Climate Chief Declares: Give up Meat to Save the Planet

calf1By Robin Pagnamenta

People will need to consider turning vegetarian if the world is to conquer climate change, according to a leading authority on global warming.

In an interview with The Times, Lord Stern of Brentford said: “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.”

Direct emissions of methane from cows and pigs is a significant source of greenhouse gases. Methane is twenty-three times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a global warming gas.

Lord Stern, the author of the influential 2006 Stern Review on the cost of tackling global warming, said that 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 that people’s attitudes would evolve until meat eating became unacceptable. “I think it’s important that people think about what they are doing and that includes what they are eating,” he said. “I am sixty-one now and attitudes towards drinking and driving have changed radically since I was a student. People change their notion of what is responsible. They will increasingly ask about the carbon content of their food.”

Lord Stern, a former chief economist of the World Bank and now I. G. Patel Professor of Economics at the London School of Economics, warned that British taxpayers would need to contribute about £3 billion a year by 2015 to help poor countries to cope with the inevitable impact of climate change.

He also issued a clear message to President Obama that he must attend the meeting in Copenhagen in person in order for an effective deal to be reached. US leadership, he said, was “desperately needed” to secure a deal.

Stern said that he was deeply concerned that popular opinion had so far failed to grasp the scale of the changes needed to address climate change, or of the importance of the UN meeting in Copenhagen from December 7 to December 18. “I am not sure that people fully understand what we are talking about or the kind of changes that will be necessary,” he added.

Up to 20,000 delegates from 192 countries are due to attend the UN conference in the Danish capital. Its aim is to forge a deal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to prevent an increase in global temperatures of more than two degrees centigrade. Any increase above this level is expected to trigger runaway climate change, threatening the lives of hundreds of millions of people.

Lord Stern said that Copenhagen presented a unique opportunity for the world to break free from its catastrophic current trajectory. He said that the world needed to agree to halve global greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to twenty-five gigatons a year from the current level of fifty gigatons.

UN figures suggest that meat production is responsible for about 18 percent of global carbon emissions, including the destruction of forest land for cattle ranching and the production of animal feeds such as soy.

Lord Stern, who said that he was not a strict vegetarian himself, was speaking on the eve of an all-parliamentary debate on climate change. His remarks provoked anger from the meat industry.

Jonathan Scurlock, of the National Farmers Union, said: “Going vegetarian is not a worldwide solution. It’s not a view shared by the NFU. Farmers in this country are interested in evidence-based policymaking. We don’t have a methane-free cow or pig available to us.”

On average, a British person eats fifty grams of protein derived from meat each day—the equivalent of a chicken breast or a lamb chop. This is a relatively low level for a wealthy country but between 25 percent and 50 percent higher than the amount recommended by the World Health Organization.

Su Taylor, a spokeswoman for the Vegetarian Society, welcomed Lord Stern’s remarks. “What we choose to eat is one of the biggest factors in our personal impact on the environment,” she said. “Meat uses up a lot of resources and a vegetarian diet consumes a lot less land and water. One of the best things you can do about climate change is reduce the amount of meat in your diet.”

The UN has warned that meat consumption is on course to double by the middle of the century.

This article originally appeared in the

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25 Responses to Climate Chief Declares: Give up Meat to Save the Planet

  1. Because humans have consumed meat since, well, ever, present day meat industry demands the trend remains as is. “We don’t have a mathane free cow or pig available to us”, the industry unwittly argues. Well duh, thats precisely the point! Nature cannot be altered, i.e., the laws of cause and effect take place whether that inconveniences the meat industry or not. There is a great difference between the farmer of yore raising animals for immediate use by local consumers and the dynamics that go into today’s meat industry.

    But, even if the small farmer/butcher scenario had remained the only model in meat production into present days, we still would have a debate on the ethics of animals-as-food. Only, the debate would be an existential one, not technical. Compassion or its lack thereof is where vaishnavism always comes in, and where the meat industry absolutely never wants to go. But nature has a way of balancing things out. The debate on vegetarianism versus the all out meat scenario has started. And from there it will evolve to vegetarianism versus prasadaism. On Nature, the divine, we can always count.

