pulls together historical and ecological estimates of populations of relevant species and also gives an estimate of the human population of about 466 million. Rather less than the current 6.7 billion.
As you can see the estimates for wildebeest and bison in 1500 are dwarfed by modern populations of cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and even buffalo (mainly water buffalo).
The livestock population estimate on the right side of the table comes from a 2008 paper also looking at methane flows but which doesn’t deal with wildlife species. Where we have estimates on both sides of the table for a species the differences are stark. Run the numbers and you’ll see, for example, that the ratio of cattle to people has almost doubled. But despite this growth and the destruction of huge swathes of forest on most continents, beef provides just 1.3% of global food calories.
What the right side population numbers don’t show is the dramatic increase in the size and growth rates of some species. For example, while cattle outnumber pigs in the table, pigs provide 3 times more food calories than cattle … which is still not much food all of it causes bowel cancer. The pig industry output is due to huge increases in growth rates, with appalling consequences for breeding sows.
With cattle, the size increase has been dramatic. Indian cattle have a carcase weight averaging 100 kg, probably not too dissimilar to cattle in 1500, but the carcases of the feedlot monsters in many parts of the world tip the scales at 350 kilograms.
Chickens don’t appear in the table, they are insectivores rather than herbivores and the planet at any time has about 18 billion with most being now raised in factory farms regardless of whether it is in the developed or developing world. So, while it is true that there have always been herbivores, current livestock populations are unprecedented and these populations include insectivores like chickens and omnivores like pigs.
The total global livestock body weight combines the impacts of increased numbers with increasing sizes. Livestock’s Long Shadow gives a figure of about 700 million tonnes for the global livestock weight. What is the total weight of humans? About 330 million tonnes. Planet earth is clearly not the planet of the apes.
What is the impact of 700 million tonnes of livestock? Apart from a displacement of wildlife, a new WorldWatch report put the total impact of livestock on greenhouse gas emissions at about 51% of our global total. Can the feeding, fodder growth, irrigation for the fodder growth, fertiliser, watering, transport, slaughter, refrigeration, cooking of 700 million tonnes of livestock really be half the global total of our greenhouse gas impact on the climate? I’d say the biomass estimates alone make this plausible. Certainly the livestock of the rich outconsume and out travel many of the world’s poor. While I think it’s too early to judge the robustness of the WorldWatch number, I expect it will eventually be judged reasonably close to the mark.
But in Australia, the red necks are firmly entrenched and even our 2007 Australian of the Year puts BBQ protection ahead of saving the planet and gets paid for it.
114 replies on “Forget the quality, it’s the 700 million tonnes which counts”
While undeniably the contribution of livestock to the GHG issue is significant, those of us working towards a future that sees these gases under control have to pick our battlegrounds carefully lest we find ourselves spread too thin, or find ourselves with too many enemies. I my opinion we should leave the livestock issue be until we have the energy sector under control (converted to nuclear) and deal with it at a latter date.
I am not sure about Australia, but certainly in the US and Canada, the way seats in the various legislative bodies are assigned, gives rural voters far greater influence than their raw numbers would indicate, and they have shown the capacity to vote as a bloc when they feel their way of life threatened. Politicians ignore this constituency at their peril, and opposing their wishes is generally a career death sentence.
Best we should keep the focus on carbon based fuels for the time being.
I agree that the exclusion of livestock while allowing inflated carbon credits shows that the ETS has now become laughable. Anything but confront coal head on. However factors in play that may work against livestock farming include Peak Oil and Peak Phosphorous. That may force food production to become more local and nutrient conserving. Feeding of grain to large animals will become taboo. Having worked as a stablehand in racehorse stables I predict that industry will decline as well.
My fear with some alleged carbon sinks (eg no tillage cropping) is not only will they ignore associated on-farm emissions of N2O and CH4 but they will downplay off-farm inputs like fertiliser and tractor fuel. Often they will overlook the fact the carbon storage effect is temporary since decay, drought, disease and fire may send the carbon back into the atmosphere. The whole thing is dodgy and yet another form of rural handout.
Fortunately petroleum will take soon care of itself with the crude oil depletion rate currently at 6% a year. Whether this will drag down coal demand is not yet clear. Probably not fast enough. While they evidently don’t give a damn about heatwaves when the fossil economy falters politicians will become panic stricken. The need for quick fixes and giveaways may mean there is neither the political will nor monetary capital for major projects like nuclear.
DV82XL: Hansen’s 2007 Trace Gases paper
makes a pretty good case that CO2 reductions are not enough, no matter
how extreme. Of our current forcings, CO2 and CH4 are about equal.
Why CO2 dominates in the usual diagrams is that CO2 from 200 years
ago is included. The reason that livestock emissions look “low” in
diagrams like the WRI diagram Barry added to this post is that the historical
CO2 emissions from land clearing are ignored. One of the huge livestock
emissions never included in such accounts is the foregone
sequestration that would be possible by allowing
the land historically cleared for livestock to revert to forest. Its tough
to put a number on but it is huge. 70% of all clearing in Australia has been
Like I said Geoff, it’s not that I think this isn’t a problem, or that it is something that we can sweep under the table, but just as a pure tactical consideration, I personally don’t think that we can take on this group and fossil fuels at the same time. However I am willing to be corrected if you or someone else can suggest a way this can be done without causing the agricultural community and consumers to jump down our throats.
In the fight against combustion as a prime energy technology we can offer nuclear, guaranteeing that there will not be a drop in the standard of living or major lifestyle changes. In fact, this is out trump card in that debate. On the issue of reducing meat production, the upshot will be that flesh on the table will be a luxury and thus could only be consumed at current rates by the well to do, and this will be a very hard sell, particularly in the English speaking world.
So while I understand the problem and agree that it should be addressed, I am not aware of any politically and socially acceptable solutions beyond education, which is never that effective.
Fabulous piece Geoff.
I absoultely agree.
We ought to attack the whole feed the man meat thing with the full arsenal — GHG-abatement, biodiversity, revegetation, animal cruelty, global equity, health issues …
I read somewhere that 25% of the populations of the rich Gulf oil states have adult onset diabetes due to poor diet. It just goes to show what (metaphorically) eating all that crude oil can do.
The meat eating angle is silly other than an educational issue. It’s totally an individual choice backed up by huge social and cultural values which simply do NOT change because some one makes a good intellectual argument.
I also think it’s a humago destraction over the real issues such as coal and gas burning, gasoline usage, that have to approached with a realistic susititionist method. For example, suggesting people not drive their cares is an individual solution that requires total buy in. This of course will not happen. How about mass transit? Again a buy in that requires a catholic response, not gonna happen. How about we develop a mass transit infrastructure that includes very cheap fares. I’d be for this, but it is a long term solution, not an immediate one. How about we develop synthetic fuels and electric vehicles all of which are essentially carbon neutral? B I N GO! It doesn’t require a *cultural* shift to do this. People get to keep their cars, are offered virtually no change in their lifestyle and yet a huge carbon sink is created.
Eating meat…to not eating meat, isn’t so easy. And it’s highly unlikely it ever will be. The Berlin Wall was brought down in large party by the strike by Polish workers years earlier. Their strike for freedom included, among other things, more meat. Live with it and find *other* solutions that don’t require every one to buy in to what are socialized cultural changes.
People might be able to accept the message “eat less red meat if you want to help curb greenhouse gases”; they are also receptive to arguments that animal husbandry practices can be cruel and need changing. But to start talking about how all red meat consumption is going to give you cancer or a heart attack: it smells like fanaticism and the message will be ignored.
David: If people marketted a 7400 watt plasma computer screen or
a Hummer that used 1000 litres per 100 kms, would you allow this to
go untaxed, or worse, subsidised? The decline in smoking rates shows
what can be done with the simple strategy of banning dishonest
advertising and funding quit campaigns. This began in
earnest a couple of decades after the health science was settled. The
health and environmental science on meat has only been settled about
5 years now … which doesn’t mean the health debate doesn’t have
its own Plimer’s to deal with :), but we can’t really afford to wait 20 years.
My view is that the health message is a good tactical tool, others think
that the methane/deforestation/biodiversity argument is better because it
is a no-brainer.
I keep linking to Hansen’s trace gas paper because it puts the case
pretty well. We have to control CO2 for long term stability, but there
are few short or medium term forcing gains. To get these, and we
need them, we have to look at methane, black carbon, and a few
others. Livestock is a major source of black carbon and methane.
On a daily basis I meet people who have changed their diet dramatically during the past few years. This tells me that mass buy in is possible with
the right encouragment, because changing diet is much easier than, for
example, switching from a car to a bicycle. Google “More doctors smoke
camels”. This ad comes from an era when the tobacco industry owned
many in the medical establishment. Currently the meat industry owns
many in the health sciences establishment. Truly independent
nutritionists like Marion Nestle and Rosemary Stanton are a rarity.
