The Impact of the Meat on Our Plate

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

FROM Paul McCartney to Lord Stern, more people are promoting the benefits of a meatless society.

Meat production not only contributes to climate change and land degradation but is also a cause of air and water pollution and biodiversity loss. The farming industry accounts for nine per cent of UK total greenhouse gases, half of which come from sheep, cows and goats. Is the meat on our plate really worth the impact on the planet?

Deforestation, manure and livestock flatulence all contribute to global warming and are associated with excessive meat consumption.

As nations become richer, they tend to eat more meat and more livestock has to be raised to keep up with the demand.

In turn, more grazing land is required and more forests are cut down to expand farmland. As trees get the chop the carbon dioxide that they have absorbed over their lifetime is eventually released back into the atmosphere.

Manure is a source of nitrous oxide which is a greenhouse gas 300 times stronger than carbon dioxide. A recent report warned that nitrogen pollution is costing each European citizen up to £650 a year in damage to water, climate, health and wildlife.

As livestock digest grass, they produce flatulence which contains the greenhouse gas methane. Research by Reading University suggests changing the diet of livestock could reduce methane emissions by 20 per cent.

Improving the efficiency of resource management when it comes to crop and livestock production could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production.

However, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, the current prices of land, water and feed resources used for livestock production do not reflect true scarcities and create distortions that provide no incentive for efficient resource use.

This results in the overuse of resources and major inefficiencies in the production process.

Abandoning our carnivorous habits is both good for the planet and our health. Eating too much meat, especially processed meat, can be bad for a person’s health as it can contain high levels of saturated fat and salt.

An Oxford University study funded by Friends of the Earth showed that more than 45,000 lives a year could be saved if everyone ate meat no more than two or three times a week.

A widespread switch to low-meat diets would stop 31,000 people dying early from heart disease, 9,000 from cancer and 5,000 from strokes. This could save the NHS £1.2bn and help reduce climate change and deforestation.
I am one of the four million vegetarians in Britain and have led a meat-free life for the past 25 years. I still remember the day at primary school when I realised I did not like the idea of eating a dead animal.

However, it took me another nine years before I was able to proudly declare that I would eat “nothing with a face”.

Over the years, being a vegetarian in this country has got easier, people are more accepting and there is more choice of vegetarian food in supermarkets and restaurants.

There are now about 30 top-range vegetarian restaurants – an increase of 50 per cent since 2007. This reflects a growing interest in healthy lifestyles although many people would not necessarily call themselves vegetarian. One 2009 survey suggests 23 per cent of the population are “meat-reducers”, and 10 per cent as “meat-avoiders”.

Despite the increasing awareness of the environmental and health effects of carnivorous cuisine, the seduction of a sizzling sausage, the allure of the bacon butty and the prospect of the Yorkshire pudding with roast beef may simply be too much for many meat eaters to resist.

While there has been a change in eating habits the vast majority of Britons still eat meat, with one-in-five eating meat every day. This suggests education and awareness alone will not work to reduce our meat consumption.

One suggestion to address the harmful effects of meat consumption is to introduce a European-wide meat tax.

The EU is already committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and has taken a number of measures such as the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs.

A meat tax would be similar to taxes on alcohol, tobacco and petrol. Unlike petrol, which is harder to replace, the effect of the tax would encourage consumers to replace meat with other food products.

It is clear that we have to improve the efficiency of livestock production and reduce the demand for meat to make the transition to a low carbon society.

The recent discovery of horse meat in labelled beef products indicates how meat production has become increasingly mechanised and the extent to which we have become disconnected from the food we eat. Perhaps it is now time to reconsider our meat consumption.

Rather than shunning meat altogether, meat eaters could start by following a “demitarian” diet – reducing meat portions by half. It is recommended that total weekly meat intake should not exceed 210 grams – a small sacrifice to secure the future of the planet.

A New Age of Green Localism

A greater focus on grass-roots action and ‘green localism’ could re-engage a public that is sometimes disinterested and suspicious of environmental issues.

As the world enters an age of natural resource scarcity and climate change, food and energy insecurity will affect the way of life of local communities.

A greater focus on grass-roots action and ‘green localism’ could re-engage a public that is sometimes disinterested and suspicious of environmental issues.

The notion of ‘decentralisation’ is not a new concept and has been at the heart of the environmental movement reflecting its commitment to localism balanced by global responsibility.