  2. I have such mixed feelings when I read articles like these. On one hand I’m so encouraged when I think about how far vegetarianism has come since the 80s when you couldn’t find John Robbins books (or organic food, for that matter) anywhere but your dingy, local hole in a wall health food store. Now, Michael Pollan, while not endorsing 100 percent vegetarianism per se, is all over the NY Times and everywhere else essentially suggesting that we all go vegetarian.

    But, as I think I’ve posted here before, I work in the nonprofit environmental field and I see firsthand that articles like the one above are simply ignored. I work with supposedly progressive people and I know one fishatarian in my office and that’s it. Just today I’m writing a press release about two farms we’ve protected – one a traditional dairy and the other a beef operation. People see cows in a field as they drive along the highway and think that “iconic vistas” like that should be conserved. It looks and feels American. We’re all about energy-efficient lightbulbs and driving hybrid cars, but I’m just not sure how ready people are to really change their lives.

  3. The first thing I thought when I saw this was “Finally at least one the world’s leaders openly admits the meat industry’s negative environmental effects.” This is, I would say, good news. Even though the article may be ignored, as Sridama says, Lord Stern is not going away, and he (and hopefully others) will make this point again.

    The meat industry’s response was predictable. Eating beef is an American way of life, and many people think that to not do so is un-American. With so many jobs and national identity on the line it’s no wonder they will resist it.

    Jonathan Scurlock, of the National Farmers Union, said: “Going vegetarian is not a worldwide solution. It’s not a view shared by the NFU. Farmers in this country are interested in evidence-based policymaking. We don’t have a methane-free cow or pig available to us.”

    These statements seemed pretty silly to me. No one said that going veg is the solution to climate change–it’s a significant contributor (18% is almost a fifth–quite a bit indeed!) and as such is one of many things modern society does that need to be addressed if runaway climatic changes are to be forestalled. And as Bhaktikanda pointed out, the fact that there are no methane-free cows or pigs is exactly the point. But to admit the obvious solution of raising less methane-producing animals does not even come to mind for the meat mongers. Instead we get the appeal for the evidence that their industry is actually a problem, which I suppose is typical human psychology. The idea is a threat to their very way of life and identity as “Americans” so naturally going veg is not a view shared by the NFU.

    At any rate, I do hope the meetings in Copenhagen end up making meat and dairy prohibitively expensive and thus economically no longer viable enterprises, at least on the present scale. Such a reduction would be a step in the right direction to be sure.

  4. Yes it is painful to have fruits and vegetables more expensive than diary and meat. Ridiculous!!

    • Food in general, all food, is actually very expensive. To begin with, the cost of food is time, human life’s most valuable asset. The notion that food should be cheap is erroneous. At least as erroneous as the notion that life itself is meant for material enjoyment. If and when food is apparently cheap, in reality the actual cost was shifted to another aspect of existence. As this article shows, over the course of human history food production has cost us our very environment – air, water, land. Just as human life is very precious because it’s the jiva’s chance for self realization, food that permits life is very valuable. And not in metaphor only. It requires our commitment to a specific lifestyle. It ultimately requires saranagati, our surrender to the ways of God. As the video The End of Food shows, food is not a commodity that can be manufacted at humans’ will; it is on the contrary a resource upon which all humans are fundamentally and therefore equally dependent. Just as all humans are affected by the quality of air inside the atmosphere of the planet, no human is dissociated from his or her source of nourishment. The longer the distance put between an individual and his food source, in actual miles (or even yards) and symbolically, the greater the cost to everyone. The artificial dissociation created between communities and their food sources has proven disatrous. Truth is, food and cheap never go together.

      • Well said; the illusion of cheap food (or pretty much cheap anything, for that matter) afforded by the present industrial system is just that–illusory, and must perforce one day end owing to its inherent unsustainability. However, the return to a more intimate connection with what actually sustains us won’t be without its trials, unfortunately. The dissociation you mention is so endemic that much time and energy will need to be spent to reeducate people. From my (albeit limited) experience with youngsters I would venture to say that the vast majority of Western children today (and, sadly, adults!) have no idea where food really comes from–they think it comes from the store, and if you run out, it’s as simple as getting in the car and buying more. It’s not their fault; that’s primarily their experience, both practically and in the zillion media images they see every day.

