A recent peer-reviewed scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was described by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, as a ‘code red for humanity’. The report warns of the severe consequences of inadequate action to contain climate change and avoid irreversible impacts known as tipping points.
Emissions of methane associated with human activity account for over a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions that are causing climate change. Methane is more potent than carbon dioxide but has a much shorter life. A rapid and big cut in global methane emissions would therefore slow down global heating significantly whilst buying time to tackle the more difficult sources of greenhouse gas emissions that involve capital expenditure.
Methane is the main greenhouse gas associated with meat and dairy consumption. Much of it is a product of the digestive systems of ruminants such as cows and sheep but other aspects of animal agriculture produce it too. It’s responsible for 42% of global methane emissions whereas the oil and gas industry only accounts for 36%. Waste is the source of a further 18%. Despite animal agriculture being the biggest source of methane emissions, the focus of calls for reduction so far has been on emissions from the oil and gas industry. This is despite the fact that dietary change need not result in extra costs to individuals.
To put this in context, meat and dairy consumption is responsible for between 16.5% and 87% of all global greenhouse gas emissions. The lower estimate is deficient in a number of ways including not reflecting the fact that land used for animal agriculture could be much more effectively used for absorbing carbon from the atmosphere than for grazing animals for food production and for growing animal feed crops.
Like the elephant in the room, the urgent need to reduce meat and dairy consumption, preferably eliminate it, is rarely recognised by politicians as a valid or viable tool in tackling climate change. This is despite being urged to do so by scientists and other experts. The title of this episode of Time is Sliding is therefore trying to draw attention to this. The need to move away from diets based on meat and dairy consumption is not even on the agenda for discussion at the crucially important COP26 climate change conference being held in Glasgow UK in November 2021. That conference is being attended by world leaders and other representatives of countries around the world. It’s being seen as the last chance saloon for stopping climate change getting out of human control.
This episode of Time is Sliding explores the contribution of meat and dairy consumption to climate change, in more detail than here, and attempts to find reasons why the huge herd of cows in the COProom are being ignored.
Agricultural systems also need to change. Listeners might therefore wish to add their signatures to those calling for a Plant Based Treaty to parallel the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Paris Agreement that it produced.
Listeners might also be interested in the UK Vegan Society’s 2021 report called “Planting value in the Food System.” It sets out a vision for food and farming based on interviews with farmers and experts on health, environmental and food policy.
For more information about the 87% estimate of greenhouse gas emissions attributable to meat and dairy consumption, there’s an episode of the Science is Gray podcast that’s really helpful.
Reference was made in the episode to an article in The Guardian about the menu at COP26. Here’s a link to that.
The sounds of cows, sheep, pigs, chickens along with a number of other sounds and sound-effects have been included in this episode under license: Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) from https://www.freesoundslibrary.com :
Cash Register Sound Effect, Chicken Sounds, Cow Mooing Sound, Crash Sound, Extreme Alarm Sound, Pig Sound, Rain and Thunderstorm Sounds Nature Sounds, Sheep Sounds, Thunder Sound Effect with Rain, Trash Can Crash Sound Effect by SPANAC
Cow Moo Sound by ALEXANDAR