Empowering community groups and strengthening community bonds could deliver multiple social and environmental benefits. People could be encouraged to take action to tackle issues that are local priorities and within their immediate sphere of influence.

There are already many groups and projects that are ‘acting locally and thinking globally’ such as cooperatives, transition towns and neighbourhood schemes. One such initiative is the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge that was undertaken by the Stockholm Environment Institute at the University of York and the City of York Council (UK).

The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge developed a targeted social marketing approach to engage selected areas of the City of York in Yorkshire and work with residents to reduce their carbon emissions.

Using national data on household expenditure and green attitudes as well as data on local infrastructure (e.g. proximity to local services, potential of housing stock for energy conservation and access to transport links), the initiative targeted neighbourhoods which had the greatest potential for behavioural change.

These were York neighbourhoods where households considered themselves to be ‘green’ but had a high carbon footprint.

Six teams from the targeted areas were recruited: three neighbourhoods, two primary schools and one church. Over a six-month period each team was supported by a green mentor. Team members received expert advice on home energy, recycling, travel and other action they could take to meet their target of a 10 per cent reduction in carbon emissions.

The participants who successfully completed the challenge achieved an estimated average carbon footprint reduction of 2.0 tonnes of CO2e a year. This is a total reduction of 11 per cent – which equates to an estimated total emission reduction of 98 tonnes of CO2e a year.

The largest reduction was seen in the area of shopping and home energy use.

The initiative demonstrated the benefits of taking a targeted approach in reducing household carbon emission. With support and encouragement residents can saved money, met new people and reduced their environmental impact.

The York Green Neighbourhood Challenge was effective in achieving a statistically significant reduction in the carbon footprint of households. The initiative has provided a legacy of a tried and test model of engagement. It helped to foster community spirit by giving a reason for neighbours to work together. Two of the winning teams have merged to establish one large local community group which is continuing to promote local neighbourhood change.

The ‘York model’ has now been adopted sub-regionally. The North Yorkshire Green Neighbourhood Challenge will work with community teams in seven local authorities in 2011.

People are disillusioned with the broken promises of politicians and the inertia of government in implementing the measures that can guarantee a transition to a low carbon society. A age of green localism will empower individuals to take action to create change at the local level. For many years a handful of doorstep champions have campaigned locally and raised local awareness, there is now a need for more sections of the community to get involved and to help improve the local quality of life and increase feelings of wellbeing and happiness.

More projects such as the York Green Neighbourhood Challenge are needed to encourage and foster local activism. By working in partnership with local authorities and businesses local groups could contribute to building community resilience by becoming more self-sufficient. This would enable local communities to tackle climate change, improve health and well being, secure a healthy natural environment and make their neighbourhoods safer and more cohesive.

© Gary Haq 2011

The Scourge of Time Poverty

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules. So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

WE seem to be in a constant battle against time – fighting to fit everything into our busy schedules.

So much so that many of us suffer from “time poverty” – not having enough hours to do what we want. And “time pollution” has now become a feature of our modern way of living.

The monetary value we place on time has caused us to pursue faster speed and higher levels of motorisation and consumption.

This has resulted in us engaging in socially and environmentally-damaging activities. Paradoxically, the more time we save, the less we seem to have.

In his fantasy novel, Momo, Michael Ende wrote about a mysterious young orphaned girl, who arrives in a small town and notices that the inhabitants are starting to change, becoming obsessed with time and money.

Momo discovers that the culprits are the “time thieves” – sinister, ghost-like men who are stealing time.

This has dramatic effects on the residents, who become increasingly restless and irritable. No matter how much time they saved, they never had any to spare. Before they knew it, another week had gone by, another month, and another year.

As a child, my perception of time was very different from the one I have today. Then the school summer holidays seemed like an eternity – time passed very slowly.

As an adult, it’s hard to keep up with all the things one has to do. Psychologist William James put children’s perception of time down to them experiencing everything for the first occasion. Their intense perception of the world around them means that time goes slowly.

As adults we have fewer new experiences, life is more familiar, less information is taken in and time is less stretched. While there are obvious psychological explanations of our perception of time, there are also other societal factors at play.

Growing up in the 1970s, there were fewer gadgets and activities we could waste time on compared with today. We did not have multi-channel 24-hour television, nor did we have a computer, mobile phone, DVD player or game box to distract us. Most of the time was enjoyed playing in the streets with friends.

