Everyone should read the Chatham House report Livestock – Climate Change’s Forgotten Sector: Global Public Opinion on Meat and Dairy Consumption. Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, is an independent policy institute based in London. Their mission is to help build a sustainably secure, prosperous and just world.
The report looks at the alarming growth in meat and dairy consumption in non-Western countries, especially in Asia, and makes the case that the only way to deal with this problem is to lower consumption.
In the report they go beyond detailing the disastrous impact of animal agriculture on climate change, but also look at, like Cowspiracy, why governments, environmental groups and the media aren’t raising awareness about this issue.
This lack of awareness means that people who might be willing to change their eating habits, don’t get the messages that would drive that change.
To discover the size of this awareness gap, Chatham House commissioned a multi-country, multilingual online survey. The results found recognition of the livestock sector as a significant contributor to climate change is markedly low. The chart below shows the difference between the survey participant’s perceptions and the actual contribution to climate change for different sectors of the economy. Note the big difference for meat and dairy production.
However, the survey also found that in those areas, like energy and transportation, where governments, environmental groups and the media have raised awareness, consumers are willing to make changes to impact the climate.
This is a tremendous challenge, and opportunity, for those of us who would like to see the message in this report spread far and wide.
The survey asked participants who was best able to shift the awareness gap
Closing the awareness gap appears to be an important precondition for behaviour change. An important question, therefore, is who is best placed to inform publics of the links between livestock and climate change. The survey assessed public confidence in a range of sources to which consumers may turn for information about the environmental and health consequences of meat and dairy consumption. Across all countries polled, those labelled ‘experts’ – with an unidentified field of expertise – were afforded the highest degree of confidence from respondents…although there were important differences across countries.
Here are the results of the survey
Looking at the results is a bit disheartening. The respondents in the US ranked experts highest with environmental groups a distant second. They also gave social media a thumbs down as a helpful source of information.
We already know that the major environmental groups aren’t talking about reducing meat and dairy consumption. If you haven’t seen Cowspiracy, do it now (you can finish reading when you get back) to find out the extent of the disconnect between the goals of these groups to save the planet and their lack of action regarding animal agriculture. Our government – captured by the meat, dairy and agriculture industries – isn’t willing to upset their “owners.”
The report lays out these reasons for the lack of action:
- Intrusion in lifestyle decisions
- Cultural significance
- Private-sector resistance
- Public ambivalence regarding climate change
- Uncertainty regarding the efficacy or acceptability of policy interventions
However, behind these concerns lie multiple assumptions and generalizations. The belief that in aggregate they represent an insurmountable challenge is untested, and clear examples of behavioural shifts in populations do exist. In reality there is minimal research on how dietary change might best be effected. Ironically, this lack of research may well be symptomatic of the belief that the challenge is insurmountable, suggesting a cycle in which a lack of research allows this belief to remain uncontested, leading in turn to a lack of research. The result of this is the policy vacuum described above.
I’m not sure that I have any good answers to this dilemma. We need to lift up the voices of the experts who are willing to go against the status quo. Experts like Dr. Richard Oppenlander, author of two books on this subject – Comfortably Unaware – Global Depletion and Food Responsibility and Food Choice and Sustainability: Why Buying Local, Eating Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work.
Can we meet this insurmountable challenge? We must if we are going to have a chance at limiting the impact of climate change. Let’s get to work.