Vegetarians and climate change

Lord Soley

There is an interesting discussion growing around the contribution of meat production in relation to climate change. It is not just about methane gas from animals (including us!) but particularly about the destruction of forests to create grazing for cattle.

The British have to watch what we say about this having cut down most of our forests as the industrial revolution took off and the population expanded and higher living standards let to increased meat-eating.

Intellectually I would like to be a vegetarian but I have to confess to a weakness for meat. I do eat a lot less than I use to but I just find a fully vegetarian diet a bit off-putting.

Any chance of a scientific breakthrough that will enable us to grow meat tasting like meat in laboratories!?

13 comments for “Vegetarians and climate change

  1. Troika21
    28/10/2009 at 9:39 pm

    That kind of arguement is all that is needed to paint enviromentalists as evangalising kooks.

    Whilst a legitimate opinion, it makes it appear as if they think that all their problems stem from some sort of original sin against the planet.

    There are plenty of things that we do that are having a negative impact on the enviroment, breeding for one, what about brewing and fermenting spirit, anyone want to go teetotal?

  2. 28/10/2009 at 9:52 pm

    [Lord] Stern…warned that helping developing countries to cope with the adverse effects of global warming would cost British taxpayers about £3bn a year by 2015.

    I would be more than happy for my local butcher to collect a few pennies in tax, via the weekly meat bill, though not as happy if the huge amount of pennies that electricity suppliers add to my fuel bills (twice), due to their investment in wind power (no pun intended), was removed.

    While I’m at it, neither 9/11 or Diana’s death was an inside job.

  3. franksummers3ba
    28/10/2009 at 11:19 pm

    I think the Prince of Wales has done some good with his rainforest project. I would say that where it is practiced at its best manorialism is the most environemtaly responisble form of food production ever practiced by a large civilization and at its worst was better than average. Something to remeber with regard to the oldest hereditaries especially. Hunting reserves, small plots, local infrastructure on site, hedgerows, composting with discipline, market fairs nearby and cattle fed grass of quality which is well maintained would save the world. But I doubt our technology can ever reach the heights of the eleventh or fifteenth centuries. In these savage times we must do the best we can….

    Britain took a step away from wholeness and into world power with enclosure but a little balance might not ruin the world. I suppose nuclear powered hydroponic and chemical enhanced farming of the future monoplant will also be lovely in its own way.

  4. chris_r
    29/10/2009 at 10:44 am

    Any chance of a scientific breakthrough that will enable us to grow meat tasting like meat in laboratories!?

    They’re working on it:

    @franksummers: Well if you want to roll back to the 11th century, prepare to be starving, thirsty, ill, dirty, tired, cold for most of your (short) life. Sounds pretty miserable to me but it takes all sorts.

    • franksummers3ba
      02/11/2009 at 3:21 pm

      Chris R.,
      Of course after the Conquest England was a very bad place to be if you were an Aglo-Saxon. However, It was not something that happened in 1001. Therefore it is not the majority of the eleventh century. What made England worth conquering was that people were ususaly weel fed, living longer than their parents and certianly had a higher standard of living across the entire economy than we do today. The difference is that the “we” today are out of sight and mind millions starve, fight as children, live in filth and die of horrible diseases their ancestors did not know so that today’s Neo-Earls like yourself can live oblivious to how the economy works. English Peasants and Scot Crofters in Britain and 1053 were among the most privileged baseline workers society has ever achieved. They had rights and autonomy billions only dream of despite laws on books in unseen halls.

      Europeans got dirty after the 13th century and the Black Death. You are probably the first or second generation as hygenic as your 1052 ancestors. Everyon who bathed in the Black Death died and Europeans went from being one of the cleaner groups to the dirtiest for several centuries.

      The myth of linear progress is only a myth and makes all intleeigent discourse impossible. The Fourteenth was dirtier, poorer and more miserable but their proportional recovery is truly unlike almost anything seen. Few have ever recovered from greater horror more capably — although the horror was very bad indeed…

  5. ataraxy
    29/10/2009 at 5:33 pm

    I heard a programme a while back (Radio 4 probably) where they discussed meat production.

    The conclusion that they reached was that grazing animals on land that couldn’t be used for other agriculture (because it was too steep, too rocky or otherwise unsuitable) was an acceptable thing to do. Sounds sensible to me given that we are probably entering a period of food scarcity, and will need to use every food source we can.

    So it looks like you can keep eating meat – just make sure that it is grass fed.

    • Ally
      30/10/2009 at 5:53 pm

      I’m guessing it was ‘Costing the Earth – A Meaty Subject’:
      I recommend the programme.

