R K Pachauri, chief of the Nobel prize winning UN climate change panel, has spiced up the debate on kebabs and steaks by suggesting that the best and easiest way of stemming climate change is not to eat meat at least one day each week. What’s eating meat got to do with climate change, you may ask. A lot, actually.
The Food and Agriculture Organisation calculates that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions. The emissions arise not because you eat and belch or fart, but due to the way land is cleared and feed for animals is grown. And also how the livestock emit methane, when it belches or farts, which is 23 times stronger as a climate-changing agent than carbon dioxide.
So, the world biting into meat a little less seems a good idea. But the world is not a monolith. As in emissions, for which the rich countries are much more responsible than the poor ones, so with meat. Some eat it; others gobble it.
A UAE citizen eats 100.6 kg of poultry products annually. India might be famous for its tandoori chicken, but an average Indian just eats 1.8 kg of poultry products per year, according to the US Department of Agriculture (See P 12). And an average American chews upon 46 kg of chicken in a year and a Chinese 8.7 kg.
The story is the same for beef. An average Indian consumes 1.6 kg of beef and buff products while an average American eats 41.7 kg every year and a Brazilian 37.6 kg.
Don’t go the western way, India warned
High consumption of meat in the western world is driven by an intensive industry that ensures the meat is on the table of the rich, sometimes moving it across continents to suit changing tastes, preferences and fashion. Lands that used to grow other staple foods have been diverted to grow the livestock that feeds a population thirsting for meat.
In developing countries like India, the story is a bit different. The poultry trade is organized but still runs primarily as a cooperative system for small farmers. Livestock feed on agricultural residue more than special feed. The energy intensity of tandoori chicken is much less, though the spices may be too hot for a European palate. So, when R K Pachauri of the IPCC says chew a bit less on that bone, he’s talking largely to a western audience. But he is also warning India we can’t afford to go the western way. Like many of us who go vegetarian every Tuesday, it would be good if all Indians did once a week.
The world needs to take drastic action if global average temperatures are to be maintained at just 2 degrees over current figures. That demands a huge cut of emissions from the rich countries that have caused more than 70% of the GHG gas emissions.