Why I can’t afford to eat meat in 2016

As a British person, a Christian, and a Millennial, here’s why I can’t justify eating meat in 2016.

As I have been reflecting on 2015 and preparing for 2016, I’ve had one goal in mind: to live intentionally. That is, to as far as possible, in all areas of life, strive to fill my time, my efforts, my thoughts, with things that I have deliberately determined to be important.

On a practical level, this means making sure to present and engaged during family time; to be actively walking out my faith daily; to prioritize some hobbies over others; to intentionally spend my time, money and thoughts on things I care about.

As the preparation for being intentional in 2016 has gone on, my thoughts turned to my impact on the Earth as a whole; and my subsequent research has lead to me one conclusion for 2016 that I wasn’t expecting: I cannot afford to eat meat, (and especially red meat).

Why? Well, before getting to the meat of the issue about red meat (pun intended, not sorry!), I need to address the more important question — why suddenly care about my impact on the planet?

It’s getting hot in here!

I think one of the biggest problems with Climate Change is seeing the problem.

According to the Met Office:

Climate change is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet’s weather patterns or average temperatures.

And it’s that ‘long-term shift’ that makes it hard to care about. But, with a small amount of digging, it’s quite clear that according to scientists we’re at a crucial point in the history of our planet with regards to climate change.

For some context, in the 1970s, there were between 600–700 natural disasters around the world, including droughts, hurricanes, floods and typhoons. In the 2000’s, there were over 3,000 natural disasters. Not all were caused by climate change, of course, but it frames the problem.

There are three reasons I cannot ignore this problem, and my contribution to it:

  1. As a Christian, I believe God created the Earth, and put humanity in charge of it. We need to look after Creation.
  2. As a British person, my country has risen to it’s position of global power on the back of an Industrial Revolution that is the root cause of the climate change we’re seeing. We also transmitted the Neo-Liberal economic ideology globally that has lead to the increase in carbon dioxide emissions around the world.
  3. As a Millennial, I cannot claim ignorance. I have the information at my finger tips. And with a crap load of information, comes a crap load of responsibility.

The importance of Creation to Christians

[I‘ve separate the longer explanation of this into a separate article for those interested: Why Christians should care about the planet.]

It’s such a confusing thing to me that if you believe that God created the Earth for you, why would you not have to look after it?
Louis C.K., Live at the Beacon Theatre (hilarious, but NSFW)

Christianity often finds itself on the wrong side of the environment debate. Comedian Louis C.K. can’t get his head around devout Christians arguing for economic interests over the pressing ecological ones if they really believe that the Earth is a gift to humans.

Naomi Klein, in This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs The Climate refers to the Judeo-Christian commission in Genesis for humans to “fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over every fish in the sea and every living creature that moves on the ground” as at odds with caring about the Earth.

Without going that deeply into New Testament theology, it’s the point that C.K Louis made that sticks with me the most. If I believe God made the world for us, and that he put us in charge; then looking after the planet is a great commission that all of humanity is called to.

Contrary to the negatives Klein sees, the commission of Genesis actually puts more responsibility for the state of the Earth on the shoulders of humanity, not as one species among equals, but as the representatives of the Creator amongst creation.

Steaming ahead — Britain’s dirty legacy

Revolution not evolution

“I evolve, but I don’t… revolve” — Alan Partridge

The Industrial Revolution marks the start of a golden age of British history. We developed steam power, and from there, the Industrial Revolution began and spread around the world.

We can trace much of Britain’s wealth and power back to the industrial revolution — our economy steamed ahead of others, literally.

We didn’t know then that burning coal was so bad for the environment, so we can’t be blamed for that, but we do know now that our years of carbon dioxide emissions allowed us to industrialize and grow economically, at a cost to the welfare of every living thing on the planet.

As a British citizen then, if fossil fuels need to continue to be burned somewhere for economic reasons, surely it should be the developing nations that should be allowed to do it? After all, we’ve had more than our fair slice of the climate pollution pie over the last two centuries (yum!).

Power to the people, well, to the consumers

There’s another thing Britain exported around the world, and that was the Neo-Liberal economic policies developed under Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom, and Ronald Reagan in the USA. Global free market economics, and privatization of energy services have only furthered the damage done to the environment, but the biggest effect of globalization is probably that it has moved the environmental problems that our economy is built on top of ‘out of sight, out of mind’.

Air pollution in Beijing

An 1871 New York Times’ article refers to “London, particularly, where the population are periodically submerged in a fog of the consistency of pea soup…”. The smogs that we breathed ourselves to fuel our consumerism are still created today, they’re just in Beijing, instead.

Consumer power is a very powerful thing in our economy, however. So, as a participating member of the British and global economies — I need do anything I can to cut air pollution — it’s our demand that feeds the dragon.

The Information Highway — Millennial’s responsibility

As a Millennial, if there’s anything that is the hallmark of our generation, it’s got to be the amount of information available to us. Unfortunately, in this case, I can’t claim ignorance of the problems presented to our planet, or of the causes of those problems — the information is readily available to me from my phone.

There’s another reason as a millennial that I need to get my head around this issue though. The current EU targets for emissions reduction all cite 2030 as an aiming point. In 2030, we’ll have either hit, or we’ll very much have missed our targets. Either way, by 2030, it’ll be the millennials that are running the show, then aged 25–47. The planet, and our affect on it, will probably be the defining issue of our generation.

The beef with beef

So, that’s why I need to care about the planet, and my impact on it, as a Christian, a British citizen and a millennial. But what’s this all got to do with meat?

Well, much to my dismay, when looking at my impact on the environment, the single largest positive impact I can make is to stop eating red meat altogether, and to drastically reduce my consumption of other animal products.

Here’s why: livestock farming is responsible for more global emissions than all forms of transport (cars, lorries, busses, trains, ships and planes) combined. Food production is the leading cause of global deforestation, and livestock rearing takes up 30% of the planet’s land surface.

Producing 1kg of beef requires 15,000 litres of water, 30kg of carbon dioxide (or equivalent) emissions and 5 square metres of land. Potatoes, by comparison, required 290 litres of water, 0.5kg of carbon dioxide emissions and 60 square centimetres of land.

Of all livestock, beef and lamb produce the most carbon dioxide and methane emissions per calorie, and taking them out of my diet should take 1.4 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions out of my lifestyle annually, something I can only match by reducing my driving by about 4,000 miles per year!

Final thoughts

To some, this probably makes me come across as a hippy, lefty green liberal of sorts, but I don’t think it is that. It’s a concrete realism, the wealth of information available to me, my belief in a created planet and the understanding that something has to be done that leads me to lay aside the glorious beef burger in 2016.

But it’s not enough, not really. At some point, as a country, as a generation, and probably as a species, we’re going to have to come to terms with the drastic lifestyle and economic changes that are needed.

If we want to reduce our impacts this century, … it is consumption we must address. Population growth is outpaced by the growth in our consumption of almost all resources. There is enough to meet everyone’s need, even in a world of 10 billion people. There is not enough to meet everyone’s greed, even in a world of 2 billion people.
George Monbiot, There’s a population crisis all right. But probably not the one you think