Researchers from Aberdeen and Cambridge Universities have just published a study (on August 31st) which states that greenhouse gases from food production will go up 80% if we continue to eat meat and dairy produce at today's levels.
Of course global-warming activists (as well as academics) have said this kind of thing before.
Take Doctor Pachauri.
In 2008 Dr Pachauri told a Compassion in World Farming conference that everyone should give up eating meat. Why did he do that? Because he believed that the digestive methane given off by cattle (i.e. flatulence) contributed more to greenhouse gases than all the world's transport put together. Though as Christopher Booker pointed out:
“As a vegetarian Hindu, Pachauri said nothing about the contribution to global warming made by India's 400 million sacred cows.”
Doctor Pachauri is neither an expert in dietary matters nor a scientist with specialised knowledge of atmospheric physics, astronomy, oceanography, geology, meteorology, chemistry, etc. (i.e., all the disciplines required in the “science of global warming”). He is (or was), in fact, a former railway engineer and economist who then became the chairman of the United Nation's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). He was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Al Gore, in 2007.
Now take a slightly later case.
In 2009, the Sustainable Development Unit of the UK's National Health Service (NHS) - which was then under the Labour Party control - published a report entitled 'Saving Carbon – Improving Health' . It advised all Britain's NHS hospitals to serve “nutritious fruit, veg and pulses” rather than meat and diary products. The reason why the NHC advised this was because it believed that meat and milk production contributed to the unacceptable rise in greenhouse gases. Or, as the NHS itself put it,
“unless we take effective action now, millions of people around the world will suffer hunger, water shortages and coastal flooding as the climate changes.”
However, just as Dr Pachauri forgot to mention the 400 million untouchable sacred cows of India, so the NHS forgot to mention that it was the largest single emitter of CO2 in the British public sector. In fact it was responsible for 3% of all the UK's emissions.
To get back to the Cambridge University study.
A 80% rise of greenhouse gases (from food production alone) does sound like a lot.. at first. But then again the fact that there a billions of atoms in my little finger also sounds like a lot. The question is: So what?
We must now ask the following questions:
i) “Greenhouse gases will in increase by 80%” - over what period, exactly?
ii) The increase of 80% is an increase form which level?
iii) Is the initial level (the level today) itself in any way dangerous?
The lead researcher of this Cambridge University study, Bojana Bajzelj, seems to be attempting to fuse concerns about global warming with concerns about meat-eating and its effects on Third World -- or poorer -- economies.
So is Bajzelj's concern about global warming in the driving seat here? That is, has Bajzelj -- as a former “environmental consultant” and now an environmental technologist -- found other concerns and causes to back up the prior fight against anthropogenic global warming?
Firstly, Bajzelj appears to be more about the wrongs of meat-eating and its effects on Third World economies than she is about global warming:
"The average efficiency of livestock converting plant feed to meat is less than 3%, and as we eat more meat, more arable cultivation is turned over to producing feedstock for animals that provide meat for humans.”
But then she says:
"The losses at each stage are large, and as humans globally eat more and more meat, conversion from plants to food becomes less and less efficient, driving agricultural expansion and releasing more greenhouse gases.”
“Agricultural practices are not necessarily at fault here -- but our choice of food is."
Now is that last statement simply disingenuous?
If we radically change what we eat (our “choice of food”), then “agricultural practices” in the Third World will change too. Or agricultural practices will change in response to our changed food habits. What Bajzelj is saying is that having farms devoted entirely to livestock is simply a response to the fact that we eat too much meat in the West. Therefore if we change our “choice of food”, then there won't be as many farms devoted to producing cattle for meat consumption.
Thus is just as much about economics and (possible) global inequalities than it's about global warming.
As a matter of fact, these other arguments against increased meat-eating in the West are far more persuasive than the stuff about global warming. Though the question remains:
Have warmists used these other arguments simply to back up the prior case for more political and economic action against global warming?
Perhaps I'm being too sceptical or even cynical here.
However, my scepticism is legitimate in many cases. There are academics, environmentalists and Leftists galore who are fervently in favour of drastic changes to Western capitalism or even its complete destruction. And that will be at the heart of much of this.
In addition, my scepticism is also at least partly legitimate in the sense that scientists and political activists who already accept anthropogenic global warming have indeed often collaborated with the health experts who are themselves concerned with the increased levels of obesity in the Western world.
In other words, warmists - or at least some of them -- have found another string for their bow. They have managed to tie the fight against fatness to the fight against anthropogenic global warming.
The Rising Level of Greenhouse Gases
As for greenhouse gases, even the most hardcore anthropogenic-global-warming sceptics have admitted -- and have done for over two decades -- that greenhouse gases have steadily increased over recent years. The problem is that these increases don't correlate with global warming. Alternatively, if they do, the effects of such increases are negligible from a human, social and environmental perspective.
For example, Peter Taylor -- a natural scientist who's worked on ocean pollution and atmosphere - wrote (in 2009) that “a doubling of this gas [carbon dioxide] does not present a serious threat”. (The Cambridge University study is not, of course, only about the rise in levels of carbon dioxide.)
But that doesn't matter to globalist politicians/activists, Greens/environmentalists and Leftists/progressives because simply saying that “greenhouse gases are rising” (or, in this case, “greenhouse gases from food production will go up 80%”) will have the desired psychological effect on many people. And if such statements have such a psychological effect, then they undoubtedly will have political effects too (in the long run).
Nonetheless, this study isn't just arguing that increased levels of greenhouse gases are partly caused by increased meat consumption. It's also arguing that such increases will “accelerate climate change”. And that's the very widely disputed bit.
What often seems to be at the heart of these concerns about meat-eating and global warming is a desire for political control and then for political change – not necessarily or always for global welfare. Or, more precisely, the focus on particular environmental (or, in this instance, health) issues will enable activists and politicians to make large political changes. Thus environmental concerns and causes are often – though not always – proxies for political concerns and causes.