Life seemed a lot slower and simpler back then, but perhaps I am looking back through rose-tinted spectacles. After all, I did not have to worry about paying bills, going to work or doing housework.

Nowadays, life has gone high speed, with our lack of time contributing to community breakdown.

In the cobbled street where I grew up in Salford (UK), we knew or had a good idea who lived in the 40-plus houses. These days, I know only a handful of neighbours. This is partly because of people being more mobile and more private.

And, like the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland, many of us are constantly running around muttering that we are late. We are more likely to have a virtual conversation with a total stranger on the other side of the world via Facebook and Twitter than engage in idle chitchat, face to face with our neighbours.

As a society, we have invented numerous ways of saving time. From high-speed trains, fast cars and planes to fast food and all the technologies we use to cut the time it takes to do things. This has resulted in highly energy-intensive and polluting activities.

When people have free time they use it to consume and travel more. We know that many baby boomers are enjoying cosmopolitan lifestyles in their retirement using their “free time” to visit far-flung destinations.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron’s idea of the Big Society is based partly on the premise that people have the time and the will to get involved in community activities such as running a pub or post office. To do this, we will need to change our attitude to time and how we spend it.

A “Slow Movement” is developing that addresses the issue of “time poverty” by encouraging people to do things at the right pace. It promotes slow food, slow gardening, slow money, slow sex and slow travel. The recession is seen as the perfect time to escape the vicious circle of speed which has taken over our lives.

Time is central to the notion of a greener future. If we are to address the issues of time poverty and time pollution we need to reassess the value we place on time.

Slowing down can help improve the quality of life, making it more enjoyable, happier and greener.

It provides an awareness of the preciousness of every minute, hour and day of our limited lifetime – something we should all enjoy before it’s too late.

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock

Rediscovering Nature in 2011

MANY of our New Year resolutions will probably not last more than a few weeks.

However, there is one resolution that we should all make to deal with the stress, anxiety and depression that inevitably come with economic uncertainty.

This is to enjoy nature more. After all, our natural environment is not only free but it is good for our health too.

Like other animals that inhabit the planet, we are intimately connected with, embedded in, and inseparable from nature. We have an innate emotional and physical dependency on our natural environment.

Unfortunately, we seemed to have forgotten this basic tenet of our existence as we have developed our industrial and globalised society.

We are increasingly replacing nature with artificial man-made creations, which has led some thinkers to suggest that our separation from the natural world is having a negative impact on our overall mental health and wellbeing.

Depression affects approximately 121 million people worldwide. The World Health Organization predicts depression will be the second greatest cause of ill health globally by 2020. In the UK depression affects one in 10 people each year, with more than half of those experiencing more than one episode.

According to a 2007 national mental health survey, the percentage of people with a “common mental disorder” that causes marked emotional distress and interferes with daily function increased from 15.5 per cent in 1993 to 17.6 per cent in 2007.

This is approximately an additional million extra unhappy people. The largest increase was observed in women aged 45-64 whose rate rose by a fifth, while people living in low- income households were more likely to have a common mental disorder than those living in high-income households.

In 2008, there were 2.1 million more prescriptions of antidepressants in England than in 2007, leading to concerns that doctors are increasingly supplying the drugs as a “quick fix” without attempting to address the underlying cause of the problems.

In total, 36 million prescriptions were given out, an increase of 24 per cent over a five year period. The use of anti-depressants such as Prozac or sessions of cognitive therapy are increasingly seen as failing to deal with the root cause of many modern day mental health problems.

One approach that has been developed to deal with the stresses and strains of modern living is ‘Ecotherapy’, which can be defined as healing and growth nurtured by healthy interaction with the earth. It addresses common difficulties such as anxiety, depression and stress using nature-based methods.

Cynics will probably see these methods used to connect with nature as New Age mumbo jumbo, as they include working with plants and animals, detaching oneself from rigid artificial time schedules, changing home and working environments, dream therapy and wilderness retreats.

However, we should not forget that the belief that the natural environment is good for our mental and physical health is nothing new. Many medical professions, including Florence Nightingale, encouraged people to go the country to convalesce. The natural environment is seen as being a beneficial restorative environment that enhances mental energies and reduces stress.

