Our growing appetite for meat and dairy is risking climate targets

BBC: ” an ‘awareness gap’ about emissions from livestock could hamper efforts to curb climate change.”

Dairy cows eat in a barn in Illinois. Photograph: Daniel Acker

Dairy cows eat in a barn in Illinois. Photograph: Daniel Acker

When you stop by your favourite burger joint to pick up a double bacon cheeseburger with a side of chicken nuggets and a milkshake, your first thought is probably not “perhaps I shouldn’t eat this; it’s bad for the environment“. Well, maybe it should be. it is our lack of awareness about the environmental impacts of livestock could be preventing us from reaching climate targets, a recent report by Bailey et al (2014) has warned.

Included in the report are the results from a large survey, which found that almost twice as many respondents believed that emissions from vehicles were greater than those from  livestock. However, in reality, emissions from the two sectors are almost equal, with livestock accounting from a slightly larger percentage of total emissions.  Furthermore, the livestock sector is continually expanding; by 2050, consumption of meat is expected to have risen to 76%, compared to 40% for cereal consumption. This means that if we do not change our consumption patterns the goal of keeping global temperature rise below 2C would be unrealistic.

Dairy farm. Photography: Graeme Robertson

Dairy farm. Photography: Graeme Robertson

Livestock contributes to global emissions via production of large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, two very potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). Moreover, livestock production also fuels deforestation due to increased land requirements for both keeping the animals and growing crops for their feed.

However, despite these problems the livestock sector attracts little attention, and consequently, public knowledge regarding the issue is remarkably low. Bailey et al (2014) conducted a 12-nation survey which assessed consumer awareness and public opinion regarding livestock emissions. The results released that 64% of respondents recognized the transport sector as the major contributor to global emissions, while only 29% considered livestock as a major emission contributor. Moreover, respondents that did not see livestock as major GHGs contributors were least willing to make changes to their diets in regards to their meat and dairy consumption.

Interestingly, respondents in emerging countries such as China and India demonstrated higher level of acceptance and were more willing to change their meat and dairy consumption patterns compared to respondents from other countries.

The first step to tackle this problem, we need to increase public awareness. The general public needs to understand that chowing down double cheeseburgers and washing them down with milkshakes is not only a recipe for poor personal health, but it also has negative impacts on our environment.

Via BBCBailey et al (2014)

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