climate change food

Underestimating the sources of climate emissions

Earlier this week I wrote about the environmental impact of dairy. Livestock, for both meat and dairy, is a major source of greenhouse gases – and it turns out that not a lot of people know that.

In 2014 Chatham House carried out a survey of perceptions around livestock and produced a report calling it ‘climate change’s forgotten sector‘. As part of the research they asked people in several countries to say whether or not certain sectors contributed ‘a lot’ to emissions. These can then be compared to their actual contribution to climate change:

As the graph shows, people know that power and industry are big sources of greenhouse gases. Waste disposal is overestimated – but waste is the most visible of environmental problems and that’s perhaps understandable.

Just 29% recognised livestock as a climate change problem. In reality it’s as big an issue as the whole of transport. There’s good news and bad news there. Obviously there’s some awareness raising to do, and if people don’t know that there’s a problem, it won’t get fixed.

The better news is that unlike other parts of the climate change problem, we can all do something relatively easily about our meat and dairy consumption. We might not be able to afford an electric car or we might be stuck in a village with no choice but to drive. But we could all stop eating meat – or at least beef – right now this second.

If we did stop eating so much meat, we’d also reduce incidences of heart disease and obesity, improve animal welfare, free up land and water, and be healthier and fitter for it. That’s good news too.

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