to SOCIAL/ECONOMIC/POLTICAL Homepage
"Eat less meat":
response to the counter argument
Professor of Ethics, School of Divinity, University
Filed 01 Oct 07
The following expresses the views of Professor Northcott.
Publication on Land-Care does not imply that they are
necessarily the views of this publication.
Thank you for your response (1)
to my brief article in The Times on 29th September (2).
I am happy for my reply to be posted on the website of land-care.
Before I proceed however I would like to say that
I have addressed these issues far more fully in my book "A
Moral Climate: The Ethics of Global Warming" (Darton Longman
and Todd, 2007).
The move right around the world to a meat based
diet is a major cause of climate change and climate change is not
just a future issue. It is already a major cause of poverty and
ecological devastation among farmers in Africa and South Asia. Domestic
animals produce significant
quantities of methane which has a greenhouse effect twenty times
that of carbon dioxide. Methane from cows alone exceeds the global
warming potential of all the cars on the planet. Furthermore few
of those who rear meat are able to do so with entirely locally sourced
animal feed. And this is certainly the case for Scotland because
of the climate.
Most animals reared for meat in Scotland spend
a significant part of the year in doors when they are fed from imported
feeds as well as local food sources. The use of industrial feeds
for the growing domestic animal population is also a major source
of climate change.
It has led to serious pressures on developing
country habitats including rainforests which are among the earth's
largest biomass landbased stores of carbon anad methane. Their destruction
exceeds present emissions from industrial transport as a source
of greenhouse gases. Much of the cleared land in the Amazon is given
over to soya production largely for animal consumption, including
here in Scotland.
We should be eating less meat for ecological reasons
and we need to turn over more of the land to biomass production.
Much of Scotland is a wet desert - this is Aubrey Manning's description
not mine - because of the excessive weight of animals on the hills.
Reforestation in some Highland areas is bringing a more sustainable
and biodiverse habitat
back to lands that for too long have been denuded of native species.
Furthermore forests bring back other possibilities
- in terms of rural employment and skills - to areas where large
scale sheep farming, and the keeping of animals for sport have seen
a devastating decline in rural employment as well as biodiversity.
Forests also provide a significant source of locally available energy,
alongside wind and wave power which Scotland also has in abundance.
I am opposed to the proposed new electricity lines
that the government and the power utilities want to put in to bring
wind energy from the North of Scotland to the central belt. This
is just one more example of the cities extracting power and resource
unaccountably and in destructive ways from rural Scotland. Local
biomass will make a vital contribution to locally sourced renewable
energy but government remain wedded to industrial and centrally
provided energy even when it is renewable.
If people are going to continue to eat a modest
amount of meat, as I do, then I entirely agree with the rest of
your article and, given more space by the Times, I would have made
many of these points, and have done in other publications. Animal
welfare, locally reared and locally
slaughtered animals are the only ways to a kinder and less problematic
approach to meat.
When we first moved to Scotland we bought all
our meat from a local butcher who could tell you where it was reared.
Thanks to Tescos and the rest he is now out of business.
The present problem with foot and mouth is in
part connected with the movement of animals over long distances.
I strongly believe such movements are bad for the animal as well
as for farming and should be stopped. That nature is now protesting
about what the industrial market still trains us to think - that
food and animals are a resource like computers or clothes - seems
to me inevitable. In the end nature will stop us.
But climate change is also a natural response
to the ecologically unsustainable industrial lifestyle of which
meat eating is, like it or not, a central part. Oil consumption
and deforestation are closely linked to the growth in meat eating
in Scotland and further afield.
Furthermore it has had serious consequences for
human health. Scotland has a population which is the second most
obese in the world, after the United States. Both countries have
promoted a meat based diet for decades and many people eat meat
more than once a day. When I was young meat was a luxury. We ate
a joint once a week, and my mother counted out the pieces of steak
on Saturday in our other main meat meal. Meat is a precious thing.
Treating it as a cheap and common part of our diet is wrecking both
people and planet.
Professor of Ethics
School of Divinity
University of Edinburgh
1. Irvine, James (2007). "Eat
less meat": advocates Professor Northcott in The Times: "for
the sake of the renewal of a local ecological sustainable economy."
See SOCIAL/ECONOM|IC/POLITICAL Homepage, filed 30 Sep 07,
Here to View
2. Northcott, Michael (2007).
A harvest fit for a moral climate?