Why Welsh Gov should tell people to eat less meat to tackle the climate emergency
Dr Keith Darlington
Abnormal weather is having a catastrophic impact on many communities on our planet.
Massive areas of Europe, the USA, Canada, and Australia have been ablaze with horrific consequences.
Places like Siberia are encountering heatwaves – something that would have been unthinkable only a decade ago.
In Wales and the UK, Germany, China, and many other places, extreme flooding is costing lives and devastation for thousands of families. Weather records have tumbled monthly here in the UK during the last year.
The last decade has been the hottest ever and every one of the last 19 out of 20 years has been the hottest on record precipitating horrendous freak storms all over the planet with devastating consequences.
The overwhelming body of scientific evidence gathered on climate change proves conclusively that the planet is getting hotter. Furthermore, the rise in carbon emissions is man-made and causing the increased heating of the planet. Disputing this now is almost like disputing that 1 + 1 = 2.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a stark warning in a report on 9th August confirming that climate change is no longer something that is going to happen in the distant future – it is happening now and getting worse. The events we are observing as described in the introduction will increase in frequency unless we act urgently.
But the debate has, thank goodness, moved on from climate denial to climate action. Since Joe Biden became US President, he has signed up to the Paris targets for reductions in carbon emissions, and every country in the world is now committed to carbon reduction targets.
But that is clearly no longer enough according to the IPCC report. The report also emphasizes that it is still not too late if we act now.
One of the most worrying points in the report shows that the temperature of the planet rose by 1.1 degree Celsius between 2011 and 2020. It may not seem like much but changes like this happen over thousands, if not millions of years. According to the IPCC, this temperature increase must be limited to a rise of about 1.5 degrees Celcius before 2040.
The methane problem
The main factors affecting global warming are the burning of fossil fuels and methane emissions. Relatively little has been said about the latter by politicians or the media.
Yet, it is one of the most serious findings in the IPCC report. This gas is mainly produced from animal farming and heats the world by a factor of more than 80 times that of carbon dioxide. It does have a shorter life in the atmosphere before it degrades into carbon dioxide. However, its heating potential in the short term is huge – causing up to 30% of global heating to date.
So much so that one of the IPCC panelists, Durwood Zaelke, said that methane reductions were probably the only way of staving off temperature rises above 1.5 degrees Celcius.
He said: “Cutting methane is the biggest opportunity to slow warming between now and 2040.”
He adds: “We need to face this emergency and policymakers must heed the IPCC findings on methane before the UN climate talks, Cop26, in Glasgow in November this year.
One way that methane emissions could be reduced is to eat less meat. Yet, the UK Government are reluctant to give such advice to the public even when their own Climate Change Committee (CCC) advisors recommend that they should urge the public to do so.
The same problem arises here in Wales. Politicians in Wales are calling for more to be done by the UK Government and the Welsh government declared a climate emergency two years ago. Yet, the Welsh Government Minister for Rural Affairs, Lesley Griffiths, rejected a call in one of the IPCC reports at that time to eat less meat.
Politicians, in Wales and Westminster, seem to think that it is too dangerous to give such advice perhaps believing that it will alienate some voters. However, as more families experience severe disruption from floods, fires, and intense heat, they may have no choice.
Those who say that we are only responsible for 1% emissions and other countries should be doing more should remember that we are all in this together and we should all try and set examples to encourage others to work towards a solution.
The IPCC report demonstrates how urgent it is that we solve the climate change problem.
That means that Politicians, across the spectrum, need to rethink the scale of this challenge. In the last 18 months we have faced the Covid challenge that has shaken the world, but that could be dwarfed by the impending climate catastrophe we now face.
Most of us accepted the need for restrictions on our lives – such as through lockdowns, social distancing, and face masks – because we knew the science was telling us that it was in the long-term interests of our safety.
The government partly followed the science. Policymakers need to rethink their attitude towards climate change in the same way. As I pointed earlier, that means leading by example and being bold enough to say something that may not court popularity – such as advising us to eat less meat or use our cars less.
As the adage goes: “Think global, act local”. We can all make a difference but encouragement from our leaders might help.
We cannot afford to get this wrong because many of the consequences of climate change are irreversible. For example, if sea levels rise by 2m (as the report suggests is a possible scenario) and large swathes of lower-level land is lost to the sea then such a change is irreversible.