Vegetarians put the brakes on climate change

Forget clean energy production and alternative fuels, carbon emissions could be slashed by an incredible 21% overnight if we all stopped eating meat.

This is the claim made by British scientist Alan Calverd writing in journal Physics World.

He told edie that the figures were pretty straightforward and his solution would be far easier to implement, and politically less contentious, than complex emissions trading schemes.

"What I did was look at the power consumption of human beings, the weight of farm animals we need to maintain and multiplied that by the specific power consumption of an average mammal," he said.

"It turns out that 21% of our carbon emissions come down to out taste for meat."

He argued that it would be easy enough to scrap farming subsidies for rearing livestock and use the money saved to boost those for producing vegetable proteins and biofuel.

And, he said, it would be easy enough to re-educate people's palates.

"When I was a boy we'd be fed tripe for school dinners and nobody had ever heard of a byriani," he said.

"Five years is a long time in gastronomy."

He claimed the 21% reduction was a conservative estimate, as moving away from livestock-based agriculture also had fringe benefits for the environment.

"Not only do we immediately lose 21% of our carbon emissions, but to grow vegetable proteins you need plants, which means even less carbon in the atmosphere."

Using the same land we could produce 60% more food with plant-only agriculture, said Calverd, either to better feed the population or set aside land to grow carbon-neutral biomass to further reduce our emissions.

And, of course, the global herd produces frightening amounts of greenhouse gas methane as well as grazing its way through billions of carbon-absorbing plants.

Also in its favour, said the physicist, was the experiment's easy-to-adopt, easy-to-drop nature.

No technological innovation was needed, simply the will to get on with it.

And, said Calverd, we could keep the existing breeding stock and repopulate the fields in future years if things did not pan out.

The physicist himself is not a vegetarian, and ironically the idea for a meat-free world came while he was helping his wife to butcher a deer they had acquired from local forest rangers.

And for those who cannot turn their backs on meat completely, Calverd has another solution.

"We should look at munching things like locusts," he told edie.

"They are the most efficient method know for converting vegetable matter into animal fats and protein, the only problem is nobody eats them at the moment."

By Sam Bond



Waste & resource management
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