        Food and cheap truly don’t go together; there is a huge amount of energy involved in producing food that we don’t see because the labor involved in growing food has been taken over by machines run by fossil fuels. Consequently people have no idea how much energy is actually embodied in the food they eat because they did not have to sweat to grow it. This being the case it’s easy to see why we think things should be cheap because we don’t see the relationship between embodied energy and money, which is after all just a symbol of embodied energy (also known as “value”).

        Organic food is expensive only when compared to manufactured food. The price differential is due to the fact that organic food is not produced on a massive scale and so cannot take advantage of such scale. In other words, the price of organic food more closely reflects the actual energy that went into producing it. And as for meat, I’ve read that if the industry were not subsidized by the government then a hamburger would cost about $10.00. The end of subsidies alone would put a major dent in the meat and dairy industries; perhaps we should start with that.

        • You are right, not only food is artificially made cheap, but most every other commodity in our lives. But food is in a category of its own in that its not an optional item of comfort. It is as vital as being alive itself.

          I tend to conclude that, contrary to what you perceive, it is indeed everyone’s fault that the world has become what it is. We are responsible for our own karma. A child cannot be expected to not react to her environment which prods her to consume hamburgers and play with plastic toys made in China. But she is in that situation because of karma. Collectively this is what we chose for our lives. Only the element of grace, mercy, can turn things around.

          Prasadam is essential precisely because its not food but grace in the form of food. Its the most valuable thing there is and yet its given for free. Well, sometimes for a little donation…

  5. I would like to know everybodys view on the milk industry.
    The milk industry is a really big problem in the west, and in our tradition its most common to drink milk. So should we all become Vegan Vaishnavas?

    //Gopananda das

    • The cost of milk and its derivatives for us, vaishnavas, is the precious time of another vaishnava, our cow protector fellow devotee. He/she spends his/her days as a cow farmer so we can have dairy products to offer to the deity. Also ghee for the sacred rituals. That is our religion. The precious time of a fellow devotee is very valuable, even more valuable than our own.

      As that commercial says, real cost of a hamburger: 10 US dollars (actually, much more); service to the cause of vaishnavism, priceless.

      Hridayananda Maharaja of Iskcon recently said, replying to that very same question, that as vaishnavas if we are actually honest in this matter, we cannot support the milk industry as it is today. But he said its been left to each devotee as individuals what choice to make as far as going vegan or not. There are devotees out there producing milk, butter etc. and marketing it within the community. If we are near one such milkmen/women, we most definitely should support their efforts. But just keep in mind, it won’t be cheap as commercial milk. Worth every 10 dollars, however.

      • Well said. For the most it is only plausible that devotee dairy consumers and devotee dairy producers would support eachother, but that is actually changing with the growing organic/raw food movement. Here at Audarya we have an organic raw milk business and only two of our customers are devotees. Those who are in the know are willing to spend what is needed to get real milk. Many of our customers would not care either way if we slaughter our cows or not, but some would, and regardless, they are willing to pay what we need them to in order to never slaughter the cows. Of course there are legal issues that arise about raw milk and what not, but in a fair number of states “cow-share” programs are legal.I do not know about other countries.

        Unfortunately this model is only going on in a handful of places worldwide. So for the larger devotee community I think that this is a very relevant and interesting discussion. I know one devotee proposed online that people have a sort of cow offset program, where one donates money to places that are doing cow protection, even though one might still buy their milk from a less-than-perfect source. I thought this idea was worth exploring.

        Someone is working on an article for the HArmonist on this very subject. Should be interesting…

        • Speaking of raw milk….

          Based on the encouragement of Swami and other visitors to this site, I decided to try raw milk. I am VERY fortunate to have Organic Pastures Dairy right here in town. I was able to meet them at the farmer’s market and ask them about their practices – they do not sell the boy calves for slaughter and they make sure all the colostrum on day 1 goes to babies.
          With regular milk, I get nosebleeds and migraines if I have more than a cup a day. I’ve been drinking a gallon of raw milk a week and have not had any of my typical symptoms. So I’m quite impressed.
          I looked on Cornucopia and they got the highest possible rating. They’ll even UPS milk to you.