Global warming is just one of a number of big problems darkening
the horizon. Peak groundwater, phosphorus, petrol,
gas and soil are a few others. Hugh Possingham thinks biodiversity
will be the BIG issue (and he’s also an example of someone who has
made pretty big dietary changes on environmental grounds).
Because food choices dominate our interface with planet earth,
they are crucial to all these problems.
Thanks Jade, yes the whole “feed the man meat” needs to be demolished
along with the Marlborough Man. I have plenty to say about the
protein myth in perfidy (http://perfidy.com.au).
DV82XL, I think this is a case where there is no tactical penalty, because the battlegrounds are different and the opposing interests are different, and the advocates are different.
I think, for instance, you would find most vegetarians advocate going meat free on the basis of cruelty, ethical or health considerations, and they’re already fighting their own battles with meat producers, fast food chains and consumer lifestyles etc. I don’t think supporting this dilutes the attention of energy activists. It adds.
And it should be supported (David Walters) even if you don’t give up meat yourself, and even if the endpoint is not a completely vegetarian society. I can’t see why encouraging people to merely reduce their meat intake is not a worthy goal. Its low hanging fruit (or sausages). If people were to just halve the amount of meat they eat, that would be a great gain in terms of greenhouse emissions, and would not provoke a social uprising.
I noticed the UK recently had an initiative along the lines of encouraging people to adopt a “Meat-Free Monday”. I think this is a brilliant idea. On the one hand, there’s a 15% reduction in meat consumption. On the other hand, it gives people a day in the week to give their attention to creating a meat free meal, which is a learning process. It gives them the skills to cook without meat. And it means they don’t have to self-identify as a wacky vegetarian, they just eat less meat. Its no more socially objectionable than, say, fish on friday, and in terms of it being a change in lifestyle, its an easier ask than most such things.
@John D Morgan
Perhaps you are correct in that there are avenues to work on this without interfering in the energy/climate debate and that of course is the point I was trying to make about tying this to the GHG issue.
While I am not a vegetarian, I have never consumed much meat as a matter of preference rather than commitment. Certainly it would be better on many levels if Western civilization weaned itself off its gluttony for flesh. But at the same time I recognize that in many ways this is going to be a harder fight than breaking our addition to fossil fuels, a cause that I am more committed to. I just see no benefit at this time for bringing the livestock issue into the GHG debate, lest we complicate the legislative battleground and things grind to a halt.
Fantastic post Geoff Russell, thankyou.
I think the table you included says it all. While I admire and respect Professor Flannery, it really puts the “it’s natural” argument into perspective.
Yet another interesting follow up discussion here on BNC so far, with some good points raised. I think, however, that Geoff is 100% correct when he makes the critical point that emissions reductions in the energy sector alone aren’t enough. Focussing on emissions reductions in the energy sector really is the easiest part of tackling anthropogenic climate change. This is certainly NOT to say that this is an EASY task, per se, but it’s not enough by itself. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point in transforming the entire world’s energy supply to nuclear, whilst allowing run away climate change to occur due to other factors.
How we go about making these changes effective is a discussion to be had, but I certainly don’t believe that encouraging/promoting less meat consumption (particularly beef) is counter-cultural. Promoting fanatical vegetarianism probably is, but I don’t think that’s point.
We have two strains of thought here. One considers taking *action* against meat eating like taxing a Hummer. Others think that educational values are important, including using the example of anti-smoking campaigns partly as evidence. Others believe that a moderated educational campaign that can persueade many, some, of the great health benefits of *less* meat is worthwhile.
I’m certainly in the latter camp. My family and I eat red meat about 2 times a week. The rest of the time it is fish, chicken, or like tonight, I made a rather nice goat cheese eggplant and zucchini lasanga mix.
The reason I very much reject the first approach is that one cannot make a societal regulation on eating meat since most people where this would take place eat a lot meat. While most people recognize the harmful effects of smoking, this has been an over 30 years campaign! It took that long and, more importantly, it took a lot of buy in for this to occur. It has generally worked albeit there are a lot of people who still smoke and NO ONE is talking about banning it. As it became a smaller and smaller % of the population that still smokes, it because easiest to throw more regs and, taxes, on it. We are not talking SUVs or Big Screen TVs, we are talking food…and food people really, really enjoy.
So at *best* I can only see an incremental, meaning “meaningless” number of people over many decades abandoning meat altogether. In fact, people do eat lest red meat and of course that is a good thing not a bad thing. But I simply don’t believe that addressing this as some overriding answer to climate change is going to effect a thing.
I used to look forward to the day where the emotive issues of meat could be put aside, and a tax/carbon price would introduce an economic price signal allowing people to choose whether or not to eat meat knowing that the carbon emissions of the meat were included through the price – especially under a cap and trade where the price required purchase of a carbon right, with the sum of those rights adding up to the acceptable limit of carbon emissions.
So…in looking at the chart on top that shows %s of GHG emissions…cattle/livestock is…5.1%…only? That’s not that much, is it?
I think, perhaps, the more related and certainly bigger % is land use. In fact the cutting down of forests for….soybeans production (some of which is fed to cattle) is more interesting and perhaps more able to be regulated.
The chicken argument may be incorrect. Free range chickens, just like wild boar, don’t “accumulate” feces. The feces pons from both mass produced checks and pig feedlots is absolutely huge. Once these animals defecate, they keep on giving by continual methane production as their feces breaks down. I’ve seen some solar magazines that show some quite large farms running off the methane captured from pick and chicken feces.
I suspect Geoff that the measurement of methane from animals is based on the direct flatulence and on decaying feces.
Just a thought.
As I see it David, you are arguing that one cannot walk and talk and chew gum at the same time. I happen to believe that this is possible, particularly if the activities are part of a single theme.
It’s more satisfying to be logically consistent. If one argues for nuclear power to stop/reduce CO2 emissions then it also makes sense to walk to your local shop rather than firing up the car. But if the emissions associated with firing up the car are exceeded by the emissions associated with the spare ribs you buy at the shop, then as you walk to the shop and consider the health advantages of shank’s pony you might consider also the health advantages of a nice lentil and vegetable soup with a side order of wholemeal bread. And of course when you realise that this will demand less cruelty to animals and less deforestation, you can feel even more wholesome.
Will the day ever come when 100% of people stop torturing animals and harming the environment to produce cost-effective bioavailable protein? Almost certainly not. But even if 10% of those who are doing it now stop, that would be progress and would spread the burdens of abatement amongst a larger set of human activities allowing us to do more at no greater cost.
Steve: 6000 new bowel cancer cases annually in Australia attributable
to eating more than 1 red meat meal per week. That’s a Graham Giles of
Cancer Council Victoria calculation … not mine. How many of the
40,000 major heart procedures annually are due to meat (not just red
meat)? At a rough guess based on populations
which don’t eat much meat, the proportion would be 80-90%. Based on
lifetime risk about half a million of todays 22 million Australians will get
bowel cancer from red meat. Which of course means 21.5 million won’t. Is
it alarmist and fanatical to cite the best available figures? The age on
Monday carried a pretty normal article on fish:
Absolute junk science trash … how can Aussie children be “desperately
short” of omega-3s via fish when many of the world’s population
eat zero sea food and IQs have been rising for several decades despite
static or declining fish intake. There is a well orchestrated campaign by
the omega-3 industry (which includes Meat and Livestock Australia) to fund this junk and an ignorant media just lap it up. This makes people who
value accuracy and evidence sound like fanatics.
I’m only arguing what will work. What will work is if we switch to abundant, reliable low-carbon nuclear energy. That’s doable. Changing everyone’s eating habits is not.
Unfortunately these discussions have a tendency to slide into moral/ethical arguments and I-know-what’s-good-for-you hectoring without generating any new ideas.
Those that wish to see a reduction in the consumption of meat would do well to avoid the path of self-righteous ascendancy and help find a way to sell this. For example what is the state of high tech meat substitutes, are there better breeds of animals, different feeds that will help ameliorate the GHG issue, or other ideas along those lines.
I happen to like tofu, but it is certainly not widely advertised; is there any leverage to be had taxing fast food places that serve meat, or other social engineering initiatives that would help.
This whole notion of reducing the production of meat cannot be carried out by nagging and appeals to concern about the animals (and yes I know it’s horrid) but by offering palatable options – no pun intended – to the public.
I agree with you on this David, up to a point. I don’t believe you can change peoples eating habits wholesale. But I do think that you can shift it by degrees, and I think there’s the potential for measurable improvements by doing so, and so we should encourage it as fervently as possible. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.
The last time I checked, Australia had around 125 million cattle and about 87 million sheep, a reduction to past years. Livestock occupy some 57% of Australia’s land mass and arable land is about 6.25%.
There is considerable literature on the impacts on arid lands from cloven hooved animals and Australia’s soil is in a poor state – with serious salinity problems.
The solution could be to increase intensive farming, however there are moral, hygenic and health issues in intensive farming, which people find objectionable.
Another issue of concern is that high producing lactating cows can require between 80 to 120 litres of water a day.
