Meating climate change!

An interesting reflection on the rearing of cattle and an ‘Anti-Meat pill!  No kidding!

I was vaguely aware of the contribution of cattle towards the overall rise in greenhouse gases.  A very quick web search found this news item from the United Nations which included,

29 November 2006 – Cattle-rearing generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation, and smarter production methods, including improved animal diets to reduce enteric fermentation and consequent methane emissions, are urgently needed, according to a new United Nations report released today.

“Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems,” senior UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) official Henning Steinfeld said. “Urgent action is required to remedy the situation.”

But what prompted me to look a little closer at this was a recent article on the Big Think website that was entitled, The Anti-Meat Pill: Human Engineering to Combat Climate Change.

Let me quote a little from the article, presented on the Big Think website by Daniel Honan.

NYU Bio-ethicist Matthew Liao has caused a stir recently with a forthcoming paper that explores the biomedical modification of humans in order to stop us from consuming red meat.

and a paragraph later continued with,

In a forthcoming paper to be published in Ethics, Policy and the Environment, Liao suggests that humans might take pills to bring about mild nausea to rid ourselves of our appetite for red meat. This would have a mitigating effect on climate change, he argues.

Liao refers to studies such as a widely-sited UN report that estimates 18 percent of greenhouse emissions come from livestock, which is a higher share than transportation. Another report, from 2009, estimates livestock emissions are significantly higher, at 50 percent. Fact of life: cows fart. Other negative impacts of increased livestock farming includes deforestation and a drain on water supplies.

The Internet rapidly found Matthew Liao’s website and from there the paper referred to above, which is introduced thus,

Professor Matthew Liao of New York University

Anthropogenic climate change is arguably one of the biggest problems that confront us today. There is ample evidence that climate change is likely to affect adversely many aspects of life for all people around the world, and that existing solutions such as geoengineering might be too risky and ordinary behavioural and market solutions might not be sufficient to mitigate climate change. In this paper, we consider a new kind of solution to climate change, what we call human engineering, which involves biomedical modifications of humans so that they can mitigate and/or adapt to climate change. We argue that human engineering is potentially less risky than geoengineering and that it could help behavioural and market solutions succeed in mitigating climate change. We also consider some possible ethical concerns regarding human engineering such as its safety, the implications of human engineering for our children and for the society, and we argue that these concerns can be addressed. Our upshot is that human engineering deserves further consideration in the debate about climate change.

Now if we go back to that UN article, we can see that emissions from cattle and livestock in general is not a minor issue.

When emissions from land use and land use change are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 per cent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.

And it accounts for respectively 37 per cent of all human-induced methane (23 times as warming as CO2), which is largely produced by the digestive system of ruminants, and 64 per cent of ammonia, which contributes significantly to acid rain.

With increased prosperity, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year, the report notes. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.

But modifying humans, frankly, misses the point.

That is unless we wholeheartedly embrace the need to change, to sustain the only planet we can call home, and do it because we care, Planet Earth will do the bioengineering for us – engineering us into extinction.  For example, just cut back on eating meat!  And if you don’t want to do it for the planet, do it for the health of your children as this Health Petition underlines in spades.

So I’m sorry Professor Liao but this seems like a step too far – by a long way.

3 thoughts on “Meating climate change!

  1. “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Livestock’s contribution to environmental problems is on a massive scale and its potential contribution to their solution is equally large. The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” UN Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. roads.” Environmental Defense Fund

    Why would someone choose to be vegan? To slow global warming for one! Here are two uplifting videos to help everyone understand why so many people are making this life affirming choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fKr4HZ7ukSE and http://www.veganvideo.org

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