Life

Take on Nature: Will tackling climate change entail quitting meat and turning TVs off?

Animal-based foods take up 85 per cent of the food supply land footprint in Northern Ireland and Britain

DAFFODILS in full bloom, the first leaves breaking out on hawthorns, birds gathering twigs and dead grass to build their nests. It must be spring. Yet this time last year we were still in the depths of winter, with blizzards and sub-zero temperatures lasting well into the middle of March.

Last month saw the highest temperatures ever recorded in Britain during the month of February – 21C in London on Tuesday and Britain's Met Office was predicting that temperatures this weekend would be up to 10 degrees higher than for the time of year.

Meanwhile across the Atlantic there was snow in Las Vegas, and heavy rainfall in the normally arid Los Angeles. In January, records were being broken daily in Australia, with temperatures pushing close to 50C in some places.

Climate change is here and not something that we can keep talking about in theoretical terms and mutter vague platitudes along the lines of 'we better do something soon'.

However, while most governments in the world acknowledge the reality and the need to take measures to slow it down and perhaps even reverse it, their policies still tend to be on the long finger.

Target dates to achieve reductions in greenhouse gases are set between 2032 and 2050, yet the temperatures for last year were the fourth highest on record and, according to the journal Geophysical Research Letters, with an El Niño feeding in to climate patterns, this year could see the highest global temperatures in human history.

Einstein often engaged in ‘thought experiments' whereby he took a theory and visualised its consequences… the experiments may never be performed and may not be possible to perform, but it gave him a chance to develop new theories and conclusions.

There is a thought experiment doing the rounds now among environmental activists which suggests that setting targets decades into the future is too little and too late and we should focus on cutting carbon emission targets to near zero by 2025.

That would mean a complete cessation of the use of fossil fuels to generate energy and an immediate switch to renewables – solar, wind and waves. The change over to new technology would probably not meet demand by 2025 so we would have to see a massive societal change in how energy is used by individuals.

Another idea mooted is that the entire world becomes vegan – the rationale behind this is that huge areas of the Earth's arable land are used for grazing and to grow crops to feed cattle, sheep, pigs, chickens and other livestock.

According to the VeganSci website, animal-based foods take up 85 per cent of the food-supply land footprint in Northern Ireland and Britain – 62.7 per cent as grassland for animal agriculture, 21.8 per cent for crops grown for animal feed and just 15.5 per cent for crops grown for direct human consumption.

Roll that out globally and think how much more food would be available for humans if the land used for grazing and to grow food for animals was turned over to crops for human consumption.

And then there is the issue of – sorry, there is no way of putting this politely – cow farts and belches. A cow releases around 100kg of methane each year. Methane is a greenhouse gas, but its negative effect on the atmosphere is 25 times higher than the impact of CO2 – one farting and burping cow releases the same amount of greenhouse gases over a year as a small car driving just under 8,000 miles.

Now, clearly, telling everyone on the planet to stop eating meat and to turn off their TVs and as many lights as possible otherwise we're all going to fry is an extreme position, but in terms of a thought experiment it puts the issues out there and perhaps from these radical proposals new thinking will emerge.

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