MLA has an extremely sophisticated PR system and go to great lengths to encourage other nations to eat Australian meat too. Historically some of those nations were small meat consumers so we can thank MLA for educating them in the Western way.
Perhaps we need to be encouraged to at least reduce our meat consumption before there’s any significant increase in Australia’s population and before Mother Nature does it on our behalf.
Webs and Weavers: Happily it isn’t 125 million but about 28 million.
David Walters: on free range livestock. From an animal welfare
perspective free range livestock are a wonderful improvement
on factory farms. From a climate change perspective, I doubt there
is any gain. Free range cattle produce far more methane. The
ratio of manure management methane to enteric fermentation is about
1 to 10 … so those huge revolting pig cess pools are small bickies next
to ruminant methane.
David: 5.1% of global emissions for a food that produces 1.3% of global
calories? Sounds a lot to me. But the forcing from the emissions is
about 3 times higher (not 3×5.1% because other things get
ratchetted up also). See also my comment on “foregone sequestration”
Oops sorry about that Geoff Russell – I should have checked my literature.
Did I read somewhere that cattle emit more methane when fed on grain?
I’m not sure I understand what you mean by the “forcings” from the emissions? Greenhouse potency? Longevity?
I have found your last two posts very interesting and informative. My problem is that I am the polar opposite of an animal liberationist and therefore have strong desire to discount everything you write. For example, I consider that “factory farmed” (pejorative) animals in developed countries experience better welfare standards than most free range stock and my mind can’t help recoiling in revulsion at the mention of Peter Singer. That having been said, I think you make several very valid points on the subject of agriculture’s impact on global warming and would like to engage you on that subject.
There seem to be two issues of concern – land clearance (including deforestation) to accommodate increased livestock production (directly or for production of their food) and atmospheric methane releases from the mouths of ruminants.
I found your figure that contrasted human and other biomass in 1500 and 2004 to be very interesting and it answered an unanswered question that I raised in response to your previous post. Thank you.
Now I would like to ask further questions:
1) Which is the better long term carbon sink – grassland or woodland?
2) Which has the higher albedo?
3) Biodigestion or incineration of animal manure are a ways of substituting carbon neutral energy for fossil fuel energy. To what extent does this mitigate the adverse impacts of excess livestock?
4) Phosphorus from animal manures is recycled. Much human- consumed phosphorus is currently lost at sea. What are your recommendations for dealing with peak phosphorus? Arable farming depends upon harvested nutrients being replaced – currently with fossil-fuelled inorganic fertilisers. Without them, there would be considerably less than 6.7 billion people on the planet. It might be possible to revert to organic farming if global population reverts to less than half its current level.
5) You correctly state that much arable land is used for the production of animal feed. Despite that and many hungry people in the world, cereal growers in many parts of the world are making trading losses. If all cereal production went for direct human use, prices might initially collapse but the hungry wouldn’t benefit in the long run because one can’t produce anything for very long if it involves losing money. Would you therefore subsidise farmers to produce and distribute food at a loss?
6) If you selected that way of feeding the needy, how would you ensure that it doesn’t lead to what has happened in the past – the breeding of more needy and further human overpopulation replacing current non-human animal overpopulation?
7) What would you recommend doing with grazing land not currently suitable for arable production? In terms of companion animals, only ruminants can exploit it. It could, of course, be forested or left fallow for wildlife to exploit. Would you compensate farmers when suggesting they adopt a less immediately profitable form of land use or merely penalise them if they didn’t?
My questions are not entirely rhetorical. You are making sound points in principle which require serious consideration. However, the actions needed to address them (other than exhortations to consume less meat) are not easy to address. It is more easy to understand why you are spooking hapless, hard working and far from prosperous farmers who are currently bewildered that their incomes are reducing in a hungry world when they might have expected to have felt increasingly needed.
I also have a gut feeling that you may be over-simplifying and hence exaggerating the adverse impacts of agriculture on the carbon cycle, just as advocates of renewables have over-hyped their benefits. I lack the necessary expertise to say other than that. It is probably arising from my suspicion that your animal liberationist views might be playing a subconscious role in your agenda.
Finally, I get a bit distressed when big issues are made over bowel cancer (or lung cancer for that matter). We all have to die of something and the planet is overpopulated. Is everyone determined to live to or beyond a ripe old age with ever increasing prospects of dementia? Is this our personal definition of sustainability?
Doug Wise …
Well you may “consider” it but you’d be uttering an absurdity — something that would be plain if you visited a typical piggery or CAFO or commercial chicken farm.
I totally agree with DV82XL
We will lose the war on global warming issue by venturing into agriculture territory. It is easy to alienate people when you try to demand too much from them.
Soon we will hear people saying that those pro nuclear activists are a bunch of idiots who are trying to tell us to stop eating meat.
If you want to attack agriculture sector for GHG reduction or try to change human habits, do it in some other way on another blog not related with nuclear energy agenda. I know this blog is all about climate, however, spreading the issue too thin will accomplish very little.
We are already losing the climate war because we do not concentrate on one issue at the time.
re # 35591
Alas, Dear Jade, you are so certain in your views that you know mine are absurd. You therefore assume that, had I ever visited either a pig farm or poultry unit, it would instantly become obvious to me that I had made a stupid remark .
As I am an ex pig farmer and ex veterinary consultant to the poultry industry, you will now appreciate that I’m not just stupid but a shill for the intensive livestock sector as well. I have also bred animals for research and received several bomb threats so I am quite familiar with the animal liberation movement and its sanctimonious adherents.
If you really wish to become informed, I suggest you study a few texts dealing with comparative neuroscience and learn that anthropomorphic interpretation of animal behaviour gives a pooor insight into animal feelings or welfare. Alternatively, should you wish me to send you some of my own writings on the subject, post your e-mail address and I will send samples. To carry on here would be inappropriate because we are off topic.
I have just finished reading the cite you gave relating to population numbers and biomass in the 1500s.
It seems per capita meat consumption and anthropogenic methane emissions were greater then than now.
Given that the companion animal to human weight ratio is currently in the order of 2:1, it was almost certainly far greater than that in the past, given the magnititude of wildlife destruction in the interim. (Note that the author was concerned with minimum emissions and omitted many ungulates from her balance sheet).
Perhaps Flannery is right after all and that meat eating is natural. Surely, what we should be worrying about is the fourteen- fold human population increase in 4 centuries. If we could get back to the levels of 1500, we could not only live off the hog’s back, we could eat as much beef fillet as we desired as well and still leave plenty of space for other species. I am, of course, discounting the moral abhorrence of killing these other species for the pleasure of eating them, when, instead, we could all become happy little vegans so long as we remembered to dose up well on synthetic B12.
Yet human life spans continue to rise. The fact that Americans, of ALL people, with their terrible dietary habits, live some of the longest lifespans, is just plain insane. Of course that has a lot to do with the medical R&D that has allowed the generally unhealthy Yankee human stock to live well past what their ailments would natural dictate.
Cancer, BTW, is a *terrible* way to die. This in no way is a means for nature to make a lower population. So I’m all for solving it by holistically (better air to breath by loosing fossil fuels and better diets with less, but not eliminate, red meats. Again a very PERSONAL choice) and through modern medicines.
I have little tolerance for Animal Lib types. They are totalitarian monsters who place equal signs between us and animals. It’s a losing discussion to even engage in the ‘moral’s discussion as these sort of discussions never go anywhere. I’m alive because a lot of dead horses provided their adrenal glands for my survival. I’m glad there are substitutes now. But the philosophy of Animal Lib types are down right reactionary in *many* cases.
Australia is odd because it produces so much wool and live stock. The US, I believe, has one beast for every two people, I think. The Malaysians have developed an amazingly sustainable, almost natural way of ‘feed stocking’ live stock via their amazingly fast growing, carbon eating grasses, which can yield about 4 crops a year. It’s called “deep tropical” farming. It doesn’t avoid methane production, per se, but it’s interesting in terms of *increasing* protein production.
One hardly has to go vegan to reduce your GHG footprint. All you have to do is substitute pork and chicken for beef and lamb.
Australians also have the options of eating Kangaroo meat. Kangaroos don’t produce methane like cows do and some environmentalists have suggested switching from cattle to kangaroos.
Chickens, especially are amazing protein factories. They can raise a broiler chicken in 6 weeks with current technology. That is going to be hard to beat until they come up with carniculture vats like I read about in science fiction novels and can produce meat without the animals.
Also, on a hearts and mind note; calling people “red necks” doesn’t seem like a good idea. I don’t know how it goes over in Australia, but in the United States it sounds elitist.
TeeKay: For an explanation of methane forcing see:
David: “We are not talking SUVs or Big Screen TVs, we are talking food…and food people really, really enjoy.” Perhaps you and I live on different
planets, on my planet men … well REAL men anyway, really really
enjoy SUVs and big TVs. For more than a few of these, food certainly must
be meat, but provided it looks like meat and is suitably fatty, salty and covered in tomato sauce, it may as well be cardboard.
