Climate inaction or a shared appetite for a better world?

Overshadowed by Brexit, and much more trivial, news, last week, the world was presented with a groundbreaking climate message.

 

The social cost of climate change

The landmark IPCC special report, published on 8 October 2018, is more alarming than any previous climate report. Not only must we limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, instead of 2°C, we only really have 12 years to achieve this.

The global two largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters, China and the USA, are facing some of the highest social costs of tonnes of carbon emitted, as well as India (currently already paying $86/tonne CO2), Saudi Arabia and Brazil. Assuming 2017 CO2 emissions, the global impact is more than $16 trillion. The magazine Nature commented: “Acting like a magnifying glass, it [the social cost concept] highlights horrendous climate-impact inequality.”

 

Eating up our planet or providing a better plate?

While it is right to focus attention on cars, other transport, and energy and construction industries to curb emissions, nearly 30% of all GHG emissions are caused by the global food system, of which half (14.5%) by the livestock sector. Climate change, pollution, over-fishing and illegal fishing also cause disastrous results for the planet.

 

Lake fish

 

If we don’t act now, not many fish and coral reefs will be left in the oceans in less than 20-30 years. We’ll witness the disappearance of thousands of species of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and other organisms, as well as much plant and marine life. And we’ll experience more extreme, deadly, weather and climate-related disasters. We have known the predictions for a while, but we’ve ignored the science and change advocates for too long.

With global population and income levels growing between 2010 and 2050, the environmental effects of the food system could increase by 50–90% according to a new analysis published 2 days after the IPCC report. Assuming we don’t introduce technological changes and dedicated mitigation measures, this would result in levels that are beyond the planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humanity. The authors, Springmann and colleagues, recommend dietary changes towards healthier, more plant-based diets, improvements in technologies and management, and reductions in food loss and waste.

Globally, we need to see a 75% reduction in consumption of cattle meat, 90 percent less pig meat and half the eggs eaten currently. On average, we need to eat three times more beans and lentils, and quadruple the amount of nuts and seeds to obtain the same amount of calories (substantially more vegetables would obviously also help, and not just to reduce climate change but also to improve public health).

In wealthier nations, such as the United States and Australia, which have the highest animal consumption, dietary changes would need to be even more profound. Consumption of cattle meat would need to be reduced by 90 percent and dairy would need to be decreased by 60%.  Intake of legumes would need to be increased by four to six times to consume the same amount of calories.

These dietary changes can be achieved through education, subsidies for plant-based foods, changes to school menus, and increased taxes.

 

Be a part of the change

In the current socio-political climate where lies, deceit and gross violations of nearly all rights (human, non-human and environmental) are broadly rewarded, while facts and justice get distorted and denied, the 1.5°C temperature goal within a 12-year time frame seems sadly out of reach.

The New American, for example, reported the above-mentioned paper by Springmann et al. and concluded that the study had been designed in such a way to come to those diet change recommendations, because the authors were supposedly activists and had used scaremongering tactics… It’s very sad to see science being undermined in such a grotesque way by an increasing number of online and offline channels, and even more worrying to see the effects of these publications on the masses.

Millions of people are propping up self-serving politicians, regimes, and industries, and effectively drown out the voices and facts of more than 6,000 scientific references and contribution of thousands of expert and government reviewers worldwide in the IPCC’s and thousands of evidence-based reports. What happened to critical reasoning, logic, science and facts?

Even real climate change events, which are already wreaking havoc around the planet, causing trillions of dollars of damage, taking hundreds of thousands of human and non-human lives, and resulting in the most vulnerable being hit the hardest, don’t seem to capture people’s imagination to act now. We are oblivious and, frankly, selfish.

Every day we make decisions not only based on what we need but frequently on what is being offered to us. And herein lies the greatest threat, but also opportunity. We can work with the food industry, catering and service providers to enable better food options and encourage more plant-based menu options in public institutions. Policy makers may lag behind, but companies and caterers can make large-scale changes relatively quickly.

Help organisations such as ProVeg International increase everyone’s appetite for a better world, the Good Food Institute, and related food advocacy and awareness organisations to turn the tide. It’s not too late. Yet.