    • Here’s a link to a study that ranks organic dairies in terms of how their cows are treated:

      It’s been a while since I’ve looked over the report, so they may rank the dairies on other factors as well, but I’ve definitely used it to determine which organic milk we buy at home.

      I’ve looked far and wide and I don’t think there’s a dairy out there — outside of smaller devotee-run farms — that doesn’t ultimately slaughter its cows, but I have tried to purchase products that involve the least cruelty possible.

      A while back I listened to what Hridayananda Maharaja said about modern dairy and I think he made a really interesting point. If I understood him correctly, his answer was that we should avoid cruelty as much as possible and when we offer our food back to Krishna we should do so with utmost sincerity — praying sincerely that Krishna accepts the intent of the offering and truly cares for the souls of the cows who suffered unfairly.

      It seemed like he gave a more thoughtful answer than the old ‘cows get benefit, so it’s ok to buy cheap, factory farm milk’ argument. He stressed sincerity and real empathy for those who suffer.

      • Indeed vaishnavism is a living faith, that is, a faith which isn’t separate from one’s very identity. Its not practiced as an option but you must become it. And then it becomes you. Want to drink milk, eat butter? As a vaishanava know that the cows who give you that milk and butter are going to be killed. What are you going to do about it? It is indeed a consciously sinful act to even eat certain things. How is that for a religion? Very much alive is what I call it.

        Its no surprise that Hridayananda Maharaja has come to think as he does regarding milk from the store – he functions very well at the intellectual level. That he calls for honesty in the matter reveals his own, which is refreshing. But then he becomes the issue himself for not wearing tulasi beads around his neck, the very ornament of cowherdom. As vaishnavas tulasi beads around our necks are essential in our lives. Honestly. So its a living/breathing faith – we all seek consistency, in ourselves and in our piers.

        Regarding no vaishnavas nearby whom to buy milk from? Personally I always consider relocating. After all what is life for if not being near hardcore vaishnavas? Alternatively, one can have his own cow(s), which is sure to attract hardcore vaishnavas near.

        I must mention here that there may be those very unusual instances where undeserving theorists like myself get to have cows in their yard out of the blue. My vacant land was graced recently with a devotee’s cows – three cows in production. I hear devotees reacting to the sight of ‘saved’ cows, “Oh they are just so lucky”. I think its true, these are protected cows in a dangerous world. But the lucky ones are really us. On last Govardhan Puja celebration suddenly I got excited and thought, “We have cows, we actually have the real deal on this significant day!” So I quickly made a garland of chrisantemums for the cows, grabbed a box of apples, and prepared a tray of tumeric mixed with water to go pet, and feed, and garland the cows. The milkmen was there, milking them. Apparently he was touched by my visit and told the other devotees at the local temple lately how it was a surprise to him to see devotees coming up and spontenously honoring his cows. “You don’t know how lucky you are”. Many years ago I read a novel, Fox In The Attic, where a british youth visiting pre nazi Germany stayed in the country home of a family who actually hid young Hitler in their attic. The boy, failing to romantically conquer the house’s pretty heir, just before starting off back to England decides to take a walk on the grounds. On passing through a field where a cow was peacefully munching he thinks he hears the animal whispering to him, “You just don’t know how lucky you are”. Then on and on from different unseemingly elements in the evironment, the trees, an apron fluttering in the wind to dry, he hears the same words, “You don’t know how lucky you are”.

        In the same way we, acting most disconcertingly from the point of view of materialists, do not realize just how lucky we are by not having anything to do with cow slaughtering. If we don’t, that is.

      • I must say I agree with Hridayananda Goswami in this regard. By humbly offering the cow’s milk to Krsna they receive untold mercy and benefit in the next life. It seems to me the devotees don’t really believe this or consider it a myth. Those poor cows are suffering and the best thing that will likely ever happen to them is that their milk was offered to Krsna. The alternative is that they not only suffer but also their milk is never offered to Krsna. Now that is really sad… Better to follow Srila Prabhupada’s example of utilizing karmi milk if devotee milk is not available to us.

        • utilizing karmi milk if devotee milk is not available to us.

          I get so tired of hearing the word ‘karmi’. Does saying it really make us feel superior to others?

