Agriculture is a big driver of climate change, with the meat industry standing out among the rest as a source of CO2 emissions and environmental damage; lowering demand for meat or ensuring that farms have as little environmental impact is possible, but costly. Would you be willing to eat less, if it was for the good of the planet? Pay more for your meat? A new study suggests that the idea isn’t as controversial as you may believe on first glance.
Researchers from the UK policy institute Chatham House surveyed people from 12 countries and focus groups in Brazil, China, the UK, and the US, to get a feel for the public opinion on this issue. Their findings show growing public support for a “meat tax,” as well as other solutions such as more vegetarian options in school cafeterias or lowering subsidies given to livestock farmers.
On the whole, participants believed that the government should lead the effort to address unsustainable consumption of meat, but how feasible is that? Livestock farming is responsible for between 10 to 15 percent of the global emissions of greenhouse gases. Currently, an average person in industrialized countries consumes around twice as much meat as experts deem to be healthy, and the average American almost four times as much (250g per person per day), the study reports. But while consumption is plateaued in these areas, as population increases and more countries develop strong economies demand is only going to increase, making this industry an even bigger emitter — global meat consumption is estimated to increase by 75% by 2050.
Governments understandably fear a backlash from voters over interference in such a personal choice as diet. As public awareness of the link between diet and climate change is so low, there is very little pressure on ruling bodies to do anything about it, so they don’t — only 21 of the 120 national plans submitted to the upcoming Paris climate conference include commitments to reduce emissions from the livestock industry.
This “cycle of inertia” means that dietary change continues to be a low policy priority despite its importance. The report however does advocate for governmental action in this issue, and while it does not put a hard figure on how much people would be willing to bear in extra taxes for their meat products, the authors do note that any “backlash to unpopular policies would likely be short-lived.”
By raising awareness of the negative impact of excess meat consumption on the planet — and our health — more people would be inclined for the government to act, researchers say.