After a fisheries seminar this morning, someone asked what key issue the research and conservation community was missing. The immediate answer from a senior colleague was meat consumption.
Given how growing feed and raising livestock is responsible for a large proportion of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, it is quite amazing that we don't talk about it more. An article in the Vancouver Sun last month asked a few of us why. Here are some of the explanations:
Dale Marshall, a climate-change policy analyst with the David Suzuki Foundation: "Food is something that's very personal," Marshall said. "I think there may be a reluctance to start talking about people changing what they eat. When you start telling people to sell their car and jump on the bus, that's a little more out there. But when you start talking about diet and what they eat, that becomes even more personal. So that raises some difficulty in organizations not wanting to go there."
Gideon Forman, executive director of the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment: "It's a difficult sell. We're a culture that eats a lot of meat. Unlike in Europe, where it's often a side dish, for North Americans, unfortunately, it's the main attraction. So that's a problem. But I agree, eating less meat would be a big step."
Matt Horne, acting director of the B.C. energy solutions program for the Pembina Institute, said by asking people to reduce their meat consumption, you're asking them to make a real change in their lives. And even though the consequences of not making such changes are calamitous, people are still reluctant to make them. By contrast, buying a fuel-efficient car instead of an SUV is simply a different means to the same end, Horne said. You can still get from A to B.Dennis Cunningham, a project officer with the International Institute for Sustainable Development, suggested it could be a funding issue. He explained that when environmental groups apply to governments or large corporations for money to produce an education program, the funding organization can dictate the priorities such a program should take. And no government wants to risk offending a powerful agriculture lobby by telling people to eat less meat - even if it's good for them.
Sarah Cox of the Sierra Club of B.C. tried to conflate eating less meat with encouraging people to eat locally produced food, something the Sierra Club does do. But Donner said they're entirely different things, and that if one were to choose between eating less meat and eating locally produced food as a more effective way to reduce your carbon footprint, there is only one choice: eat less meat.
He believes the real reason green groups are so shy about discussing meat consumption is that there's an image associated with being a vegetarian or vegan they want no part of. "Environmental organizations often and unfairly have this image of vegan or vegetarian hippies," Donner said. "So if they were to come out and say 'We don't want you to eat meat,' it might reinforce that image and not win over the people they want to win over."
Is meat consumption the third rail of climate change mitigation?