Does your car emit 24 times more car­bon than your beef?

Irish Examiner - Farming - - FARM FINANCE - Kieran Cough­lan www.cough­lanac­count­

on gov­ern­ments to ad­dress cli­mate change seems to be ramp­ing up by the week.

Bri­tish doc­u­men­tary maker David At­ten­bor­ough, fa­mous for his wildlife pro­grammes weighed in heavy this week.

At the COP24 24th Con­fer­ence of the Par­ties to the United Na­tions Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change, in Poland, At­ten­bor­ough warned, “If we don’t take ac­tion, the col­lapse of our civil­i­sa­tions and the ex­tinc­tion of much of the nat­u­ral world is on the hori­zon”.

An ob­jec­tive at the meet­ing in Poland is to put a ‘rule book’ in place to en­able the land­mark Paris ac­cord be put into prac­tice glob­ally. Pa­tricia Espinosa, the UN’S Cli­mate Chief, said: “This year is likely to be one of the four hottest years on record. Green­houses gas con­cen­tra­tions in the at­mos­phere are at record lev­els, and emis­sions con­tinue to rise. Cli­mate change im­pacts have never been worse. This re­al­ity is telling us that we need to do much more”. Un­doubt­edly, pres­sure will in­crease on farm­ers as a re­sult of pro­pos­als em­a­nat­ing from COP24, and there is a real risk that dam­age will be in­flicted, es­pe­cially on beef in­dus­tries, as a re­sult of their bad rep­u­ta­tion for green­house emis­sions.

A plethora of head­lines over re­cent months sug­gested switch­ing from beef will re­duce cli­mate change. It’s easy to point fingers, and make sweep­ing state­ments, but let’s look at some facts.

On av­er­age in Ire­land, we con­sume about 19kgs of beef per year. Ac­cord­ing to Bord Bia, Ire­land has the fifth low­est car­bon foot­print for beef in the EU (27 coun­tries), at about 19kgs of car­bon per kg of beef, which com­pares with an EU av­er­age of 22kgs. Firstly, it’s a valid point that if we don’t pro­duce beef from our nat­u­ral grass­lands, in­vari­ably it will be pro­duced Char­tered tax ad­viser Kieran Cough­lan, Bel­go­oly, Co Cork. (086) 8678296 else­where, at a higher car­bon foot­print.

Se­condly, tak­ing these two fig­ures, the car­bon cost of us eat­ing beef is about 360kgs (19x19) per an­num. Switch­ing to eat­ing bean sprouts which you grow your­self might re­duce your foot­print to nil, but ask your­self what is our per­sonal, na­tional and global foot­print? And what por­tion of it comes from eat­ing beef? Shouldn’t the weight­ing given to re­duc­ing car­bon cor­re­spond with our hu­man hi­er­ar­chy of needs?

The ac­cept­able car­bon foot­print as­so­ci­ated with pro­vid­ing for our food, warmth and shel­ter should be higher than for dis­cre­tionary choices we make, such as avi­a­tion, or even com­mut­ing to work. A per­son com­mut­ing 30 miles with a fuel-guz­zling SUV to work emits 8.6 tons of car­bon per year. Whether that per­son de­cides to switch from beef to chicken or beef spouts is ir­rel­e­vant in terms of their car­bon foot­print. In­deed, our cur­rent tax sys­tem, which sought to en­cour­age a tran­si­tion to­wards lower emis­sion ve­hi­cles should now be called into ques­tion, in terms of its ef­fi­cacy in re­duc­ing our na­tional foot­print.

The av­er­age age of Ir­ish cars is about 8.6 years, mean­ing that most of the cars on our roads now were built and pur­chased since the change in road tax pol­icy in 2008. Drive past any scrap yard, and you’ll see a plethora of cars first reg­is­tered in 2008 and 2009 be­ing scrapped. New cars are be­ing pur­pres­sure chased to re­place rel­a­tively new cars, and may not be much more ef­fi­cient than the cars be­ing scrapped, which calls our car tax pol­icy into ques­tion — be­cause es­ti­mates sug­gest that the car­bon foot­print to build a new car ranges from about 12 to 30 tons.

So­cially, do we need to re­think our work and hous­ing model?

If we take it that our na­tional car stock has a life ex­pectancy of only nine years on av­er­age, then the car­bon foot­print spread over the car’s life ranges from about 1.3 tons per year to 3.3 tons per years, which is many mul­ti­ples of the car­bon foot­print of the av­er­age beef con­sumer.

Is it an in­dict­ment of the qual­ity of cars en­ter­ing our coun­try that they have such a short lifes­pan, or is the un­der­ly­ing re­al­ity that na­tion­ally we love to flash the new num­ber plate? There­fore, would chang­ing our num­ber plat­ing sys­tem to ran­dom num­bers and let­ters help re­duce our emis­sions? New cli­mate mit­i­ga­tion ter­mi­nol­ogy has been cre­ated over the past year or so, in­clud­ing the con­cept of farm­ers work­ing within their so­cial li­cence.

New Zealand’s Agri­cul­ture Min­is­ter Damien O’con­nor has sug­gested that “farm­ers have to op­er­ate at a higher level than they have in the past, if they wish to re­tain their so­cial li­cence to farm”. But is it so­cially ac­cept­able for a gen­er­a­tion of com­muters to pump out car­bon? Or is it so­cially ac­cept­able that our govern­ment does not al­low mo­bil­ity of hous­ing stock, so that peo­ple can af­ford to live near work­places?

Im­me­di­ate ac­tion on cli­mate change is un­doubt­edly war­ranted, and farm­ing must play its part. But putting too much of the blame and fo­cus on farm­ing to the ex­clu­sion of the un­der­ly­ing dy­nam­ics of car­bon emis­sions will not help to make a mean­ing­ful im­pact on cli­mate change.

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