What could Brexit mean for veganism?

Winnal Nature reserveBefore the referendum I shared my personal view outlining reasons to Remain in the EU, and I was hopeful that a small majority would back staying in. Unfortunately, the result of the Referendum on 23 June was marginally in favour of leaving.

The political establishment is in disarray, but I prefer not to comment, as I believe it isn’t black and white (well, with regard to the actions of some Conservatives I believe it is). However, I would like to consider a few impacts that the decision to leave the EU may have on veganism and related topics.

Please read my blog on the Huffington Post: Brexit Impact on Veganism


In or out, that’s the question (on ‘Brexit’)

What ‘Brexit’ means for animals – a personal view

At a live comedy night recently, the topic under discussion was immigration. Plucking up courage, I announced to the comedians and listening audience that I was an economic migrant. They didn’t really know what to say, because I ‘looked’ just like them, and I almost talked like one of them. Are Western Europeans not seen as migrants, I wondered, while those from Eastern Europe or Africa or Asia are viewed as being here to take ‘our’ jobs, houses and healthcare?

My job prospects are somewhat limited in The Netherlands. I was fortunate to work in further and higher education there for over four years at the start of my career, during which I was privileged to have worked for the political Party for the Animals (PvdD), in a voluntary capacity. However, England offers many more opportunities to help other animals, and I’m grateful for the jobs and experience I’ve gained here.

But I’ve recently been asked what I think about Brexit. Despite having paid taxes for nearly 12 years and contributing to UK society I am not allowed to vote in the referendum. Some would say that’s just one of the limitations of the EU, although the fact that people are free to move and work within the EU in the first place is certainly a blessing. (However it does feel slightly bizarre that I can still vote for Dutch referenda where I’m no longer based, on affairs I no longer know much about.)

Free movement of goods and services is generally very positive for the EU. The problem however, is that animals are seen as property, and are traded as ‘goods’. Would Brexit help or hinder animals in the EU? Article 13, Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union states:

“In formulating and implementing the Union’s agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market, research and technological development and space policies, the Union and the Member States shall, since animals are sentient beings, pay full regard to the welfare requirements of animals, while respecting the legislative or administrative provisions and customs of the Member States relating in particular to religious rites, cultural traditions and regional heritage.”

Better or worse animal protection legislation?

National governments may adopt more stringent rules provided they are compatible with the provisions of the Treaty, but Community legislation concerning the welfare conditions of farm animals lays down minimum standards.

The question is whether the UK would act any differently with regard to the treatment of animals, if it were no longer part of the EU. Nothing prevents the government from drafting stronger animal protection laws (or promote more vegan-friendly policies for that matter), at present. However, given the government’s track record, it might well, if the UK left the EU, reverse many animal protection regulations. As with so many questions relating to ‘Brexit’, ranging from economic security to what would happen to the 2 million Britons living abroad, the impact currently remains uncertain.

I am highly sceptical that the plight of other animals would be improved following a Brexit. EU legislation does often adopt the position of the lowest common denominator, but Member States can still introduce more progressive legislation in particular areas. For example, the UK is committed to spending 0.7% of Gross National Income on foreign aid. But the strong voice for animals that was once a driving factor behind EU (and UK) legislative change in the eighties and nineties, too often seems reduced to a whisper today. There may be quiet ‘official’ UK condemnation of whaling by Japan and Norway, or dog eating in Korea and China, but when it comes to the suffering and killing of hundreds of millions of ‘farmed’ and laboratory animals in the UK, the industry seems to be found in too many politicians’ pockets.

In, on balance

I am quite sure that, on balance, staying in the EU would be more beneficial for animals than leaving. Just having a voice at the negotiating table is priceless. Even though the current government’s animal advocacy voice has nearly disappeared, I am hopeful a more animal-friendly government will be elected within the next ten years. We must therefore remain in the EU, and hope that compassionate government returns to the UK sooner rather than later.