Research has shown that prisoners whose cells overlooked farmland and trees had 24 per cent fewer sick visits than those in cells facing the prison yard. A 10-year comparative study of post-operative patients found hospital stay for patients with tree views was significantly shorter and patients required fewer painkillers and used less medication.

A study by the mental health charity, Mind, found that 90 per cent of people who took part in Mind green exercise activities said that the combination of nature and exercise is most important in determining how they feel.

A total of 71 per cent of respondents reported decreased levels of depression following a green walk compared to increased feelings of depression following an indoor shopping centre walk that was experienced by 22 per cent of respondents.

One way to deal with the stresses that lie ahead in 2011 is to make the most of nature. This requires replacing retail therapy with ecotherapy and the city gym with the green gym. We should abandon the characterless shopping centres, windowless gyms for natural vegetation and attractive landscapes.

We should enjoy gardening, cycling and walking more. In particular, making the most of those parks, green fields and lanes in our local neighbourhood we have passed many times but never bothered to explore.

In a world that focuses on “doing” rather than “being”, it is easy not to find the time to nurture our spirit and feed our soul. Reconnecting with nature in the New Year could just be the pathway that guarantees a fitter, happier and more prosperous 2011.

© Gary Haq 2011

Photo credits: Shutterstock

No Pressure: Confusing the Climate Message

ON 1 October 2010 the 10:10 Campaign, which aims to reduce carbon emissions by 10 per cent in 2010, launched a short film to encourage people to take action on climate change.

The depiction of children, office workers and footballers being blown up for not taking action has taken climate change communication to a whole new level.

The 10:10 No Pressure film was written by award winning British screen writer, Richard Curtis, known for his romantic comedy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill and TV comedy Black Adder. The movie was removed from the 10:10 website on the same day due to the negative response received and an apology was issued:

Today we put up a mini-movie about 10:10 and climate change called ‘No Pressure’. With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis … agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign. Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologise to anybody we have offended.
As a result of these concerns we’ve taken it off our website. We won’t be making any attempt to censor or remove other versions currently in circulation on the internet.

The film entitled No Pressure depicts a series of scenes where people are asked if they are going to participate in the 10:10 initiative. Those who indicated that they were not planning to participate were told “no pressure” and blown up at the press of a button.

The short film set out to be edgy and to shock people into sitting up and start taking the urgent action needed to stabilise greenhouse gas emissions. Unfortunately, the film back-fired and instead has upset many climate change campaigners and the public. It has also given ammunition to climate sceptics who are now claiming climate change campaigners are eco-fascists.

While some people may see the 10:10 movie as harmless fun, its message is lost in the blood and guts. The key question after watching the film is: Are you inspired to take action (if you are not already doing so) to reduce your carbon emissions?

The film has used scare tactics to communicate its climate message. Scaring the public into taking action, whether this be with regard to giving up smoking, not drinking and driving and safer sex, does not always work.

The film portrays the environmentalist as the “agressor” – pressing a button and causing the explosion of an individual who refuses to conform with the rest of the group and take action on climate change. It presents the environmentalist an uncompromising, eco-terriorist who is willing to harm individuals who do not do what they want.

While this may appeal to many people who are sympathetic with the cause, it has probably had the opposite effect on the intended target audience and has distracted attention from the main focus of the 10:10 campaign.

Environmental campaigners have used many different types of events and stunts to get the public’s attention and to increase awareness, and they will continue to do so.

However, it is clear that at time when environmental issues are dropping down the political and public agenda, new approaches are needed to inspire the public to take action.

The approach taken in the No Pressure film is new, but the wrong one.

We need to sell an aspirational vision of a low carbon society and the many benefits it has to offer to inspire individuals to take action to achieve a better quality of life. We need to sell a “green heaven” rather than a “climate hell”.

If climate change campaigners continue with threats of climate hell then the public will switch off and ignore the message.

The No Pressure fiasco has put pressure on 10:10 and other climate campaigners to think more carefully in the future on how they communicate climate change.

Lets hope they do so.

© Gary Haq 2010

Putting the SIZZLE into Going Green

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

GOING Green is a bit like making love – nearly everyone likes the idea of it. Some people do it on a daily basis, some every week, others less frequently, while some individuals just do not get around to doing it at all.

Back in 2007, at the peak of our eco-awareness, climate change and the carbon footprint seemed new and interesting. There was unprecedented media coverage of green issues and the public, politicians and business leaders were all developing a passion for the planet.

