Meat, deceit and saving the world
Meat production puts more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than transport. Estimates suggest that the production of meat accounts for 18% of carbon emissions, compared with 14% from transport. In their hot-off-the-press report about taxi drivers’ fuel efficiency, my colleagues Jamie Young and Jonathan Rowson argue that there is a lack of salience when it comes to climate change. This comes across pretty clearly in the British Social Attitudes Survey which came out this week.
Less than half (43%) of British citizens consider climate change to be dangerous for the environment
The results from the environment section of the survey are alarming. Despite the increasing urgency of the climate change problem, public concern about the environmental threat has declined over the past decade. Less than half (43%) of British citizens consider climate change to be dangerous for the environment; only 28% of us regard air pollution from cars as very or extremely dangerous, a figure which is down from 54% in 2000. These beliefs are reflected in our behaviour. Although recycling is now common, other forms of environmentally-friendly behaviour, such as cutting back on driving and reducing energy use in the home are much less so.
Given that we are pretty certain that there is a gap between knowing what we should do and actually doing it, throwing figures at people about how much carbon is emitted as a result of meat production probably isn’t terribly constructive. However, real life narrative about changes people manage to make might put something more meaningful in the mix.
So, I was vegetarian for eleven years. I gave up being a vegetarian almost as many years ago, and despite being quite an enthusiastic eater of meat, I generally make more meat-free meals than meaty ones. During my committed vegetarian phase, I became quite used to people complaining about the inconvenience of having to accommodate my dietary needs. Julie, an extremely close friend of mine, always gracious and polite, used to try very hard to feed me well when I was visiting her, but on one occasion she said to me “I just don’t know what you actually eat”.
Of the people I know, Julie is the least likely I would imagine to go meat-free. She has three menfolk in her house – two sons and a husband, all of whom have massive appetites and expect a daily dose of flesh-based protein on their plates. As a result of a gradual realisation of the impact of meat production on the climate, and partly swayed by the charismatic influence of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Julie has sneakily withdrawn a great deal of meat from her family’s diet. As I understand it, this has involved a certain degree of deceit.
Basically, she hasn’t mentioned that she’s doing it. She serves up spaghetti bolognaise made with lentils instead of beef, and just doesn’t say anything. She feeds them ‘pie’ (which is actually quiche) – a double deceit here, given that the chaps in her house all claim not to like quiche, as well as assuming that ‘pie’ involves meat. I slightly get the impression that she’s getting as much satisfaction from the subterfuge as she is from doing her bit for the environment. Whatever’s going on in the background, she’s managed to more than halve the amount of meat they eat, and I really think that if Julie can do it, anyone can.