I am reprinting this article from Triple J Hack as I found it fascinating on many levels. I was also very pleased that they actually consulted Australia’s leading expert on livestock emissions, Professor Rich Eckard.
Pretty sobering to think that choosing your diet is a privilege for the 1%
The other thing that always makes me smile is the fact that so few people ask the question. “Why does pork,, chicken, eggs and dairy have a lower footprint?” Its simple intensive agriculture will always have a lower carbon footprint and the more intensive the lower the footprint. So cattle grazing on vast rangelands logically have a larger footprint but they also play a very important role in managing the vast areas of land in Australia we cant grow crops on.
Rich Eckard is a pragmatist and its important that we take a leaf out of his book and look at the whole picture. Yes we should all eat less meat and more vegies but that is just a small part of of the climate change mitigation toolkit
Watching ads for Australian lamb – Lee Lin Chin snarling about “vegans” while a SWAT team torches a bunch of kale; the most diverse array of Australiansuniting over “the meat that doesn’t discriminate” – you’d be forgiven for thinking that eating lamb is an essential ingredient of Aussie patriotism. That not eating lamb would be bloody un-Australian.
Mark Pershin, founder and CEO of ‘Less Meat, Less Heat’ – an app which helps users map the carbon footprint of their diet – says Australians need to be more conscious of how their food choices are impacting the environment.
But is cutting down on meat just another act of middle-class back-patting that might not make any difference to the environment…at all?
Before you chalk this discussion up as another dose of unwelcome vegan evangelicalism (insert joke about vegans telling you they’re vegan here) – fear not.
Mark Pershin says his app isn’t aiming for all Australians to become vegans or vegetarians; he doesn’t want to convince devout carnivores that tempeh sausages are better than the real thing.
But he does want more Australians to take up what he’s calling the “Climatarian” diet.
How the Climatarian diet came about
After years of campaigning as a climate change activist, Mark Pershin’s app, the Climatarian Challenge, was released last week.
But let’s get into the origin story first.
Mark first started thinking more seriously about the environment after a near-death experience while holidaying in Malaysia.
“My drink was spiked, and the next thing I remember was waking up in hospital,” Mark told Hack.
“I’d been robbed and left for dead, basically. I’d either fallen or been thrown off a height, from 4 – 6 storeys high. The doctor said from my injuries, I had about a five per cent chance of surviving.
“The rest of the year I was being operated on, recovering, rehabilitating,” Mark says. “It gave me a lot of time to think.”
All of that thinking eventually led to The Climatarian Challenge, which encourages users to understand the carbon footprint of what they eat every day.
“People sign up to the app with a carbon budget of 8000 carbon points. Which is equivalent to 80kg of carbon dioxide emissions,” Mark explains.
“Over time they put in what they eat for breakfast lunch and dinner, the different types of meat and their portion sizes, and then it subtracts their carbon footprint from that meal.
“The goal is to stay within the carbon budget over 30 days.”
Mark says the aim of the app isn’t to shock users into ditching meat altogether. It’s all about moderation.
“Ultimately we’re not advocating for a vegetarian or a vegan diet, we’re advocating for a Climatarian diet. Which at the very minimum involves cutting back beef and lamb consumption to once a week.”
Beef is a massive offender for carbon emissions
According to Professor Richard Eckard, Director of the Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre at the University of Melbourne, agriculture contributes to about 10 per cent of global gas emissions.
And most of that comes from producing red meat.
According to the UN’s Global Livestock Emissions Assessment model – which Mark uses as modelling for his app – producing beef is by far the worst offender for carbon emissions, compared to other animal products.
“Once people realised we weren’t a vegan or vegetarian organisation, we found people were really open to that idea, and to actually learn about their various food choices.”
Mark says that consumers often feel helpless when thinking about climate change; reducing the amount of red meat is one of the easiest ways to make a tangible difference.
“We say that it’s the smallest change with the biggest impact of anything you can do.”
Choosing your diet is a privilege for the 1%
If you decide to take the Climatarian Challenge and reduce your diet’s carbon footprint – great job! But it means you’re part of a very narrow, very privileged part of the world’s population who can actually choose what they eat – according to Professor Richard Eckard from the University of Melbourne.
“The number of people in the world that have the privilege of choosing their diet is limited to about one per cent of the population,” Professor Eckard told Hack. “They are the affluent few that can actually have a choice over what they eat or don’t eat. The majority of the population just eat what they can get.”
Professor Eckard says that population divide is changing rapidly – and it’s creating more meat eaters, not less.
“There is a rising middle class in the world coming out of those populations. That’s predicted to be about 4.6 billion people by about 2030,” Professor Eckard explains.
When those billions of people are wealthy enough to decide what they eat, they’ll want to include red meat in their diet, Professor Eckard says.
Put simply – the luxury of being able to eat red meat will mean more of the world will be eating it than ever before.
That one per cent of us who can already decide what we want to eat isn’t the problem; what those 4.6 billion people decide to eat is a MUCH bigger one.
And figuring out how to tell billions of people to keep eating rice and veggies – even when they can afford meat – isn’t easy.
So what’s the point of reducing red meat in your diet?
It’s easy to be a cynic. Professor Richard Eckard admits that the “privileged few” of us in the world who can choose to eat less meat aren’t going to solve climate change by ourselves.
But he says initiatives like The Climatarian Challenge are all vital pieces of a bigger picture.
“I think [awareness tools like The Climatarian Challenge] have a real purpose and I support them. And it’s not really because of what they actually end up doing. The more awareness we raise that you can reduce your personal greenhouse gas footprint – the more that message gets around to other people, the better. It’s the message of ‘this is something we need to take seriously’.
“It’s almost a communication tool more than anything else. Because that same person who takes up that app, they might also then say, ‘well I want solar panels on my roof, I want to be more sustainable’.”
Author Ange McCormack