      Environmental advice usually comes with caveats (often ignored by the well-meaning) – and these seemed fairly presented in the programme. With so many variables, greenhouse gas accounting is very complicated, and so knowing best practice, especially for consumers, is also difficult. My best interpretation is: ‘Eating less meat is probably beneficial; though everyone eating no meat may not be.’ But the latter situation seems unlikely.

  6. beccy83
    29/10/2009 at 6:03 pm

    There are so many ways to think about cutting your carbon footprint and I suppose everyone will do the things that are most palatable to them and their lifestyle first…then we get onto the kind of changes that do require more compromise in our lifestyles and some sacrafice. I run an online forum called HeadsUp ( and we’ve just finished a debate on climate change in advance of the Copenhagen summit due to take place in December. What was clear is that the young people debating the issues (11-18 years of age) were very keen to act and get others doing things to reduce their environmental impact. They seemed more capable of linking what they do and how they live to the consequences their lifestyles will have for the planet. This is something that many people are not yet in the habit of thinking about. Reducing climate change involves some action on the parts of government, business and individuals but thinking about what you do before you do it is an important part of this process. Do I need the latest ipod even though mine still works? Can I be bothered to walk to the shops or shall I take the car? etc. If you’d like to see the youth perspective on the issue visit and have a look at the report. Their youthful enthusiasm certainly has the potential to encourage a few more adults (politicians especially) to set a good example on climate change.

  7. Ally
    29/10/2009 at 6:31 pm

    I’ve had some recent success towards becoming a ‘social meat-eater’ – eating meat at restaurants and at friends’ dinners, but cooking almost exclusively vegetarian (and in fact mainly vegan) food for myself.

    I find it both helps to know vegetarians and not to label yourself as one: even cold turkey is too appealing for me to consider going cold turkey. I imagine it would be especially difficult if you subsist on British ‘meat and two veg’ dinners.

    There was a Guardian article on the subject yesterday:

    Another alternative is reducing your beef and lamb consumption, which seem to have far larger carbon (and methane) hoofprints (per kilogram) than pork and chicken.

    • 29/10/2009 at 9:55 pm

      I rather like the concept of a social meat-eater. It reminds me of married Jewish couple I know who keep their kitchen vegetarian as a way of keeping kosher at home — it saves the trouble of dealing with separate utensils and plates and cookware. The wife is vegetarian, but the husband isn’t, so he waits to eat meat until they go out to eat somewhere or eat with friends.

      Depending on the brand, some of the fake meat products are nigh indistinguishable from the real thing, especially the ‘chicken’ ones — add enough sauce or spices, toss in two veg, and it’s difficult to taste the difference.

  8. Senex
    29/10/2009 at 10:02 pm

    I’m disappointed, not a mention here of that confounded hump backed herbivore the Brazilian Zebu [Bos Indicus] that finds its way onto our plates in pub restaurants. Their menus have rump and sirloin steaks but when you tuck into them they are as dry as dry can be.

    When are Brazil’s livestock breeders going to give us something of comparable quality to Europe’s Bos-Taurus in both flavour and texture?

    Before you order a steak at any restaurant recommend you ask for the country of origin as it is more than likely not stated on the menu. The really sad part is that most just don’t realise they are eating Zebu.

    No accounting for taste?

  9. 30/10/2009 at 11:29 pm

    Lord Soley: give your admission of a weakness for meat, how about we do a deal? If the expansion of Heathrow is cancelled and more environmentally forms of transport such as high-speed rail are used instead, the reduction in carbon emissions will be more than enough to cover those of your meat habit, so you needn’t give it up!

  10. 03/11/2009 at 3:47 am

    You don’t necessarily need to go 100% veggie to save the world. I remember coming across a study which found that eating white meat (i.e. chicken) is not much worse for the environment than eating vegetables. It’s eating red meat that is the real killer, so to speak.

    If your intellectual attraction to vegetarianism includes animal welfare issues, it’s worth being aware of the distinction between organic and non-organic meat. Organic meat, especially meat accredited by the Soil Association, is produced according to very high animal welfare standards. Organically-farmed animals are given fairly natural lives (and let’s not forget that a brutal death at the hands of a carnivore is a perfectly natural way to go). From that perspective, eating organic meat is no more evil than tolerating a fox eating a rabbit.

    Non-organic meat farming, on the other hand, usually means that farm animals whole lives are experienced in cramped artificial conditions (often to the point of being immobile), that their bodies are permanently pumped with various drugs, that they are bred to have painfully bloated physiques which their limbs frequently fail to support and that they are subjected to various painful procedures which, under existing animal cruelty laws, would be criminal if they were not done in the name of profitable farming.

    Okay, sermon over, but I think it’s worth knowing that it’s not a simple vegetarian vs. carnivore issue.

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