Prince Charles’s recently undertook a green tour of Britain on a bio-fuelled royal train. Despite green living receiving royal approval, there are signs of “green fatigue” setting in as political, public and media interest in environmental issues begins to wane. The UK’s new coalition Government’s decision to get rid of the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution and the independent watchdog, the Sustainable Development Commission, clearly signalled the downgrading of environmental issues.

This is despite David Cameron’s promise to put the environment at the heart of government. Former chair of the Sustainable Development Commission, Jonathan Porritt, described the decision as “crass, unfounded, self-defeating and ideologically-motivated”.

The climategate and glaciergate fiasco has increased public scepticism over climate change science. A recent Ipsos Mori survey of UK public attitudes to climate change found that although the majority of respondents believe that climate change is happening, levels of concern have fallen since 2005, and less than one-third of the population currently consider it to be a purely man-made phenomenon. However, most people consider that it is their responsibility to take action and feel that they personally can make a difference.

The waxing and waning of public interest in environmental issues is nothing new. In 1967, Britain experienced its first major oil disaster when the oil tanker, Torrey Canyon, struck a rock, causing the oil pollution of 120 miles of the Cornish coastline.

Dramatic environmental disasters such as this, together with key publications on the ecological limits to economic growth, increased public concern.

By 1972, environmental issues were placed on the international political agenda when nations gathered together for the first UN Earth Summit in Stockholm. It resulted in governments establishing ministries of the environment and introducing environmental legislation.

Although the 1970s’ oil price rises dampened public interest in green issues, a decade later interest was renewed by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, a rise in green consumerism, ethical investment and increased activity of Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace. In 1992, the Rio Earth Summit ensured that world leaders embraced the idea of sustainable development and initiated action for a global convention on climate change.

When we are doing well, we are motivated to go green but during an economic downturn we tend to lose interest. It is therefore not surprising that in this new age of austerity we are starting to suffer from green fatigue.

In an economic recession consumers tighten their belts, sales figures fall and companies close down and stop producing polluting emissions. For example, in 2009, EU greenhouse gas emissions fell by seven per cent. A lower demand for energy has been linked to the economic recession as well as cheaper natural gas and increased renewable energy use.

Nowadays most people are familiar with the concept of the carbon footprint. Unfortunately, being aware of the environmental impact of our individual lifestyle choices does not necessarily mean we will change our behaviour. After all, we know that smoking can cause lung cancer, eating junk food can lead to heart disease and obesity and binge drinking is bad for the liver, but we still carry on regardless.

For too long, green campaigns have sold the threat of what would happen if we do not mend our ways. The danger of a “climate hell” has caused some people to switch off.

Back in the 1940s, US salesman, Elmer Wheeler, advised businesses on his “Don’t sell the sausage, sell the sizzle!” marketing approach. Wheeler’s big secret to successful selling was that you do not advertise the sausage itself as it is the desirable sounds and smells of the “sizzle” that make people hungry and want to buy it. There is increasing recognition that the “selling the sausage” approach to green issues is not delivering the fundamental changes required for us to stay within ecological limits.

A report by Futerra, a green communications consultancy, on “Selling the Sizzle: the new climate message” argues that in order to reinvigorate public and media interest, campaigns need to focus on a vision of a greener life that is positive and appealing to all.

Gary Haq discusses green issues with Ed Milliband
The recent election of Ed Milliband as the new leader of Labour Party, now the official opposition to the British government provides hope for many environmentalists.

Mr Milliband was the former Secretary of State for the UK Department of Energy and Climate Change and is a passionate advocate of action on climate change.

He recently reiterated his belief that “climate change is the greatest global threat facing our generation “, adding that “it should be at the very heart of our plan for a successful economy, at the centre of our foreign policy and integral to our mission to change Britain”.

Many environmentalists are hoping that Mr Milliband will now put climate change back on the political agenda after he has criticised the Coalition Government’s claim to be the ‘greenest ever’ as an empty gesture.

So far, environmentalists have failed to effectively communicate a compelling vision of a greener future. It is therefore time to stop selling the notion of a climate hell and start selling a “green heaven”. Let’s put the sizzle back in to going green and demonstrate that a transition to a low carbon society ultimately means a better quality of life for everyone.

© Gary Haq 2010

Photo credits: Shutterstock