Climate change: innovation and the Western diet

Environmental activists sometimes think the only way to make progress on climate change is to issue dire warnings. These are usually designed to try to scare people into action. But if these warnings were enough to solve global warming then wouldn’t we all be making rapid progress by now?

Clearly an alarmist approach isn’t working, even when it’s backed up by science. Take Britain’s recent heat wave as an example. It was up to 2.5C hotter than predicted. This was the conclusion of the World Weather Attribution Group using long-term temperature observations and climate models. The temperature on the European continent was even worse, up by an extra 3C. Meanwhile, the Copernicus Climate Change Service confirmed that July was the hottest month ever recorded.

Climate change: the cost of progress

Of the 195 signatories to the 2016 Paris Agreement, only 17 countries currently meet their modest, self-opposed targets. The reason for this failure is simple. Most policies designed to cut carbon emissions are expensive. A report by the New Zealand government found reaching net zero by 2050 would cost more than its entire current annual national budget. A poll earlier this year found that nearly seven out of ten people wouldn’t spend $120 annually to address climate change

So, what can we do? For me, there are two effective ways to curb climate change.

The impact of the Western diet

The first is making drastic changes to agriculture and human diets. The world population has ballooned, and the number of animals reared to feed them has grown. This, in turn, has placed great stress on the world’s farmlands. The upshot is that people in rich countries need to eat a lot less meat. In fact, that was the conclusion of a special report published recently by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The report argues that moving to a plant based diet would free up millions of square kilometers of land. If the world population are no meat or dairy at all:

global CO2 emissions would be reduced by some eight billion tonnes per year (total emissions last year were 37 billion tonnes).


eating meat or seafood only once a month would reduce emissions by six billion tonnes.

In Britain, we use 55% of arable land (as well as nearly all pasture land) to grow food for livestock. If we used this land to grow nuts, beans, grains, beans, fruits and vegetables then UK farming could feed us all. We wouldn’t need to import these crops at all. We could leave the land now used for grazing animals fallow. This would allow the restoration of natural ecosystems, helping to absorb CO2.

The impact of innovation

The second key action is a global focus on bringing down the cost of green energy. When renewables become cheaper than coal and oil, everyone will switch. It is innovation, not scare tactics, that will win this battle.

So, let’s not turn tackling climate change into a polarising issue. As consumers we can play a part in tackling this crisis. We can moderate our meat intake, and switch to greener, more renewable sources of energy. Let’s act now, before it’s too late. By acting together we can pull the world back from the brink of ecological collapse.

What do you think?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash



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