Agriculture And Climate Change


Lilian talks about the part of climate change no one mentions – farming and agriculture. 

Fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century.

Climate scientists say that by 2017 the impact of climate change will be beyond repair. A 2°C rise in global temperatures – the maximum the earth will be able to sustain before we experience severe famine, drought and species extinction – is looking perilously imminent if we continue to pollute the atmosphere at our current rate. 2014 was the hottest year globally since records began. Fourteen of the fifteen hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century.

And yet, politicians consistently fail to take decisive action on climate change. In fact, it appears in many ways that we are moving backwards: earlier this year the UK government cut subsidies to renewable energy, whilst increasing subsidies for fossil fuels (the only G7 country to do so), all after a general election in which climate change was barely an after thought on the political agenda. Overall the picture is bleak. Later this month, however, world leaders and climate scientists will meet in Paris for the 21st climate summit (otherwise known as the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) to discuss the future of our planet and – or so says the official website of COP21 – reach a legally binding strategy of emissions targets.

The issues that arise during the summit are likely to be those we typically associate with climate change: fossil fuel emissions, renewable energy, sustainable transport solutions and so on. Yet there is one glaring issue, a world leader in global greenhouse gas emissions, which anyone – let alone the political establishment – is yet to discuss: animal agriculture. I recently watched the documentary ‘Cowspiracy: the Sustainability Secret‘, which truly changed how I perceive the world by drawing attention to this glaring, global but rarely-discussed issue.

…animal agriculture is a – if not the – leading contributor to climate change.

As it turns out, animal agriculture is a – if not the – leading contributor to climate change. According to a study published by US think-tank the Worldwatch Institute and conducted by World Bank environmental advisors, 51% of greenhouse gas emissions are the result of livestock and their by-products.The United Nations states a more conservative figure of 18 percent. Either way, it is abundantly clear that animal agriculture is an immense contributor to greenhouse gas emissions – more than all of the world’s cars, trains planes and boats combined (which account for 13%). Cows and other ruminants are also the primary contributors to methane production – a greenhouse gas that, according to the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) is 25 times more atmospherically damaging than carbon dioxide.

Not only does Cowspiracy reveal the profoundly damaging impact of animal agriculture on our atmosphere, but also draws our attention to the colossal quantities of water required to produce meat. In the US, it requires 2,500 gallons (11,365 litres) of water to produce a single one-pound (450 gram) steak. And though there are various statistics and a some degree of uncertainty, without a doubt the meat industry is responsible for a vast proportion of the world’s water usage (see here, here and here) – approximately 30% globally.

…climate change will be forced into our immediate consciousness

Environmental issues may not be top of the political agenda currently, and understandably so with current events in Paris, Lebanon and Syria. But imminently – without a doubt within my generation – climate change will be forced into our immediate consciousness. Failure to act now will only intensify future suffering. And certainly, in order to solve an issue on this scale, it will require political will. But at some point finding a solution to climate change, or at least mitigating its impacts, will also require individual action. So the inconvenient truth – as Al Gore would put it – is that currently, the seemingly obvious solution is, quite simply: eat less meat. It’s something that no one wants to hear, and hence the almost total lack of coverage in mainstream media. But it’s undeniable that drastically reducing our meat consumption could have a genuine and resounding environmental impact.

This doesn’t mean that small changes such as switching off lights when leaving a room, using energy saving light-bulbs and turning down your heating (and so on) are not worthwhile. Or that everyone who eats meat is a bad person. But climate change is not an issue that can be dodged or denied much longer, and sadly ignoring it will not make it go away. At this point, drastic action is needed – personally, locally and politically – and it cannot be denied that cutting out meat from our diets is a significant step not only towards a healthier body, but also to a healthier, more sustainable planet.

PS: for more information I highly recommend everyone watches ‘Cowspiracy’, available on Netflix, or visit their website 

Head to Barton Hill allotment and get involved in some eco-activity here

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