When you pick up that bacon double cheeseburger with a side of six chicken nuggets and a vanilla milkshake, your first thought is probably not “perhaps I shouldn’t eat this; it’s bad for the environment.” But maybe it should be, because our lack of awareness about the environmental impacts of livestock could be preventing us from reaching climate targets, a recent report has warned.
Included in the document are the results from a large survey, which found that around twice as many respondents believed that emissions from transport were greater than from livestock. However, in reality, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock actually account for a higher percentage of the global total. And if we don’t do something soon to change consumption patterns, there’s no way that we are going to be able to reach our goal of keeping the global temperature rise below 2oC (3.6oF).
It’s easy to frown upon gas guzzlers, but many people don’t realize that eating meat and dairy products is also contributing to climate change in a big way. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the livestock sector account for around 14.5% of the global total; that’s more than the emissions from road vehicles, trains, ships and planes combined. And despite the fact that new technologies and changes in agricultural practices could help reduce livestock emissions, in reality they won’t make much of a dent because our demand for animal products is on the rise. By 2050, consumption of meat is expected to have risen a whopping 76%, compared with only 40% for cereals.
The reason that livestock contributes to global warming is because producing meat and dairy creates a huge amount of methane and nitrous oxide, two potent GHGs. Furthermore, livestock production also fuels deforestation because land is needed not only to keep the animals, but also to grow crops for their feed.
Despite these problems, the livestock sector attracts very little attention, and consequently public knowledge about the issue is remarkably low. To assess consumer awareness and public opinion on the issue of livestock emissions, a 12-nation survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI, a market research organization in the UK.
The results revealed that 64% of respondents could recognize emissions from transport as a major contributor to climate change, but only 29% considered emissions from livestock production as a major source of GHGs. Consumers also tended to base their food choices on taste, price and health, rather than climate change. However, consumers with a greater awareness were found to be more willing to reduce their meat and dairy intake for climate objectives.
But it’s not all negative; respondents in emerging countries such as India and China demonstrated high levels of acceptance of human-driven climate change and were more willing to change their meat and dairy consumption behavior than other countries assessed. This is encouraging because much of the forecasted increase in consumption is predicted to occur in these countries.
To tackle this growing problem, public awareness needs to increase, because without it, there won’t be enough pressure on politicians to make this issue part of the political agenda. Likewise, if politicians aren’t pursuing it, it’s unlikely that the public will be aware of the problem.