Smug Irish eco-warriors keep avoiding the meat of the matter
If climate change activists want to save the planet, they should start with what’s on their own plates, writes Eilis O’Hanlon
OPPORTUNITIES to applaud Mary Robinson have been few and far between since the Mayo woman got tired of being Irish President and ran away to join the circus at the UN instead. That changed last week. She did a remarkable thing on Sean O’Rourke’s radio show. The former Uachtarain said that she’s become a vegetarian.
What’s so impressive about that? Nothing in itself. What food they put in their mouths is people’s own business. But it’s remarkable how many climate change activists have not made the same commitment to change their diet, despite screaming about the terrible fate awaiting planet earth if something isn’t done right now about global warming.
They’ll happily call for the immediate shutdown of power plants. They’ll rail against the use of fossil fuels. As seen this Budget week, they miss no excuse to demand a carbon tax be imposed on everything that moves. But ask them to give up meat, which has been described by the UN as the single biggest thing an individual can do to limit the harm they do to the planet, and they go suddenly, mysteriously silent.
It was the same again last week after the publication of the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel On Climate Change (IPCC), which warned in the starkest terms that not enough was being done to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels in order to avoid catastrophe.
Every part of the report, from its advocacy of green energy to the call to plant more trees, was heavily hyped in the Irish and international media — with one notable exception. Those were the parts which advocate a radical reduction in the consumption of meat, in particular beef. It’s been estimated that switching to a meat-free diet results in an immediate reduction of 50pc in an individual’s carbon footprint. Driving an electric car doesn’t come close.
This is not about climate change. I’m in no way qualified to say whether human activity has irrevocably altered the earth’s climate, and what should be done to stop it. It might even be too late. World economic growth is set to double in the next few decades. Holding it back may ultimately prove impossible.
It’s not even about vegetarianism, though as a vegan myself — for animal welfare, rather than environmental reasons — I wouldn’t claim for one second to be impartial.
But for those who shout loudest about the environment, and who campaign for political change to end global warming, it’s impossible to square the circle. Despite purporting to believe that the entire world is under threat, most still won’t give up eating meat. There’s an old-fashioned word for that. Hypocrisy.
Earlier this year the most exhaustive study ever of the environmental effect of farming was published. It found that dairy and meat account for just 18pc of the calories we consume, but take up 83pc of the farmland. Land use could be reduced by three quarters whilst still feeding the world. Even the least damaging forms of dairy and meat farming were far ahead of all forms of vegetable and cereal growing when it came to environmental destruction.
Beef produces 105kg of greenhouse gasses for every 100g of meat; tofu less than 3.5kg for the same amount of food, and nuts even less than that. The professor put it simply: “Converting grass into (meat) is like converting coal to energy. It comes with an immense cost in emissions.”
Farm chickens now make up 70pc of birds on the planet, whilst 60pc of land mammals are livestock. In Ireland alone, we eat more than three million chickens a week, and are the EU’s largest consumers of beef.
What do climate activists have to say about this? Precious little, as it happens. They’re the ones demanding that the world listens to climate experts, but when those same experts tell them to do something that involves a small personal sacrifice to their normal lifestyles, they start awkwardly whistling, looking down at their fingernails, pretending not to hear.
The Green Party issued a statement in response to the IPCC report last week. “The Irish political system must act now so our country can become a leader in tackling climate change,” it demanded. “We need to end our use of fossil fuels in a single generation. Switching to public transport, walking and cycling will allow us to build healthier and stronger communities.”
Notice anything missing in all this familiar bumf ?
There are some coy references to the need to “reduce our national herd” and “radical transformation” of “land use”, but nothing specific. The message is deliberately vague.
Similarly with the Budget, which the Greens attacked for not introducing a carbon tax. Party leader Eamon Ryan wrote an indignant piece in The Journal which talked a lot about fossil fuels, but said precisely zilch, nada, about the IPCC call for a dramatic reduction in meat consumption.
Meanwhile, he was tweeting away about car sharing, and some statistic that more Irish schoolgirls are driving themselves to school each day than riding bikes. (Why he was picking on schoolgirls is anybody’s guess). The idea that sharing cars and riding bikes in Ireland will make the slightest difference to global climate change is ludicrous.
The Greens are probably afraid of being too radical. They don’t want to frighten the horses in rural Ireland, and that’s understandable. They’ve always been careful to say that any changes to land use must include sufficient compensation for farmers and help to adapt to new farming methods. The message that growth itself might have to be halted or reversed is also deeply unpopular. No one’s pretending that this is an easy sell for the Greens.
But they can’t attack Fine Gael for being too much in hock to conservative rural Ireland while Greens themselves don’t even have the courage to say to their own supporters: ‘Put down those beefburgers, people, and step away from the sausages’. Every time they appear on radio or TV demanding that Something Must Be Done to save the world, they should be asked: And what are you having for dinner tonight, as a matter of interest? Those who won’t act on the advice of climate change scientists themselves have no right whatsoever to demand that others do so.
Former President Robinson at least practises what she preaches. When it comes to the patronising know-italls who increasingly run everybody’s lives, that’s a rare enough phenomena to be applauded when it happens.
‘World climate change won’t be stopped by riding bikes in Ireland’