Making a dietary change to reduce consumption of meat and animal products is the most effective action the average person can take to reduce his or her carbon footprint.
That was the undeniable reality put forward by a panel of food science and climate experts at ONE (SINGAPORE)’s recent panel discussion, “Lifestyle Choices to Eradicate Poverty.” Throughout the evening’s discussion, the revelations presented about the links between what we eat, climate change, poverty and social injustice were astounding.
What’s Cooking? The Planet.
According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases than transportation.
Modern animal husbandry requires massive amounts of feed, fertiliser, land and water. Then there’s the energy needed to process, pack, refrigerate, truck and ship the meat to market. On top of that, livestock themselves are significant producers of methane gas, which scientist Dr. Khoo Hsien Hui explained is 72 times worse for the environment than carbon dioxide.
Simply put, cow burps and flatulence are killing us.
Here are a few statistics from the Institute for Ecological Economy Research:
- * The average meat diet produces as much greenhouse gas as driving a mid-sized car 4,758 kilometers (or 6.5 roundtrips from here to KL)
- * Going vegan — giving up meat and dairy products — would cut your carbon footprint seven-fold.
- * And if you are an organic vegan, your carbon footprint is 1/17th that of a meat-eater.
Meat Production, Human Health and Poverty
1.2 billion people are malnourished and go to bed hungry every night. Roughly the same number of people in rich countries suffer from diseases related to obesity. In his book, “The Food Revolution: How Your Diet Can Help Save Your Life and Our World,” John Robbins presents some statistics that further illustrate this global imbalance:
- * US corn eaten by people: 2 percent
- * US corn eaten by livestock: 77 percent
- * US farmland producing vegetables: 4 million acres
- * US farmland producing hay for livestock: 56 million acres
- * US grain and cereals fed to livestock: 70 percent
- * Human beings who could live off the grain and soybeans eaten by US livestock: 1,400,000,000
Global statistics parallel this US data. Livestock now inhabit 33 percent of the world’s arable land and are competing for space with empoverished rural communities that are robbed of their ancestral lands by agribusinesses.
From the audience, ONE (SINGAPORE) co-founder Michael Switow reminded us that the communities suffering the greatest impact from climate change are not those that created it. At Climate Tribunals organised by the Global Call to Action Against Poverty, women have stepped forward to describe how the changing weather patterns have ruined gardens and grazing lands, lowered rural incomes and even forced parents to stop sending children to school as they can no longer afford the fees.
Global climate change may feel like an issue that is too big for any one individual to make a difference. But each of the panelists begged to differ and advocated personal change as a place to start.
“We are part of a global brotherhood, living interconnected lives, and through our individual choices here in Singapore, we can have a positive impact on the world’s poor, who need our help the most,” said Professor Dr. Jeya Henry, who recently joined Singapore’s A*Star research institute.
Differentiate between “wants” and “needs”; be a mindful consumer, added ECO Singapore president and ONE (SINGAPORE) Executive Committee member Wilson Ang.
Each of the panelists advocated beginning with personal change as dietary choices are clearly an area where one person’s behavior can make a significant difference in carbon emissions over a lifetime.
So what can we do?
Here are three lessons participants took away from the discussion:
1. Eat Less Meat and Animal Products
2. Recruit Friends and Family. You can do this in conversations, via social media or simply by taking your colleagues out to the hundreds of vegetarian restaurants or food stalls here in Singapore.
3. Share the Message with Hawkers and Restaurants and encourage them to promote Veggie Thursdays by offering a special vegetarian dish or discount. The team at Veggie Thursdays can help with promotional ideas and resources.
Related Articles and Resources
- Lifestyle Choices to Eradicate Poverty (Panel Discussion)
- Veggie Thursdays
- “What’s your beef?” – Must-watch video featuring Zubi Kawaja (TEDx, September 2010)
- Photo credit (“Meat the truth): One Green Planet