Field of Science

Food for thought: give up meat to save the planet

Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet
“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”
I could live with that, but it's the tragedy of the commons. I like meat a lot, and I'll only do it if everyone gives it up, too. Otherwise I lose out for no good reason. But do raise the price of meats, and inform the public how they can change their diet without foregoing protein and how to make delicious vegetarian food. Anyhow, pork is a vegetable, right?


  1. Couldn't we instead have less people? I mean to some extent consuming meat is fulfilling our ecological niche right?

  2. Less people would be way better than less meat. Energetically it would still make the most sense to eat less meat, but I believe most of our problems would go away if the population were much smaller. I would still be nice to solve the energy problem, though.

    However, while humans are perhaps natural carnivores/omnivores, I don't think that need to stop us from becoming herbivores. Or insectivores. Yummy!

  3. The "meat consumes way more energy" argument has a number of caveats, too. Certainly, we don't even have to have a discussion about whether American-style factory farming is energy inefficient and bad for the environment...

    But what about cows grazing in grasslands that are unsuitable for human-friendly agriculture? Not every square inch of free space on the globe can be turned into high-yield vegetable farming (nor should it be! See the [relatively recent] deserts of the middle east for the reason why), but there are many areas that can sustainably support livestock using resources that are otherwise unavailable to humans.

    In today's world, this is all largely academic, since that's not where the vast majority of our meat comes from, and what I said above gets into problems of scale anyway. But it's also food for thought... meat consumption is not inherently an energy waster, it only is on a large scale and with the methods we are using now.

  4. Maybe we could eat people, thus solving two problems at a stroke?

    More seriously, it's not black and white. Certain kinds of meat are worse than others. Beef is the worst, because of all the methane and the low energy conversion ratio.

    If everyone cut right back on their beef consumption, and switched instead to chicken, then it would be a major step in the right direction.

    And this is one of those situations where there's a happy congruence of 'common good' with personal good. Because high consumption of meat, especially red meat, comes with a lot of health problems.

  5. All very sensible comments, people. I do wish a few crackpots commenting here so that I could disagree with someone.

  6. Thanks for this post. I used to eat red meat many times a week. Not only do I get tired easily and feel depressed, I also feel very heavy. I hate stairs, I don't like long walk and most especially I don't run. Somebody advised me to change my eating habit. It was not easy, but I did it anyways. I now eat white meat, more veggies and fruits and lots of drinking water. And then, there was a change, I'm happy, I'm smaller, I can go through the stairs, though I still prefer the elevator if there's any, I can run and I can do long walk. Most of all, I'm healthier. I'm doing this for my health and not for global warming. However if I am contributing to save the earth, then so be it.

  7. Well Bjørn, I did suggest that we turn to cannibalism to fight global warming. Not crackpot enough for you, eh?

  8. At least by suggesting cannibalism you are acknowledging the existence of the problem. A crackpotter person would say there is no climate problem, and that we should eat humans for the taste of it.

    Besides, I knew you were jesting. you were, right?

  9. Good for you, e-procurement. I have cut back quite a bit on meat, and I'm still just as obese as ever. hahaha, oh well...

    P.S. There is no climate problem! We should eat humans for the taste of it! Also, if you even think of eating an animal, you are evil and bad! Animal research too! And teh vaccines and teh toxins!!!1!!!!!11

  10. Too late to fool me, James, despite your undeniable crackpot imitation skills. More spelling problems and exclamation marks, please.

  11. Maybe we should get the cows to become predators... solve the meat and over-population problem at one bite.

  12. Maybe we should get the cows to become predators...

    Predators of... humans? That's genius.

  13. OK, I bite. Has anybody bothered to fact check Lord Stern's claims? The tone of the article "Give up meat to save the planet" made me suspicious. Disclaimer: I'm not a vegetarian.

    Stern claims that Methane (produced by cows, for example), is "23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas". Sounds convincing, right? But it completely misses the point, as a careful analysis shows. Methane abundance is roughly a thousand times less than CO2 abundance. But most importantly, the half-life of Methane in the atmosphere is about seven years. The half-life of CO2, on the other hand, is 600 years plus. As a consequence, the impact of Methane is much less. In fact, the radiative forcing effect of Methane, which is the IPCC's established measure of comparing impacts of aerosols on climate, is ONE THIRD of CO2.

    Thus, Lord Stern is exposed as an agitator.

    Please, folks, use your ability to think critiically!

  14. I forgot to add: Anyone want to bet Lord Stern is a vegetarian?

  15. Lord Stern clarifies his comment about 'going vegetarian.'

    According to the Times Online article, he is 'not a strict vegetarian himself.'


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