51% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to animal husbandry. Here is the original paper (http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf) and an update (http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/uploads/8/0/6/9/8069267/a_fresh_look_at_livestock_ghg_emissions_published.pdf). Even if the guys are a bit off, it’s a very big number.
Climate policy people talk a lot about coal-fired power stations, cars, big oil companies, aeroplanes, windmills, solar power; and they talk about deforestation. But they don’t talk half so much about eating meat and dairy. In fact you don’t even need to talk about it. You just have to do it. Or rather, not eat the stuff.
There is a big difference between cutting emissions through changing the world’s energy infrastructure and through changing diet. The first one costs billions of dollars every year. The second one costs … er .. nothing.
Moreover, cutting meat and dairy from our diets has some other dividends. It’s healthier so it cuts healthcare costs. It cuts water pollution. It saves on water usage. So it doesn’t just cost nothing. It gives back. And it means less cruelty.
Some economists and policy-thinkers know this well – Lord Stern, for example, has spoken of the importance of vegetarianism (http://www.gridovate.com/lord-stern-joins-the-carnivore-veggie-fray-meat-is-wasteful_12338.html); academics have written on the topic (http://steadystate.org/food-and-agriculture-in-a-steady-state-economy/; http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_sd21st/21_pdf/A_Sustainable_and_Desirable_Economy_DRAFT.pdf). But it would be an exaggeration to say that dietary-change as a low-cost route to cutting emissions is a mainstream issue. I have not heard it discussed in the dozens of conferences on climate and emissions policy I have attended in Europe over the last few years.
The funny thing is that the fossil fuel companies have not picked up on this. If they led global campaigns to feed the world with fabulous, tasty, nourishing vegan food, then they could win a whole lot of wiggle room for themselves.
Could Exxon become the cow’s best friend?
I am seriously worried by this “suggestion”. It is like striking a bargain with the devil itself! Why appeal to a destructive corporation, instead of appealing to the consumers directly? And maybe to the policymakers and those in charge of large institutions like universities and hospitals, city governments, etc.?
Besides, even the logic may be flawed. Exxon could actually be making more money by the continued meat production: everything from the giant machines to cut down the forests to the fertilizer factories to the large agricultural machines on the monstrous monoculture plantations to the transportation of animal feed to the refrigerated trucks and ships would require their products, and I think the oil companies stand more to gain by the ongoing destruction due to meat and dairy production.
Even leaving all that aside, the optics of such an involvement are just terrible! Consumers will be simply repelled by corporations like Exxon preaching a plant-based diet, or getting involved in any other way on this matter, given their role in causing the current crisis. And those sitting on the fence about giving up meat and dairy might simply NOT do that, thinking that this is all some big conspiracy by the corporations. Do you know how easy it is to freak out people by packaging lies and half-truths with a couple of known facts and to spread it? Do you know how many climate change deniers still exist because they think it is some socialist conspiracy? Overall, I think this is a bad, bad idea to get these guys involved. Even the involvement of Bill Gates and his foundation is viewed with suspicion by many people as a way to push GMO crops across the world. So I think this campaign must be pushed in more legitimate ways.
Besides, there is not really that much “wiggle room” when it comes to the carbon emissions. Whatever “room” there is, it must be prioritized strictly for a transition to an all-renewable energy system, because that would take lots of manufacturing, transportation, etc., involving carbon emissions.
If we *really* want to make the fossil fuel corporations to be part of the solution, then the best way to do so would be to tax the carbon at its source, and also tax the destructive products of meat and dairy. And all kinds of subsidies that are part of the “Meatonomics” (also the title of a book that goes into the bizarre economics of meat and dairy in some detail) should be removed.
You are right. There is not enough wriggle room for this devilish pact between Exxon and McDonalds. There was some tongue-in-cheek on this blog.