LAST UPDATED: 8 September 2017
Most of us would agree that if we want planet Earth to sustain life for generations to come, we need cleaner energy. We need cleaner energy to fuel our cars, our homes and our cities. If advances in green tech can overcome these challenges, we will have solved a big piece of the climate puzzle. But not all the big pieces…
What about the energy we use to fuel our bodies?
Turns out, this is the biggest question of all. Adelaide University’s Professor of Climate Change, Barry Brook, estimates that raising animals for human consumption is responsible for half of Australia's short-term global warming gases — that’s more than the coal industry.
What makes animal agriculture so inefficient? In short, animals consume more food than they produce. Or put another way, syphoning plant protein through the bodies of animals in order to produce animal protein is like filling your car’s tank by throwing a bucket of fuel at it: you’ll lose more than you gain and create a right mess in the process.
That doesn’t even begin to address the damaging greenhouse gas emissions released from the millions upon millions of ‘food’ animals belching and farting all day long. It might sound comical, but these emissions account for one of Australia’s leading contributors to climate change — which ironically will likely impact farmers earliest and hardest of all.
While Australia's PM has made promising statements about embracing green energy for Australia's future, it doesn't seem likely that calls for a meat tax (to help offset meat’s financial burden on the environment and public health system) will be adopted any time soon.
So why is nobody talking about it?
The good news is that people are now starting to talk about it. The United Nations was one of the first global institutions to point out that we need to reduce our dependence on animal products to avoid environmental destruction. Climate action group One Million Women has been talking about it for years. As has Oxfam. Climate guru Al Gore, who comes from a line of cattle ranchers, is now vegan. There are schools all over the world that are adopting ‘Meat Free Mondays’ to teach students about sustainability and to reduce their eco footprint. Much like IKEA did when they introduced ‘veggie balls’ to their menu.
Meanwhile, the Stockholm International Water Institute is warning that we must reduce global animal product consumption to just 5% of our calorie intake by 2050 to make sure we don't run out of fresh water. And Greenpeace is now encouraging its global followers to get behind World Meat Free Day.
So it is being talked about. But is it being talked about enough? Hardly. Until the mainstream media — and indeed our policymakers — cotton on, we’ll be pushing proverbial animal excrement up hill.
Predictably, the tech world is ahead of the curve, investing big money in alternatives to inefficient and unsustainable animal agriculture. Within decades it’s expected that cruelty-free meat and dairy cultured in a laboratory (that is, without the need to raise and slaughter animals) will not only be commercially viable, but market forces will quickly make it ‘normal’.
But until then, the planet’s future is squarely in our hands. Or perhaps more literally — on our forks. The fact remains that for the eco-conscious world citizen, no volume of energy efficient light bulbs or 2-minute showers will outweigh the benefits of eating fewer animal products.
Reducing or replacing animal products in our meals is not only the most profound way to practice environmentalism — it’s easy, it’s healthy, and it doesn’t cost an extra cent.