There is a big debate about global warming and carbon foot prints in the Group of Twenty (also known as the G-20 or G20) and other forums and India listens to western lectures on dangers of coal and emissions etc.
So far the discussion is only on fossil fuels and items like concrete constructions but not on eating habits of people. The latter contributes much more to global warming and Ecological destruction. We often do not bring that to the top of the table since all discussion is essentially West determined.
An interesting report in Scientific American says:
Most of us are aware that our cars, our coal-generated electric power and even our cement factories adversely affect the environment. Until recently, however, the foods we eat had gotten a pass in the discussion. Yet according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry.(Greenhouse gases trap solar energy, thereby warming the earth’s surface. Because gases vary in greenhouse potency, every greenhouse gas is usually expressed as an amount of CO2 with the same global-warming potential.)
Curbing the world’s huge and increasing appetite for meat is essential to avoid devastating climate change, according to a new report. But governments and green campaigners are doing nothing to tackle the issue due to fears of a consumer backlash, warns the analysis from the think-tank Chatham House.
The global livestock industry produces more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, planes, trains and ships combined, but a worldwide survey by Ipsos MORI in the report finds twice as many people think transport is the bigger contributor to global warming.
More importantly it is to be noted that the study shows red meat or beef dwarfs others for environmental impact, using 28 times more land and 11 times water for pork or chicken.
Beef’s environmental impact dwarfs that of other meat including chicken and pork, new research reveals, with one expert saying that eating less red meat would be a better way for people to cut carbon emissions than giving up their cars.
The heavy impact on the environment of meat production was known but the research shows a new scale and scope of damage, particularly for beef. The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate-warming emissions. When compared to staples like potatoes, wheat, and rice, the impact of beef per calorie is even more extreme, requiring 160 times more land and producing 11 times more greenhouse gases.
“The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” Benton said. “Another recent study implies the single biggest intervention to free up calories that could be used to feed people would be not to use grains for beef production in the US.” However, he said the subject was always controversial: “This opens a real can of worms.”
Prof Mark Sutton, at the UK’s Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, said: “Governments should consider these messages carefully if they want to improve overall production efficiency and reduce the environmental impacts. But the message for the consumer is even stronger. Avoiding excessive meat consumption, especially beef, is good for the environment.”
Livestock production accounts for 14.5 per cent of global greenhouse emissions, the same amount produced by all the cars, planes, boats and trains in the world. “A single cow can belch up to 500 liters of methane every day”, writes the BBC’s Dry Michael Mosley, a gas that is 25 times more potent than a carbon dioxide. “Multiply that by the 1.5 billion cattle we have on our planet and that’s a lot of gas.”
It is inefficient. It takes, on average, 3kg of grain to produce 1kg of meat and two thirds of all agricultural land is used to grow feed for livestock, whereas only eight per cent is used to grow food directly for human consumption. These are “basic laws of biophysics that we cannot evade,” says the study’s lead researcher, Bojana Bajzelj from the University of Cambridge.
It places pressure on dwindling freshwater supplies and destroys forest and grasslands, which are turned over for grazing. Soil erosion, soil and water pollution from fertilizers and animal waste are other ways the meat industry impacts the environment.
Scientists also argue that we need to stop wasting so much food, as on average, 7.2 million tons of food is wasted in the UK each year.
In conclusion, we should put forward arguments and turn the debate on its head by asking the West to close down steak houses and consume less red-meat/ beef rather than meekly accepting their arm twisting.
(The author is a professor of Finance at Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore. He can be reached email@example.com)