Frank Kandrnal said:
“We will lose the war on global warming issue by venturing into agriculture territory. It is easy to alienate people when you try to demand too much from them.
Soon we will hear people saying that those pro nuclear activists are a bunch of idiots who are trying to tell us to stop eating meat.
If you want to attack agriculture sector for GHG reduction or try to change human habits, do it in some other way on another blog not related with nuclear energy agenda. I know this blog is all about climate, however, spreading the issue too thin will accomplish very little”
I agree strongly with this statement. World Trade Agreements are continually stalled, delayed, blocked by countries’ agricultural industries’ special interests. In the negotiations for every GATT agreement the French farmers have blocked reduction in protection for agricultural products. All,countries react strongly against any perceived risk to security of food supply.
I strongly endorse Frank’s recommendation. Let’s focus our effort on where we can have the greatest effect most quickly – reducing the emissions from burning fossil fuels.
“I don’t know how it goes over in Australia ..”
Geoff, I strongly support your position that we should reduce our meat consumption for GHG and other reasons. But when you headline an article like your previous submission, it indicates to me a conscious decision to convey insult. Let me know how that works out for you as a communications technique. It certainly puts me right off.
Like they say, you catch more flies with honey.
Well, the BNC tradition of providing controversial content continues, I see! My view is close to that of Joel and somewhat similar to Douglas.
I’m not going to stop eating meat on ethical grounds, as I have no qualms with humans being omnivorous. I’ve gone hunting (with shotguns, rifles and bows), I’ve trapped wild game (mostly rabbits), caught and eaten lots of fish, and if I went camping, would have no worry about hunting and trapping for my tucker. I also have only a very limited concern with the risk of bowel cancer from red meat — most foods we consume elevate risks somewhat, as to many other activities that we accept as unavoidably part of life.
That said, I do eat less far red meat now (I don’t exclude it), because I acknowledge its strong link to GHG emissions via methane and deforestation. Chicken, pork, fish, kangaroo, eggs etc. all fine with me. Also cheese is something I cannot live without.
But we cannot sweep this sizeable red meat related chunk of the emissions reduction problem under the carpet. Together, they (methane + livestock-related deforestation) constitute about a fifth of all the emissions we must eliminate (the rest of the land use change and agriculture emissions come from nitrous oxide, transport and machinery etc). 1/5 of global GHG emissions is significant.
We can’t ignore this, and so to focus just on a single issue, like nuclear power, would be disingenuous. Although electricity, industrial and transport demands constitute the single biggest piece of the puzzle, solving it alone cannot provide the complete solution we (I) seek.
Well I’m pretty much sitting in the area occupied by Barry, Douglas and and DV82XL. Coming at this from an animal lib perspective is going to be an epic fail, these arguments haven’t gone anywhere in soceity in many years. As a farm boy, I know that they’re badly overblown, and also that life in general is tougher and harder for everyone than these arguments pretend. There are greater injustices in the world than mulesing (such as flystrike).
I eat meat and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. But I’ll eat less and less, more will be ‘roo, and I’ll pay a premium for meat that comes from research that controls methanogenic bugs.
I am quite dissappointed to see Tim Flannery both taking the money (amount unstated) from the Meat and Livestock industry and running such an obviously false argument. Farming should be in the ETS. There is nothing natural about modern intensive agriculture.
As for meat, I went (mostly) vegetarian over ten years ago and haven’t missed it. I still have a small amount of fish each week but that is all. The taste, quality and variety of vegetarian food these days is amazing. The real fear of the meat industry is that if people tried the alternatives, they might find they liked them.
Another controversial area that has so far been avoided is energy demand management. It could conceivably outperform renewables in the sense that if tough enough it could reduce the need for say 30% of current fossil fuelled energy supply. I see little evidence that renewables could permanently achieve that in a short time frame if ever. The writing is already on the wall for DM with Victoria’s proposed rollout of smart meters and talk in Adelaide of remote switching of air conditioners. We might even have petrol ration cards in a few years.
As with meat eating the idea is that we should consume less. I don’t think Joe Public wants to hear that message yet it must be ‘part of the mix’. I think the main message for now must be that coal has to go a.s.a.p., gas is an expensive and inadequate alternative and renewables won’t get there.
John Morgan: The “Rednecked Aussie Greenies” headline was
intended to shock, but I’ve tried softly softly with green groups for years.
If this had worked, I’d have stuck with it.
When someone criticises me and
strikes a nerve, my immediate response isn’t good. But once I calm down, I’ll
think about their point and, if they have one, I’ll change. We are all in
the big school now, we have to, at least, make decisions based
on rational criteria, not on who called us names or didn’t sit with
us on the bus. I think pain and suffering matters, be it human or
non-human. This is what drives my concern for global warming.
Peter Singer appreciated the ethical implications of AGW in the
early 1990s, way before me … perhaps he knew that
14 million cattle died in Gujarrat during the 1986 El Nino.
Barry Brook said:
I’m not going to stop eating meat on ethical grounds, as I have no qualms with humans being omnivorous. I’ve gone hunting (with shotguns, rifles and bows), I’ve trapped wild game (mostly rabbits), caught and eaten lots of fish, and if I went camping, would have no worry about hunting and trapping for my tucker.
With respect, Barry, that misses most of the point. The point is about the industrial production of meat. If all the meat sourced by humans were acquired only in this way there would not be a problem either with GHGs and animal cruelty would be a quite minor thing compared with now.
But that’s not how things are done. Turning meat supply into an industrial activity makes it an utterly different thing from what went on in the early holocene.
What do you suppose would happen if it became illegal to transport livestock or their carcasses more than 50 kms and not in refigerated vans or to refrigerated locations? What if it became illegal to agist livestock or to operate an abbattoir or to sell it in any food outlet?
Yes, people could still eat meat, but would they? Rarely. Obesity and adult onset diabetes would become historical curiosities. Much of the nitrite, pesticide and aother chemical run off into waterways and water supplies would vvanish and children would be healthier. Tjhat algal bloom in the Gulf of Mexico? Gone. We would shake our heads in amazement at the horrendous practices towards industrial animals in bygone days. And a huge swathe of land currently occupied supplying food to livestock could be returned to its natural state or used for something productive rather than something destructive.
Everyone would be a winner.
“What do you suppose would happen if it became illegal to transport livestock or their carcasses more than 50 kms and not in refrigerated vans or to refrigerated locations? What if it became illegal to agist livestock or to operate an abattoir or to sell it in any food outlet?”
Good luck with that Jade. A statement like that falls into the same class as ones that accurately point out that if most stopped having children, the population would decline, and the human race would benefit.
The point is not if it would be, or not be beneficial to reduce the production and consumption of meat – let us take that as a given. The problem is how does one bring that about in a world that thinks otherwise.
I have yet to see options presented in this thread, only outrage at the fact that everyone doesn’t see the truth and stop eating meat now, or unworkable demands that laws be passed in the face of public opinion. Does anyone have any ideas here or do you think that repeatedly asserting the need is going to make anything happen?
I’ve been reflecting on your post Scott Elaurant and I think you may have a point. I eat red meat once a week (a little more if dining out). It was predominantly a decision instigated purely for economical reasons, 40 years ago when I was raising a family.
Now in my seventies, I can say that I’m in good health – 54 kilograms, walk four kilometres a day and have never taken medication. One can’t be sure why one maintains good health but I do know that a brother, a large meat eater, is a physical wreck and must take cortisone every day or he can’t get out of bed.
The bits are falling off most of my friends who eat meat on a daily basis. They all have some condition – even the younger ones. It’s disturbing to witness them succumbing to thyroid deficiencies, breast cancers (very prevalent), wonky hips, prostate cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol etc etc.
And these friends also spend a good deal of time having a myriad of blood tests, colonoscopies, prostate investigations and mammograms. Pretty gloomy eh?
Problem is I don’t know any small meat eaters or vegetarians of similar age, so I’m unable to do a comparison.
On the issue of global warming, I understand that atmospheric methane reacts with OH to begin an oxidation chain which eventually leads to the formation of water and carbon dioxide.
Therefore, while methane has an atmospheric life-time of 10 – 12 years, wouldn’t one need to consider the life-time of CO2 as well in the chemical reaction, given that the ramifications of methane emissions also include the elevation of CO2, a warming gas?
Yes, but the emissions of methane are small compared to CO2. So if cattle in Australia emit 3 Mt of methane, that has as much climate forcing potential as all the coal-derived CO2 over a 20 year period, but once it breaks down to CO2, it has 1.5% of the effect. Trivial.
Webs and Weavers
Yes I think the health benefits of a far lower meat diet are considerable. I went vegetarian after reading Peter Singers ethical arguments and finding them convincing. But there are other good reasons to do it, including health and the environment. I have relaxed slightly since I first cut out meat because I find it hard to completely balance a diet with no meat. Hence I eat a small amount of fish.
But most people are at the opposite extreme. We wsterners eat a very high % meat diet compared ot our historical predecessors. Our bodies haven’t evolved to it.
