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November 2009 printable subscriber newsletter

Ecologist

30th October, 2009

In this month's newsletter we take a look at a radical new approach to fish-farming, document the human and environmental cost of soya production for cheap livestock farming, examine the technologies which promise to make shipping green, and ask how we can tell which companies are really green. To download, log in and scroll to the bottom of the page...

Most environmentalists begrudingly admit that it took an economist, (then Sir, now Lord) Nicholas Stern, to finally give climate change the international attention it desperately needed.

Whether you agree with the Stern Review’s methods for putting a price on the economic impact of climate change - and let’s not forget it did involve costing out the value of human lives - few can doubt that that the previously little-known, grey-suited economist translated the threat of global warming into the mother tongue of the corridors of power with great success.

So I was hoping that Stern’s comments on meat eating during a recent interview with The Times would receive similarly serious attention:
‘Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.’

Predictably, after a backlash by the right-wing press (which had fair choked on its claret to read of anyone daring to challenge the sovereignty of the Sunday Roast), Stern was forced to beat a retreat.

‘I did not, as your front- page headline (Oct 27) suggested, tell people to “give up meat to save the planet”. Nor did I, as your leading article (Oct 28) asserted, make a “demand for behavioural change”,’ Stern was forced to capitulate  in The Times’ letters
pages.

He continued: ‘It would be extremely counter-productive to try to dictate the choices that consumers can make. A sound democracy requires information on key issues, the availability of choice and strong public discussion.’

The thing is, Nick, we’ve had all three of those for about the last decade, and we’re no closer to solving the methane-from-livestock issue. In fact, according to a controversial report released by the WorldWatch Institute this month, emissions from livestock may account for a staggering 51 per cent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Its methodology is up for debate, but what it does quite rightly point out is that the livestock industry has continued to balloon in size since the data were collected on which the last study into the matter – the FAO’s ‘Livestock’s Long Shadow’ report – was based.

In many ways, the ‘food crisis’ with which the world will be faced over the next century will be, at root, a ‘protein crisis’: a war that will have to see long-standing habits and tastes for meat and dairy products brutally addressed.

Whatever the exact climate impact of intensive livestock farming, anyone in any doubt as to the human- and ecosystem costs of this system should turn straight to Andrew Wasley’s report on the effects of soya cultivation in Paraguay (page 5). Based on a Friends of the Earth investigation into animal feedstocks, his article – and the accompanying film on our website – show that even if we could magically decarbonise cheap meat and dairy production tomorrow, its effects are still chilling.

Stern, this was the wrong issue on which to back down.

Mark Anslow, Editor

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