I did hear an interesting viewpoint yesterday. It is something many people have hardly heard of in the UK because most of the media and the government are doing such a brilliant job of keeping it quiet. 38 Degrees and some other social justice groups and political parties, such as the Green Party, have highlighted it for many months, but the public at large is unaware. This is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the USA and the EU, and its sister agreement for Canada ‘CETA’. TTIP means trouble on many levels, but is particularly disastrous for ‘farmed’ animals.

An animal friend said last night he would vote for Brexit to try to get rid of David Cameron, who is one of the main champions behind TTIP. I agree we should certainly support campaigns to stop TTIP, but I wonder whether a Brexit would do the trick. Suppose the UK left the EU, and the EU went ahead with TTIP without the UK (still a disaster for billions of animals). The UK would need to forge new trade deals, not only with the EU Member States, but also negotiate ‘bilateral’ agreements with the USA, Canada and so on. The Conservative government would happily replicate a TTIP-like deal with the USA. Would the Brexit have helped animals in that case? I believe it’s better to try to work with activists, advocates, and policy makers in other EU countries, rather than potentially being left out of key negotiations.

Regardless of the Referendum outcome, there is still a lot of hard work to do both in the UK and EU to educate consumers and citizens, to lobby policy makers, and to influence companies, to become more animal and vegan-friendly. We should join forces with our EU sisters and brothers!

Pigs in EU transport

Pigs in EU transport (c) CIWF

 


The shredding of chicks

Hen at a UK animal sanctuary

Hen at a UK animal sanctuary

On the 10th of October Dutch MP Marianne Thieme of the Party for the Animals submitted a Parliamentary motion for debate on the 14th of October to ban the culling (i.e. shredding) of one day old chicks. Unsurprisingly, the motion was lost, as politicians from the mainstream parties voted against, including Labour, the Christian Union and the larger, right of the centre, parties Christian Democrats and Liberal Democrats.

 

One day old chicks are seen as a ‘by-product’ of the egg industry. Most people do not realise that the eggs they consume come with deadly consequences. Only hens lay eggs, so female chicks are kept alive for a while, destined to live a horrific and short life in cages. Naturally, chickens could live to well over 15 years, but after only two years laying eggs, they are considered ‘spent’ and are killed by being hung upside down, electrocuted and having their throats cut until they bleed to death. Not all die before they reach the scalding tank where they are plucked and rinsed in hot water; shockingly, some are still conscious at that stage. Having been to an abattoir I have seen the fear of these poor hens when being shackled upside down. Only very few hens live under so-called ‘free-range’ or organic conditions, and even they face many health and welfare problems and a premature death at the slaughterhouse. There is nothing glorious about eggs; it’s pretty miserable all round.

 

Newly hatched chicks

Of course, any male chicks are considered ‘useless’ to the industry. They are either gassed or shredded, and used for companion animal food etc. While these killing methods are relatively quick, they are not 100% effective, and obviously entirely unnecessary. There is no need for people to eat hens’  eggs, as there are plenty of plant-based alternatives that are healthier, and avoid the killing of one day old animals. Imagine human babies being taken away from their mothers just because they were the wrong sex, and killed (sadly, this scenario is not even completely fiction, however does not occur at the same rate as the killing of hundreds of millions of male chicks every year).

 

Politicians frequently protect industrial vested interests and prioritise human life over non-human sentient life. In this respect Dutch politicians are fundamentally no different from most other EU politicians. However, at least this motion was discussed in the Netherlands, whereas MPs in the UK are generally not championing animals’ rights (except for a few, who often have other portfolios and priorities, and generally do not get support from their own party members, let alone from the government parties).

 

As long as people eat eggs, killing day old chicks will continue. Veganism is the solution that removes this demand. In the absence of moral action by politicians, it’s up to us to make personal lifestyle changes. November is World Vegan Month, and The Vegan Society, or if you want materials in Dutch then the Dutch Vegan Society and EVA, are here to help.

 

I am certain that the tide will turn, in my lifetime, and that we are on a path of becoming more aware of ‘others’ in society, whether they be people in vulnerable circumstances, non-human animals, or whole habitats and ecosystems that need protecting. Before it is too late, humanity will change to preserve, rather than destroy life. A collective consciousness is working towards this peaceful goal.