I wonder how many 70 year old, female, Australians with strong semi-hysterical opinions on nuclear energy there are that would be motivated enough to post to a web site like this.
How many do you think, Helen?
Jade suggests: “…What do you suppose would happen if it became illegal to transport livestock or their carcasses more than 50 kms and not in refrigerated vans or to refrigerated locations?…”
To do this you’d have to get buy in from…the *majority* of the world that eats meat. The idea, generally, is *more* refrigeration, not less. And that everyone have the chance to have refrigeration.
I read Singer’s biography of Ed Spira, who was in the same socialist political group as I was, him earlier, me later. I think things like better, humane treatment of animals is called for and for that people like Spira deserve praise. People like Singer who want human rights laws applied to orangutans in Malaysia, for me, is beneath contempt. He actually does trying to protect such endangered creatures a disservice with his proclamations.
Eating meat should be a personal choice. Technology needs to be adapted off set methane output of animals; going nuclear to cut down on the danger of fossil fuels; land protections especially of forest areas over and above the very-market driven destruction of forests and far better planning for all these resources needs to be implemented. I think if we can do this the ‘eating of meat’ becomes quite the non-issue.
How many of the 40,000 major heart procedures annually are due to meat ?
About the same proportion as India’s 3,000,000 + that are due to vegetarianism !
How many do you think, Helen?
Interesting possibility, DV8 2XL. I’d thought that Rosalie Bertell might be making an appearance, but probably not now, going by the self-description.
As for the anti red meat thing, I think Geoff is very much off course here. We have to get nuclear as soon as we can anyway, and once we do that fully (with a nuclear-enabled transportation system) most of the GHG concerns of red meat are gone. The 5.1% CO2-equivalent contribution is simply too small to bother about compared to the negative publicity such a wowseristic anti-meat campaign would entail. Pursue it if you must, Geoff, but not in connection with something as essential as nuclear power. We cannot afford to put people off the cause for such a marginal issue.
Persistent education and a strong price signal that reflects the actual harms that meat does. I visited your “blog” and this should accord with your broad conception.
I didn’t raise the banning of transport/refrigeration of meat as a serious proposal, by the way. Apart from never being acceptable, it would be very hard to enforce. I merely wanted to separate Barry’s comment about reserving the right to hunt game from the usages associated with industrial meat-eating. One could easily approvoe of hunting and oppose industrial meat production without being hypocritical.
Actually Finrod, if you look again, land use changes (18.2%) and agriculture (14.9%) bring the whole sector up to about 38%. Some of that has nothing to do with ruminants or livestock morte generally of course but a fair slice of it has, as the land used to support Brazilian beef showed.
I think we could run a health, cruelty and environmental campaign, assessing the costs so that eventually meat eaters were subsidising the health system, includfing at preventive level. Those bariatric ambulances don’t come cheap you know.
DV82XL: “The point is not if it would be, or not be beneficial to reduce the production and consumption of meat – let us take that as a given. ” Step
1 accomplished (for you at least :). How to bring this about? Stern, Pachauri,
Al Gore, Barry Brook, DV82XL … with the exception of Pachauri, all of these
people have changed their views on meat in the last 5 years. I’m targetting
red meat in particular because its the biggest climate related meat
problem (and getting it in the neck from some animal rights
people who “just want hens out of cages”). Step 1 is changing opinions.
Step 2 is changing behaviour. Check the vegan cook books on Amazon
or Book Depository … there is has been a veritable explosion over the
last 5 years. Meat and Livestock Australia has been busily buying nutritionists
left right and center and allocating huge budgets to fight the change that
is happening. And its happening on many levels, nutritional, environmental,
and medical. A friend of
mine, Phil Wollen, gave an animal rights speech recently in Bordertown, he had a car ready to wisk him away if the rocks started flying. Anybody who
knows Bordertown will understand his concern. He got a standing ovation.
Change is happening. Is it happening fast enough and
widely enough to make a difference? I don’t know.
But what I’m really sure about is that anybody who
thinks we can avoid the worst of global warming by only tackling our
energy forcings doesn’t understand the problem.
Jade, I would like it too if we could create this sort of change by appealing to logic and reason, however experience tells us that this is not a very effective way of social engineering. As for attempts to use taxes to effect the same thing the record is spotty at best. Taxes and education have had an impact on smoking and drinking, but only because there was a already a strong dislike for these in the population to begin with. I am not sure that the same hols true for the consumption of meat.
Please understand I am not suggesting that this is a trivial matter, I am well aware of the impacts on the environment other than GHG that current animal husbandry is causing, and it is abundantly clear that as more of the world sees a rise in their standard of living, that a commensurate increase in the consumption of flesh is just not practically supportable with current practices.
What I am looking for is other options. No laws are going to be passed in this regard against the public will, and frankly talk of animal rights, and health impacts is not likely to have anymore effect than it has to date. We have to keep in mind that it has been now over twenty-five years since these topic have been discussed.
What is required now is some lateral thinking that will allow all sides to find common ground, and stridently demanding that everyone see the True Path is not the most effective way to make that happen.
Geoff – for the record I have never been a huge consumer of meat. Since I was a child the smell of it cooking has made me nauseous, and frankly I do not like the taste of most cuts. This is not anything other than preference in my case.
I would like to see some references to back your contention that propaganda by itself has made an impact. Certainly the explosion of fast food places in North America that serve ground beef and dismembered chickens in various forms seems to indicate otherwise here
So does anyone have any figures on the proportion of livestock raised in Australia and elsewhere imported by the middle-east to be slaughtered according to strict religious guidelines?
How well are the animal libbers going at making inroads to the Muslim societies of the world?
My personal view as an unashamed techno-cornicopian is that we need to developed artificial meat tech as soon as possible (I’m sure there are significant energy savings to be had once the process is established), which can be supported by clean nuclear power, and free a great deal of land currently devoted to grazing for whatever logical environmental purpose is most pressing at the time. I think this approach (once the “It’s pure science fiction!” reaction is overcome) is much more likely to yield worthwhile results than a public campaign to change people’s ingrained habits.
I think it will in all likelihood take a long time to change attitudes to eating meat, and eating in general — eating what you need instead of what feels good in your mouth.
Certainly, in an American context, the advent of the car and the destruction of public transport were key events in the development of fast food and the whole trend towards obesity/high fat diets.
As we move away from that model to a more human-centred and healthy existence I believe there will be a sharp move away from eating meat on a number of grounds. Eventually the idea of easting corpse portions of pigs and cattle will seem as disgusting as eating portions of cats or dogs to many people.
@Finrod – that’s what I’m talking about.
I think it will in all likelihood take a long time to change attitudes to eating meat, and eating in general — eating what you need instead of what feels good in your mouth.
It will take forever. If you want to effect lasting behavioural change, you need to work with human desires, not against them.
If you want to alter our impact on the planet’s environment, use technology, not social engineering.
I was referring to in vitro cultivation, just to clear up any doubts on the matter. While I expect that a full-bvlown industrial production process will be somewhat energy-intensive, that expenditure has to be balanced against the memmoth inefficiencies of raising livestock for slaughter as in our current mode. Most of the energy input of the animals’ feed goes to keeping them at the correctt body temperature, and that’s before you input the inefficiency of the energy conversion of sunlight to fodder. surely we can do far better once the in vitro tech is worked out to consumer-level satrisfaction.
Sorry about the typos. Oh for the ability to edit these comments…
What does that mean, in practice, IYO?
Can’t one do both? I’m all for technofixes, but attitudes can also play a part. There’s no reason for people to smoke, now that there are nicotine patches, but they do anyway.
Jade, all I’m saying here is that moral outrage is a piss-poor basis to re-engineer a society that is conditioned to treat the thing you’re outraged about as normal and acceptable, if not downright virtuous and desirable. Social engineering in this case is likely to be irrelevant. Techno-fixes are likely to overtake the situation before any concievable social program could, especially when a lot of the global opposition is going to be faith based.
Once upon a time, it was considered normal and acceptable to sell your children or rent them out. Once upon a time they weren’t even called children and there was no such ting as childhood. You went straight from being an infant to work-ready.
Then, in the course of a few generations, people thought … oh dear … not good.
Of course this has largely happened in the first world, rather than the third.
Finrod: There are animal welfare groups now in many middle eastern
countries … generally small, but Princess Alia of Jordan hit the headlines
a while back:
I don’t accept that meat has some magic taste that is irresistable. That’s
rubbish. Image is everything … smoking, diamonds, meat. I can
make cream out of cashews that feels as good as any dairy cream (and
Geoff, FFS, give this crusade up! Now is not the time.
Its not that it is impossible to change attitudes Jade, it is a mater of time-frame in this case. If meat consumption is damaging the environment now, think 3what it is going to do when every Chinese starts to eat two servings a day. This is just not sustainable, and like Finrod said, moral outrage from a few isolated voices in the West is going to do nothing.
