And that is part of the problem. In the developed world, eating meat is a sign of the good life. It’s a diet that developing countries aspire to, although it undercuts efforts to reduce poverty. As the number of affluent people in countries such as China and India increases, so does the demand for meat.
To meet that demand, the FAO predicts that the number of farm animals raised each year will double from 60 billion today to 120 billion by 2050. Apart from the implications for global warming, this increase will put more pressure on grain, as vast quantities of it have to be produced to be fed to animals. Scholar Vaclav Smil, author of “Feeding the World,” has calculated that it is impossible for everyone on the planet to eat as people in the affluent world do now. It would require 67 percent more agricultural land than the Earth possesses.
A 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change spelled out some likely consequences of continuing high levels of greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades: In Latin America, 70 million people could lack enough water, and many farmers will have to abandon traditional crops as the soil becomes more saline; in Africa, 250 million people would be at risk of water shortages, and the wheat crop could be wiped out; in Asia, 100 million people would face floods from rising sea levels, and less rain could mean reduced rice crops in China and Bangladesh. By the end of the century, the seas are expected to rise between seven and 23 inches. Islands and low-lying countries may simply disappear. Maldives is already saving money in the hope of buying a new country when theirs goes under.
There is clear evidence that reducing meat production and consumption would limit greenhouse gas emissions and possibly stave off these tragedies. However, after multiple revisions and weeks of negotiating, the word “meat” does not appear in the draft conference document for the Rio meeting. Instead, the paper discusses the need to reduce production and consumption of other products that cause global warming, without singling out that key culprit.
Global climate leaders will have a lot of pressing challenges on the table at the Rio+20 conference. It’s time to take the meat off their plates.
Frances Kissling is an independent consultant on ethics for NGOs and a former president of Catholics for Choice. Peter Singer is a professor of bioethics at Princeton University and a laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. His books include “Animal Liberation,”
“The Ethics of What We Eat” and “The Life You Can Save.”
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