Letter to the editor

Time to choose our future

I’d like to thank David Whitcombe for a fantastic book review of The new climate war: The fight to take back our planet by Michael E Mann (Newsmonth, issue 4, June 2021).

I can attest to the occupational hazards of teaching Geography – it has influenced my decisions about diet, transport, finances, consumerism, even family planning. I also congratulate David on choosing a title in the climate change genre. I haven’t read the book but, judging from the review, I daresay that I would agree with most arguments put forward by Mann. I would, however, like to challenge a couple of points.

First, I’d love to know the source for the claim that “beef consumption is responsible for six percent of carbon emissions”. From what I understand, there are two reports that are most cited about animal agriculture’s contributions to climate change. One is the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the UN that claimed 18 percent in their report, Livestock’s Long Shadow.

The other is the Worldwatch Institute that claimed 51 percent in Livestock and Climate Change. Furthermore the FAO states that cattle are the animal species responsible for the most emissions, representing about 65 per cent of the livestock sector’s emissions. I would question the accuracy of all of these numbers, however, I tend to think the higher numbers are more persuasive. Why does it even matter? I think that a claim of 6 percent underemphasises the environmental impact of animal agriculture and particularly beef. There are, of course, the environmental impacts beyond carbon emissions, such as land clearing, soil degradation, effluent and inordinate water usage.

Perhaps the climate culprits are meat and food-processing corporations as well as the fossil fuel industry? It certainly has the lobbying power to collude with willing politicians. In which case, changing our diets and consumer activism are worthwhile pursuits for which we should be held accountable by our students, who will inherit the world we are creating.

Secondly, to the point that “individual action is part of the solution … but it can only get us so far”, I tend to agree. However, I fear that this rationale could be used to excuse inaction on an individual scale. If climate change is the existential threat that scientists warn that it is, then should we not be doing everything in our power to avoid it?

The fossil fuel ship is indeed turning around, however, it remains to be seen whether the ship will turn fast enough to avoid the iceberg. Hope is essential if we are to face the challenge of climate change, however, without action on every scale, that hope may be dead in the water. In her book The Future We Choose, Christiana Figueres states “We can no longer afford the indulgence of feeling powerless. We can no longer afford to assume that addressing climate change is the sole responsibility of national or local governments, or corporations or individuals. This is an everyone-everywhere mission in which we all must individually and collectively assume responsibility. We absolutely need to advocate for systemic climate action (with just transition or workers in affected industries), we need to eat less meat and we need to do everything else within our means to avoid a crisis, if for no other reason than to safeguard the future of the young people we have dedicated our careers to.

I may have completely missed the mark with my comments and just need to read the book myself!

Carmelo Fedele
IEU member