We need a plan to ween ourselves off this source of protein, and it has to be in a form that is palatable to the majority. IMHO the only possible route is vitro production.
No Jade, people sold/rented out their children because they were to poor to support them any other way. They did not think it acceptable and it was – for many – the cause of much angst.
What happened to change the situation was, firstly, a general improvement in living standards which occurred as a result of the industrialisation of the West. Most people were able to feed their children without sending them off to work. And then the introduction of the pill and legalised abortion – every child wanted and all that.
Both were technofixes which simply allowed people to do what they had always wanted to do. No social engineering needed.
I’m pretty sceptical about the prospects for tissue culture meat, on marketing grounds, not technical.
If the product were developed, it could substitute for various processed meats – think nuggets, or hamburger patties, or devon. The low end of the meat market. I just can’t see it substituting for meat that is identifiable as to origin, ie a discrete cut of meat.
If it could penetrate that market, great. There’s a lot of volume there. The distribution channels that matter are the fast food chains – McDonalds, Burger King, KFC, etc. The mystery meat products could certainly be substituted, technically, by frankenmeat.
There are two criterion that would need to be met for this to happen. The first is that the cost of production would need to be the same or better than the concentrated animal feeding operation alternatives. These are already very, very cheap. Very cheap inputs, very efficient operations, low capital requirements. Tissue culture substitutes would require, still, a lot of r&d, and a lot of product development. Then high capital production equipment. I harbour a suspicion the material inputs would not be cheap. And your labour force is biotech phds, not farmhands. I don’t know for sure about operational costs, but the capital investment would be huge, and high risk.
The second criterion is that the product have some unique market appeal. This is what I find hardest to imagine. Whats the consumer proposition? “It tastes like processed meat, but its not animal”? “It tastes like processed meat, but its low emission”? We already have these products. Burger King used to do a great vege burger, maybe still do. You can buy soy hamburger patties at your local supermarket, and as a carnivore I find these a wholly acceptable substitute for the meat alternative (though not even close to the beef burgers my local butcher makes).
I don’t see the appeal of tissue culture meat over the existing alternatives. What’s the proposition to the purchaser, ie the McDonalds or Woolworths buyer? “Here’s an expensive fake meat product” vs “Here’s a cheap real soy product”? And if anyone develops it, they’re going to have to deal with the assault on their brand by the usual suspects protesting about frankenmeat, and overcome the innate consumer resistance to anything artificial, or overtly industrial. (And I know they already consume industrial fast food, but consumers simply aren’t rational beasts.)
I just don’t see how the consumer marketing could come together for frankenmeat. The fake meat market already has the technological base for product innovation without having to invest capital in tissue culture or risk consumer rejection.
@John D Morgan – You are right in that production costs have to be competitive, this may not be true at the moment, but from the reading I have been doing in the last few hours, it’s is conceivable that these processes might be if there was some demand.
As for marketing, if the only market was minced/ground (burgers/hot-dogs/sausages ) and sliced/prepared meat (Spam up to ham) that would make a hell of a dent. As to public acceptance, consumers of these products don’t seem to be overly concerned what is in them now.
Yes it would be a sell, and this is where Jade’s ideas come into play. The concept will have to be sold on many levels, and this is where environmental damage and animal cruelty arguments might find leverage, if there was an alternative.
At my (Taoist) Chinese restaurant, there is a vegan equivalent of every Chinese meal bearing meat, using various bean curd or gluten products.
We have sweet & sour mock pork, satay mock chicken, mock beef in black bean and oyster sauce …
Honestly you wouldn’t know the difference.
Finrod: Like I (and James Hansen) keep saying, methane+BC+… control isn’t
John Morgan: CAFOs are only cheap because the full external costs
are not paid. Requiring these to be paid will be useful.
Competition announcement: The new edition of “Nature” is now
out (I haven’t read it yet), it has a cover title of “Biodiversity in Crisis”.
Here’s my prediction. Some of the world’s best and brightest will wax
lyrical about “habitat loss”, but the dominant driver of this will elude
them and fail to be identified. Supporting 700 million tonnes
of biomass to supply 17% of global calories for 330 million
tonnes of biomass will not get a mention. “meat” will not get a mention.
A free copy of Perfidy to the first 5 people who prove me
wrong … send your entries to geoffrey.russell.at.gmail.com
Anybody daring to raise such an issue would be told “Hey take
your moral crusades elsewhere, we are scientists”.
Gordon: It’s the saturated fat in the ghee. I’m not sure where your 3m number
came from but Indian vegetarians in the UK stick out from the general
vegetarian population. One of the huge public health successes of the
western world over the past few decades has been the removal of saturated
fat from dairy products and the substitution of margarine. The latter is yet
another example of the kind of animal product substitution that is
possible with a suitable alternative.
Colin Campbell from Princeton thinks meat and animal products have proteins in them that humans really don’t react well to.
FWIW, I’d eat fake meat if it had the taste/texture of meat. I’d believe it was healthier and took less resource to make.
They don’t sell Quorn in either Oz/NZ or Canada as far as I know.
Do we really need the in-vitro meat? I’m almost sure I saw articles (which I can’t relocate) about very good imitations having been developed already but which for some reason haven’t made it to market. Surely they would also be cheaper than meat. I’ll have to follow up on Jade’s suggestions.
Anyway, perhaps those here who think the discussion should really be about nukes are right, and I kind of wonder if when Flannery put this off he was being politically tactical – fight the big fight first then the smaller fight second.
I think it is unfortunate that some people see changing their diet as “social engineering”. Do they have the same attitudes to stopping people from smoking or drink driving? The reality is we all have desires that may be good for us or bad for us in excess, such as alcoholism. We sometimes have to work against those desires, or we wind up being their prisoner.
In fact, our diets have changed over time. When I was a kid Italian food was a novelty and Asian food was unknown. Now they are my favourites, and meat and three veg looks pretty bland.
I have been surprised how easy it was to go vegetarian. I used to love red meat, but I soon realised that most of the tastes I loved could be replaced. For example, I found that it was often fried onions, not the meat patty, that made me like hamburgers. So find a decent veggie burger with fried onions and the problem is solved. I think one problem is that a lot of people have tried bad quality, tasteless vegetarian food. But you can eat well as a vegetarian.
Also a lot of our tastes are the product of habit and conditioning. The meat industry spends a fortune on marketing to make us think meat is great. We would be niave to think that has not affected us.
Finally, in my experience the impact of rural industries is larger than most people assume, not smaller. For example, the above discussion does not include farming’s share of transport emissions, or other & stationary emissions, which includes generators, tractors, harvestors etc. So farming emissions is a big issue. I do not suggest that we can stop growing food, but I would be willing to bet that we will all be eating less meat 20 years from now, especially if there are nine billion of us.
“Also a lot of our tastes are the product of habit and conditioning.”
A.K.A. “social engineering”
Lawrence et al: If you think this blog should sell nuclear as
a potent AGW weapon, fine, I’m doing my bit in this regard. But to
make those sales the blog needs to have plenty of non-nuclear topics to pull in other readers. If the blog becomes all nuclear, then it
will become a discussion among the converted. And as it gets deeper
into detail, first time readers will be more easily lost.
Geoff: I was being conservative with the 3 M as the article stated that in 2001 7.1 M deaths were arttibuted to IHD and that by 2010 India would make up 60% IHD deaths. The article also stated that genetics plays a large role in determining overall health. Also, I am hoping that you are not suggesting that margarine is in any way good for you !
PS my great gran died last month at 103 and she grew up on a diet that you believe is “unhealthy” !
Doubtless that was a driver, but the broader question of just what it is people “want” to do is a far more complex question. “Wants” along with “subjectivity” and “identity” are a matter of culture. Under the culture one can include the constrainst and predispositions of technology, education, materail condition, the prevailing mores of one’s peer group, the possibilities one sees for oneself and those one cares about, one’s capacity to weigh one’s interests in the short, mediium and long term and so forth.
Clearly, suffering, or the clear and immediate prospect of suffering, concentrates the mind. So does high infant mortality. Plainly, if you think your child isn’t going to make it to 15 years of age, then you may well take a different view of him/her than if you think he will be around to support you in your dotage. If you have to come up with cash to lose a daughter and you are near destitute and have several apparently healthy sons, infanticide, exposuirte to the elements or abandonment become very serious options and if someone offersd you money … well that’s a bonus. What, amidst all this you really want to do is not something that most people in such circumstances spend long considering.
Clearly, economic development and the associated “techno-fixes” are key to humans being freed up to weigh human welfare with less reference to triage than to the intrinsic value of life. I agree also that techno-fixes will play a key part in allowing people to prefer humane tactics for satisfying nutrition over non-humane tactics.
At the same time, along with development must come a new ethos — one that treats the imposition of suffering on sensate beings as to be avoided wherever humanly possible, even at cost to the satisfaction of our own non-life-truncating wants, if it comes to that.
