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Stern fails to apply competent science
when advocating vegetarian diet to
counter climate change
Filed 28 Oct 09
Economists these day should be, regarded with much circumspection. After all, which if any of the predictions they have so confidently made in the past have turned out to be correct? Just consider the massive damage to the global economy that has occurred as a result of their lack of judgement.
Remarkably, economists appear to have little hesitation in assuming that they have expert knowledge in an extraordinary wide range of fields: anything they fancy to comment on, so it would seem. Their over confident predictions can lead them to become celebrity gurus, advising banks and governments, and even being promoted to the House of Lords presumably to be closer to government.
And so it would appear to be with Professor Lord Stern of Brentford (otherwise known as Nicholas Stern). According to his CV (1) he has no scientific background in biology or indeed in meteorology. Yet he has become a climate change guru in terms of its economic implications (2). But are his economic assessments competently founded? How is he to know? As rightly pointed out by Mark Henderson, Science Editor for The Times, exaggerated claims can be counter productive (3).
In an interview that he recently gave to Robin Pagnamenta, Energy Editor of The Times, Lord Stern advocate that the world should give up eating meat in order to save the planet (4).
“Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better”
Lord Stern is quoted as saying.
He is reported as saying
"a successful deal at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December would lead to soaring costs for meat and other foods that generate large quantities of greenhouse gases."
"he predicted people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable."
So what was Stern's stern prediction based on? Ah yes, cows, sheep, pigs and other cud chewing animals produce methane (CH4). Methane is claimed to be 23 times more damaging to global warming than carbon dioxide (CO2).
It is also claimed that
"methane causes about 38% of the warming of the globe through the greenhouse effect; weight for weight it is 60–70 times more potent than carbon dioxide at trapping solar radiation in the atmosphere and so heating the planet. The rate of increase of atmospheric methane is declining and global emissions remained relatively constant over the period 1984–96, so atmospheric levels were predicted, in 1998, to stabilize by the 2020s. An estimated 15% of all methane gas in the atmosphere is produced by cattle and other cud-chewing animals, and 20% is produced by termites that feed on soil. Research reported in 2006 revealed that plants may also release methane."
according to a Goggle search.
Whether such a statement is entirely accurate or not is difficult to know, in view of the tendency for some bodies to exaggerate.
Even assuming that they are accurate, do they justify Stern's influential recommendation to get rid of such livestock? With a little thought it becomes apparent just how fatuous such a recommendation is.
So what would be the nature of the landscape if there were to be no cattle or sheep in temperate climates? In areas not suitable for the efficient production of vegetables there would be little point in draining land and growing grass for cattle to graze on. And that would be most of Scotland, for example. While growing grass is a potent fixer of atmospheric CO2 as part of photosynthesis, rotting grass and marsh land are potent producers of methane.
Would it not have been wiser for Stern to consider how methane, an efficient fuel, coming from livestock could be put to good use. There are already significant advances in this area. Would it not have been wiser to ask whether the digestive process of ruminants might be modified to reduce methane production?
Before making such comments to a leading national newspaper, perhaps he should have spared a thought on their consequences in a whole range to important areas, such as nutrition. Perhaps he does not appreciate how important livestock are in less well developed countries whose climates are less temperate than in Northern Europe and North America.
Lord Stern's recent pronouncements undermine his credibility. Yet he has been in a key position in advising the UK Government that wants to be leading the world in its approach to the management of the climate change threat.
Yet we have Stern proclaiming that President Obama must come to the Copenhagen Conference if an effective deal on tackling climate change is to be reached this December (4). But with his undoubted high intellect, Obama may well have concerns as to the wisdom and economic competence of the main protagonists, where hype and emotion seem to take precedence over logical thought. We certainly need Obama's input, but perhaps not at the mass jamboree which the Copenhagen Conference is likely to be.
1. Stern, Nicholas (2009). CV of Professor Stern of Brentford Click Here to View
2. Stern, Nicholas (2006). Review on the Economics of Climate Change. Click Here to View
3. Henderson, Mark (2009). Exaggerated claims undermine drive to cut emissions, say scientists. The TImes 30th october 2009.
Click Here to View
4. Pagnamenta, Robin (2009). Climate chief Lord Stern: give up meat to save the planet.
The TImes 27th October 2009
Click Here to View
4. Pagnamenta, Robin (2009). Barack Obama must attend Copenhagen climate summit, says Lord Stern. The Times 27th October 2009
Click Here to View