          Those poor cows are suffering and the best thing that will likely ever happen to them is that their milk was offered to Krsna.

          I think the idea that cows suffer and we can make it (the suffering and environmental repercussions) better by offering the milk to Krsna seems naive and denialist to me. It’s called magical thinking and undoing in psychology. It only changes one reality, the subjective or group imaginary.

          If it bothers us so much then some action will speak louder than fantasy.

        • Spend the extra money on organic milk, take social action, become vegan and/or if all else fails…accept that we are often a part of the problem as well as a part of the solution. We all have aggression, the question for me is: In which way do we express it?

        • Just to clarify, when I praised Hridayananda Maharaja’s take on the dairy issue, it was because I felt like he presented it in a somewhat nuanced way. It wasn’t the same old tired “cows get benefit, drink whatever you want” justification that I’ve heard a million times.

        • Amara dasa,

          I am pretty sure Hridayananda maharaja meant the opposite: he meant to encourage devotees to take a more active involvement by avoiding commercial milk, not offering the commercial milk with “extra sincerity”. Sincerity indeed will result in action. Offering the milk and leaving things as they are sounds like a copout to me.

      • Here is a link that may help people locate raw milk in their area:

    • One does not need to eat meat to live a healthy life. The question is does one have to consume animal fat to do the same? My answer is “Yes.” And I would add that this means one needs milk products in their diet. If one accepts this premise, one must find the most compassionate and “Guadiya correct” way to do so given one’s circumstances. Moving is certainly an option one should seriously consider (for perhaps more reasons than this one alone), but it is not in my mind the bottom line, nor in some instances a realistic possibility for some. Sometimes devotees are placed in awkward circumstances, even circumstances in which they may need to eat meat in order to stay alIve. In such instances they are driven that much more to cultivate saranagati.

      We should be aware that even unwholesome activities can be offered to Krishna. Sri Jiva suggests the following prayer in this regard: “Let whatever attachment I have to unwholesome or wholesome deeds be fully and exclusively directed toward Sri Krishna.” This is in line with Sri Krishna’s statement in the Gita 9.27 “Whatever you do . . . do that as an offering unto me.” How embarrassingly generous Bhakti-devi is.

      • BG 9.27 — specifically your commentary in your Gita translation, Guru Maharaja — is exactly what I thought of when I heard Hridayananda Maharaja’s talk on dairy. We should offer everything that we have, everything that we are — sincerely — even when what we offer is not quite perfect yet. Incredibly generous indeed.

      • Syama Gopala dasa

        I love your last paragraph, GM. It’s mindblowing. Many think vaisnavism is so rigid, but it’s all accommodating.

  6. We should offer everything that we have, everything that we are — sincerely — even when what we offer is not quite perfect yet. Incredibly generous indeed.

    This brings to mind Gita 18.48: all actions have some fault mixed in with them but we still must act. Better to do something imperfectly than not at all.

    • Exactly…that’s the way I’ve always seen it, anyhow. The whole Vegan idea of completely cutting out the cow just doesn’t seem right or positive to me, kind of like cutting out the eye rather than curing it. Most Vegans I talk to believe it is unnatural for humans to drink cow milk anyway.

      This is how I would grade this whole issue:

      -offering and drinking milk from protected cows (ideal)

      -offering and drinking milk from unprotected cows (second-best)

      -not offering or drinking any milk at all (neutral, negative)

      -drinking unoffered milk from unprotected cows (worst)

  7. I wonder how much money the climate chief makes. Sounds like a good job if you can get it but I imagine you have to be a serious yes man. It is noble to give up meat eating out of compassion for animals but in regards to humans “saving the planet” I am in agreement with George Carlin:

    “We’re so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody’s going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don’t even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven’t learned how to care for one another. We’re gonna save the planet? . . . And, by the way, there’s nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are messed up! Compared with the people, the planet is doin’ great. It’s been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn’t goin’ anywhere, folks. We are! We’re goin’ away. Pack your stuff, we’re goin’ away. And we won’t leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we’ll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.”

    I guess that it wont exactly be a failed mutation just a spiritual cleansing when the Kalki avatar arrives in 427,000 years.

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