Scott I agree with this sort of:
“I do not suggest that we can stop growing food, but I would be willing to bet that we will all be eating less meat 20 years from now, especially if there are nine billion of us.”
But by ‘us’ I suppose you mean in the West, broadly speaking. I actually think as people’s living standards rise, more meat will be eaten, not less even if there is a relative decline in advanced industrial countries.
It would be interesting to know what the trend is. I can’t believe people are eating MORE meat par capita, than say, 10 years ago, in western countries. But I doubt there is a trend at all. I even know ‘bunches of vegans’ that are now meat eaters, including my niece who was head of the Teenage Vegetarian Network about 8 years ago. I’m always running into an almost equal number of ex-vegetarian as I am newer converts.
“I think it is unfortunate that some people see changing their diet as “social engineering”. Do they have the same attitudes to stopping people from smoking or drink driving?”
Excellent point Scott Elaurant particularly in Australia’s agricultural industry where growers (and successive governments) have paid scant attention to the fundamental requirements of consumers including concerns about the sustainability of agricultural production, food safety and animal welfare.
The social engineering by some members of society, to gag others advocating for a more humane and sustainable method of growing food animals, reveal an indifference to the ramifications of the status quo.
In the 1920’s, a railway engineer (whose name escapes me) recognised and identified the causes of dryland salinity, that being the replacement of perennial, deep-rooted native vegetation with shallow-rooted annual crops and pastures used in agriculture.
Despite an awareness of salinity, over 50% of the Australian continent continues to be grazed by animals raised for human consumption. This is in addition to the land that is cleared and used for the production of food for livestock.
Huge tracts of land have been sacrificed to grow maize, oats, rye, sorghum, lupins and triticale for livestock feed. Factory farming too has seen up to 70% of antibiotics in Australia and the US administered to food animals.
During the late 90s, Henry Schapper, then an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Western Australia, wrote of the situation in Western Australia:
“WA has not enforced ecologically sustainable productivity on the management of its publicly-owned rangelands. Whereas the land-use managers – whether of pastoral leases or agricultural freehold – are culpable for the resource degradation they tolerate or have caused, society is culpable for allowing those who have over-cropped, over-grazed, over-cleared and are continuing to do so.
“The common public good seems to have been neglected by government in favour of private landed property ownership. The plea of government ignorance could once have been sustained, but certainly not at any time during this last quarter century at least.” (The article first appeared in Rural Society 6 (2). Rural Society is published by the Centre for Rural Social Research, Charles Sturt University, Wagga Wagga, Australia.)
A commonwealth government national assessment during 2002, “indicated that dryland salinity from shallow watertables potentially threatens production from 4.6 million hectares of agricultural land. Under current land use systems and climate, this is expected to at least double by 2050.”
Only in recent years has a substantial amount of work been conducted in Australia regarding salinity but insufficient work has been undertaken on the impacts of salinity on biodiversity.
I suspect that Mother Nature will soon dictate our dietary preferences and she’ll show scant regard for a burgeoning human population. I think the deserts could win, irrespective of whether our energy is to be supplied by nuclear or cow dung!
I agree with you here Geoff.
While I value the energy debates on this blog tremendously, it is because they centre around climate change that I ever became interested in the first place. I therefore find other climate relevant discussions just as interesting and would be sorry to see them disappear altogether.
Besides I see plenty of parallels between the energy and non-energy discussions which are just as important to nut-out, which ever part of the “solution” we’re pursuing. Picking the lowest hanging fruit for example. If that means the easiest, fastest, and most cost effective strategies then I actually think anything that smells like self sacrifice – use less energy, eat less meat, leave the car at home etc, etc – is top of the tree stuff, that is – hardest to implement, slowest to implement, and in terms of the decades long, minimally effective, public education campaigns, surely not cost effective. This in turn brings into focus the strategies that do work. Geoffs excellent example of the switch from butter to margarine is a case in point. It did not AFAIK involve a great deal of public education (beyond the usual advertising hype). So what made it so easy? Well I’m just making a guess here but I can almost hear the food industry’s equivalent of Peter Lang proclaiming – “What we need is a product that’s like butter but cheaper than butter”. Add a bit of cosmetic food colouring, promote it’s easy spreadability and hey presto, it’s a buy! Now thats low hanging fruit.
While I can see the logic in reducing our red meat consumption, I don’t hold out much hope of it happening until we have an acceptable product which is “like red meat (or is red meat, without the high methane production/land clearing) but cheaper than red meat”.
On the energy front we’ve already got our “better than coal” substitute. Perhaps we should market nuclear under the new name “I can’t believe it’s not coal”.
I don’t think this blog should confine itself simply to nuclear advocacy. Its a linchpin strategy in the response to climate change, but there are many other critical elements. Barry described this site as ‘unashamedly a search for solutions’, and I think that search must be eclectic, and include questions of diet, agriculture and land use. I don’t want to risk seeing this site marginalized. The climate problem is too important.
dv82xl, you asked for ideas. Here’s my list, such as it is.
1. Price the carbon cost into food, by whatever mechanism is available. Include accounting for methane emissions and land use changes.
2. Let economics work. Meat seems to me to have become more expensive in Australia in my lifetime (non-processed meat, anyway). I would expect as water problems become more severe, meat will become still more expensive, and people will look for cheaper alternatives. This can be accelerated if we include a fair carbon price, and internalize all the environmental costs, as Geoff points out in the case of CAFOs.
3. Meat free monday, as I described above . This seems to me to have good prospects of success, and would have a direct impact on meat consumption, as well as having an indirect effect through educating people that its actually possible to eat a meal without meat, and provide them with the tools (eg. cooking skills, or preparatory attention) to enable that choice, and add consumer pressure to support the development of non-meat convenience foods.
4. Substitute lower impact meats (eg. roo, chook, seafood) for higher impact meats (beef, lamb)
5. Develop appropriate marketing messages that consumers will respond to. I think the overall message should have a pretty light touch, along the lines of ‘reduce your meat consumption for these positive reasons’, and avoid hectoring, along the lines of ‘if you eat meat you’re a bad person for these negative reasons’. There are lots of angles, including
– climate change
– environmental impacts other than GHG emissions
– consider meat as a seasoning in a meal, not the main focus
– ethical considerations (there’s no reason to shy away from this, just be careful in the framing of the message)
6. Support the development of development of non-meat convenience foods, which might mean asking for the option at Macdonalds or Woolworths or wherever.
Consumer behaviour can change and social engineering can work – witness the food industry’s hugely successful social engineering project to get us eating our meals in cars. And consumers will generally try to do the right thing provided they do not have to compromise on convenience, value, or product attributes (in this case, all the tangible and intangible qualities of meat), and have awareness of the options.
From a purely pragmatic approach to emissions reduction, the goal should just be to reduce meat consumption. There are carrots (eg. health benefits) and sticks (eg. economic penalties) that will work in that direction, I I think we should support both where possible.
Re “low hanging fruit”
I think the thing here Maron, is to make it easy to do things that leave them feeling uplifted.
Make it easy to walk to the shops or take public transport. Remind people as they board public transport on the contribution they are making to a more sustainable planet with a little calculator where you can enter your destination and boarding point and party size and have it expressed as the number of trees you’d have to plant to suck up as much net CO2. Throw in the other VOCs and PM not put into the air. You could maybe even give people a smart card which would autmotaically calculate these things as they used them and at the end of the fiscal year everyone who had saved more than 3 tonnes would go into a draw for prizes and public recognition in the annual honours list.
Yes, by “we” I was referring to western countries generally. I understand meat consumption in Australia may be falling slightly per capita (now 5th highest, hence the ad campaigns) but overall it is rising per capita in other western countries (remember those obese Americans!) Consumption is rising faster in India and China. I found some useful data here:
Looking at the data I think it is certainly true that meat consumption is closely correlated with wealth. But remembering that it takes 8 calories of grain to create one calory of steak, obviously the world is not capable of supplying a high-meat diet to six billion people, let alone the nine billion we are headed for. I don’t see an obvious techno-fix to this.
I agree with Marion and Geoff regarding not narrowing this blog’s content to only promoting nuclear power. People need to be convinced that it is IMPERATIVE that we move to nuclear power and the other post categories on this site provide that information. There are plenty of nuclear only advocacy sites which I (and I suspect some others on BNC) never visit because I want information about the big picture re AGW/CC. I think newcomers are drawn to BNC by the fact that Professor Barry Brook holds the Chair of Climate Change and they would, in the main, be disappointed if they found the blog was JUST a nuclear promotion tool. It is the fact that Barry is respected for his scientific contributions on AGW/CC that makes it more likely people will be convinced that his opinion on using nuclear power to solve the energy crisis is valid and compelling.
Marion – I love the slogan for nuclear!
Geoff @ https://bravenewclimate.com/2009/11/17/700-million-from-livestock/#comment-35774
Ok I’d say you made a good point – it’s a climate blog not a nuke blog.
After all why else would BB put up your post.
I really would like to see really good fake meat made. I guess it must be possible, and surely it would be better for the environment.
