Last week, Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the United Nation's Nobel Prize-winning scientific panel on climate change, asked the world to "please eat less meat." Speaking at a press conference in Paris, he said meat was a very carbon-intensive commodity, a fact established by UN research showing that livestock production creates more greenhouse gases than all forms of transport combined.
So the top man at the world's most important agency dealing with climate change (the planet's biggest problem) is urging us all to cut meat consumption to address the issue. Is the Prime Minister ordering Environment Canada to draft guidelines for Canadian consumers? Is Parliament debating the matter? Are environmental groups demanding immediate action?
Unfortunately, Mr. Pachauri's plea will cause barely a ripple in political, media or environmental circles. Even being chair of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) doesn't guarantee many people will want to hear this particular inconvenient truth. It's interesting to note that he followed his statement by saying: "This is something that the IPCC was afraid to say earlier, but now we have said it."
What was the IPCC afraid of? This hasn't been reported, but one could speculate that the global livestock industry and others with a vested interest in meat production will not take kindly to Mr. Pachauri's remarks. Neither will the politicians they lobby, who also hate having to tell citizens they need to make lifestyle changes to save the planet.
Even environmental groups are shy about touching this one. Some don't even mention limiting meat consumption as a means of combatting global warming. Others relegate it to a list of minor energy-saving actions consumers can take, just below keeping your car's tires properly inflated. The suspicion (especially among animal-welfare groups) is that environmentalists are afraid they'll be open to charges of hypocrisy if they raise the meat issue and get caught wolfing down a Wendy's burger after the press conference.
Then there are the dreaded V-words: vegetarian and vegan. Few politicians or environmentalists want to face the jokes, media backlash and libertarian "consumer freedom" zealots who will accuse them of forcing Canadians to eat only salad and lentils. The same sort of people who fought against mandatory seatbelts and restrictions on tobacco would shift their public relations and spin machines into high gear.
Yet all the IPCC is asking for is a reduction in meat consumption. A recent study in the prestigious medical journal The Lancet called for a 10-per-cent cut in meat consumption, which it said would slow global warming considerably. It would also slow the growth of factory farming, which is alarming animal welfarists around the world. Global demand for meat is projected to double between 2001 and 2050, meaning billions more animals will be raised in intensive, inhumane conditions. While many animal activists are "abolitionists" and want a meat-free world, others would welcome anything that would put the brakes on a trend that is resulting in animal suffering on a mind-boggling scale. For example, the international farm-animal welfare organization Compassion in World Farming is calling for meat consumption and production in developed countries to be cut by a third by 2020. This would mean someone who eats meat every day would cut back to eating meat five days a week - not exactly a hardship.
Encouraging the public to cut back on meat would also have major health benefits. The World Cancer Research Fund recently urged consumers to limit consumption of red meat to 500 grams per week and to avoid processed meats completely. (Vegetarians and vegans figured out the health advantages of a meatless diet long ago. That's why they have lower rates of obesity, heart disease, diabetes, colon cancer, hypertension and other diseases.)
Cutting down or cutting out meat is a win-win-win policy. Not only does it help the fight against global warming, but it saves countless animals from factory-farm suffering and it's good for you.
It's just too bad so many people are afraid to talk about it.
Peter Fricker is the projects and communications director of the Vancouver Humane Society.