I’ll just assume Colin Campbell would agree. Btw I got his university wrong – he’s at Cornell.
“Make it easy to walk to the shops or take public transport.”
This is the one I think would be most important to achieve and yet in most instances is the most difficult.
When I lived in the inner city my house was just around the corner from the shopping strip. It was easier for me walk there and do a small daily shop than it was to drive to the supermarket once or twice a week, struggle to find a park, struggle again with copious shopping bags, then come home and unpack the whole damn lot – so I walked. Now I live a fair distance from any shops with no public transport to speak of and the opposite is true, walking is a nightmare, driving a comparative breeze.
How would you suggest making it easy for people in my situation?
Gordon: I don’t have any Indian stats other than those I mentioned in the
UK. But I have the China Study (not Campbell’s book, but the actual
research), and circa 1990 the US and UK heart disease death
rates (for men) were 254 and 370 (deaths per 100,000 p.a.). Most of
the provinces studied had rates ranging from 11 to 127 with an average
of about 50 in the country and 80 in the city.
I’m hoping you don’t really think your gran’s longevity proves anything … or
you’ll have to endure my family history … which goes back to Ben Hall !
Well Marion this is really about planning city infrastructure, but the basic thing has to be a move to greater densities in cities.
With the right planning you could have a nice mix of low, medium and high density developments which would produce a catchment large enough to support small local “everyday” shops along with more specialist and major retail and services. Conceivably, some high rise (I’m think 6 storeys here) developments could actually have ground floor shopping, childcare and similar.
Equally, with sufficient density you could have continuously circulating local shuttle bus services that would loop though via the local rail station, shopping centre, service and major population aggregations.
I like the idea of the cities being organised around the principle that each suburb is a semi-enclosed branch springing from a main connecting road accessible from only one entry point, which would deny it access to through traffic (but permit bicycles and people on foot to connect through buffers such as green space and parkways). Purely local streets would be blocked at one end with bollards which only emergency vehicles and public transport operators could lower.
Another option might be to build major car parks on the existing main connecting roads, allowing people to park and ride. The top floors of these could be a mix of commercial and residential development, which, by defintion, would be “close to transport”. A connecting rail station could be under each as well.
I like the sound of that Jade, but it’s not exactly “low hanging fruit”.
@John D Morgan I will caution you and others to heed the criticisms of depending too much on mass behavioral changes. These are important, no argument, but the failure of similar efforts on the energy side of the room should serve as a warning of how little value these types of programs are if they are not backed by some acceptable alternative.
I also worry that any attempt to impose economic sanctions will only serve to make meat a luxury item, and that will do nothing in the way of garnering public support.
Obviously any narrow approach to climate change relief is foolish, and certainly it is imperative that those of us with concerns stay abreast of all related activities. Thus I would not be happy if this blog only focused on the nuclear option. Having said that I am leery of those who would try and leverage the climate issue to push other non-related agendas. In this case it is rather transparent that some commenters are more concerned with animal welfare, and maintaining ecological diversity than the climate impacts of meat production, and while these may be laudable in their own right, I would not like to see the thrust of the discussions get too broad ether.
At least in this context we must explore things like genetic modification of both the animals and their feed, along with things like looking at other species, like insects, and earthworms as feedstock for processed meats. This along with the aforementioned in vitro, and substitution technologies, all of which are being worked on. We also must be prepared to integrate these into any education/awareness campaign that might be launched.
On the nuclear side I am wary of any claims of some one-type-does-all reactor design, so on this side I will also want to see many different solutions being put forward as well.
You say that it is not exactly low-hanging fruit marion, but I suppose it depends on your interpretation of the metaphor.
If by low-hanging fruit you mean sometjhing that could be instituted on a mass scale tomorrow or next year, then I’d agree. There would be a lead time in decades to do this sort of reconfiguration at acceptable cost and with political consent.
If you by low-hanging fruit you mean something that requires no new technological breakthroughs and which has excellent EROEI, high net public goods and which, because it reaches far beyond mere CO2 abatement into imporved housing and amenity, reductions in road trauma and per capita cuts in high cost health spending has low program specific expenditure, then I would certainly regard it as such.
If, as most contributors here accept, one agrees that nuclear power is a key technology for reducing the footprint of stationary power production, then placing as much of the transport energy demand onto the stationary grid AND reducing the per capita energy demand in transport and in housing makes good sense. That’s low hanging fruit, surely.
“If, as most contributors here accept, one agrees that nuclear power is a key technology for reducing the footprint of stationary power production, then placing as much of the transport energy demand onto the stationary grid AND reducing the per capita energy demand in transport and in housing makes good sense. That’s low hanging fruit, surely.”
It does make good sense Jade, but it’s not low hanging fruit. I’m begining to think there is really no such thing as low hanging fruit. Any effective strategy will take time and money to implement. Any strategy that doesn’t, usually involves brow beating people into changing the way they live, without much thought as to how we are going to enable/force people – enough people – to do that.
Restructuring society may be necessary, even desirable, but lets not pretend it’s going to be easier or cheaper than replacing fossil fuels with nuclear power.
John Morgan: All good positive suggestions.
Marion: I spent July in 2003 cycling around Switzerland (yes, the hottest
summer on record!). Pull up at a supermarket in the smaller
places and there would be 100 bikes and 20 cars. Bikes with trailers,
panniers and baskets … and there are just a few little hills in
Switzerland :). Adelaide is pretty flat but the supermarkets are surrounded
by cars. The Swiss have about double the number
of supermarkets per capita … ie., more small supermarkets with smaller
travel distances. They also had about half the per capita number of
I wrote to Jane Lomax-Smith here on her plan to replace lots of small
schools with a few big schools. This means more people have to travel
longer distances. Fewer kids can walk so there are both health and energy implications. In effect, it shifts the transport cost onto the consumer
from the producer (in this case the Dept of Education), which is exactly
what big shopping malls do. The producers deliver to fewer shops but
the consumers all travel further. Getting rid of this counter productive
arrangement isn’t exactly low hanging fruit, but we can at least legislate
to prevent it getting worse, by, for example, setting a maximum size limit
on shopping centers/ car parks etc.
I am rather the other way John. Having bigger schools allows better use of resources and more learning choice. Kids have more local friends. To counter the distance thing you concentrate the population.
The shopping centre of course only needs to reach threshhold profitablilty.
dv82xl, I pretty much agree with everything you say at #35816. You don’t need to school me in depending on mass behavioural change – I have worked in consumer marketing and consumer product development, and I can assure you I regard consumer behaviour as one of the hard limits you butt up against. You simply wouldn’t develop a product that requires consumers change their behaviour. Its one of the big reasons I back nuclear power – it can reduce emissions without requiring behavioural change.
However, products can succeed where they offer a recognizable consumer benefit, which usually means an improvement in value, convenience, or some functional or emotional attribute. And behaviour can also change, if it optimizes these same dimensions (and I gave a relevant example). The suggestions I made were consistent with this basic model of consumer benefit and behavioural change.
And once more on low hanging fruit
If you can get people onto public transport by making said transport much more comfortable and practical so that people don’t feel they need their cars as much, when people have got to the average five-year turnover time, and have paid off their cars, some will sell them or not buy another one and keep the car simply for those journeys that aren’t practical.
That means that the lead time to lower emissions is five years, and it costs the public pretty much zero — in fact they will actually be ahead in many cases when you consider foreclosed depeciation, interest, recurrent maintenance, parking, fines, fuel etc. Even more if they give up the car or their car is part of their salary package.
That’s low-hanging fruit, surely.
I should also say, on this point,
“.. any attempt to impose economic sanctions will only serve to make meat a luxury item, and that will do nothing in the way of garnering public support”
that that is the basic aim of any attempt to price in emissions costs (whether as a carbon tax, cap and trade, fee and dividend, or whatever), in respect of any carbon intensive product. The clear intent is to place an economic signal on such products. I don’t see why we should exempt agriculture from this process given the size of the impact of that sector. It will hurt, but thats the point, whether its meat, petrol or lightbulbs.
It appears we’re off topic now but here’s one about meat, for your archives Geoff Rusell.
Warning: Viewing is not recommended for the faint-hearted:
@John – Perhaps there are cultural differences here that we are not taking into account; at least here in North America creating a class difference at the table where none existed before will cause all sorts of political backlash. Successive governments on both sides of The Line have had a ‘cheap food’ policy since the end of WWII and even suggestions of rolling this back are suicidal for any Party. This is why (at least here) any tax on food that appears recessive won’t fly.
However, offering a choice between two comparable products, in this case a synthetic meat, with a suitably snotty name, (CardioChoice or something along those lines) and ‘regular,’ even if the former has a slight premium in price, is likely to be successful.
BTW, when you say ‘you don’t have to school me’ I hope it was not because you read insult into my remarks as that was not my intention. English is not my mother tongue, and I have been told that I have not mastered the imperative mood in English such that I can use it with subtlety, and sometimes I unintentionally offend.