Should we all become vegetarians?

On Wednesday evening I attended a very thought provoking talk at my local transition group. It was by Peter Harper, former Head of Research and Innovation at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

Peter talked about Zero Carbon Britain. Is it possible for us to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2030, and halt global warming?


can we achieve zero carbon by 2030? Report from CAT

While I can’t begin to explain all the science behind the proposals for carbon-free energy sources (wind, solar, heatpumps, tidal etc) I do know that our winters are getting warmer and wetter and the rest of the world is getting hotter. Last year global temperatures rose by one degree Celsius above pre-industrial levels; if they rise by another degree we are looking at a planet being seriously affected by warmer weather (melting of polar ice caps, rising sea levels, increased droughts). At the Paris Agreement last December world leaders agreed to work towards limiting the global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius – and strive to halt it at 1.5 C if possible.

To reduce greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide emissions in particularly, though, we have to act radically. I came across this terrifying graph on the BBC website:

_87071996_climate_change_fallbacks-06The Zero Carbon Britain proposal suggested some radical action or, as Peter referred to it, ‘breaking eggs’. He suggested we had to change our mindset and accept wind farms, solar farms, tidal barrages etc. We had to seriously curb our use of transport (in particular cars and planes), we had to walk and cycle more. He also examined land use and greenhouse emissions. Land use for raising animals and the emissions relating to the meat process are far larger than land and emissions for crops. So the conclusion for land use,  emissions – and health – is to change to a plant based diet (with the option of still consuming highly priced organic meat).

As someone with a keen – if laywoman’s – interest in the environment I’ve known that there are some actions I should take to ‘save the planet’. The transport one is an issue we feel keenly in our family by committing ourselves to just one car (depressingly I was the only person on the village bus last night and the driver told me they were looking at reducing the service). I’ve also known for ages that becoming vegetarian is better for our health and the environment. However I’m not sure I’m ready to make that leap as we have a great local butcher and I do like bacon!

Interestingly my middle daughter turned vegetarian when she was eight and her diet has forced us to adapt our cooking and eating habits. As she, along with her older and younger sisters, will be the ones living in this world of a 2 C temperature increase (or god forbid, anything higher) maybe she has the right attitude. And it leads me to ask: what more should we be doing to equip our children for a warmer world?

(For more info there’s a summary of the Zero Carbon proposal here and a summary of another of Peter’s talks here with an audio podcast)


9 thoughts on “Should we all become vegetarians?

  1. Bacon’s always been my downfall too! That and the convenience, when dining out, of ordering from a full menu rather than a salad and a pallid pasta with cheese.

    But we’ve been gradually moving to a vegetarian diet for years in our household, and we’re close. We are definitely vegetarian-leaning flexitarians. I’ve been experimenting with vegan dishes lately too. We notice how much better we feel the day after eating a vegan meal. The cost savings are a bonus, allowing us more to spend on organic whole fruits and vegetables. What a difference!

    Thanks for a thoughtful article. Glad to have discovered you.

  2. Very thought provoking. We’ve been gradually moving in the same direction ourselves, but I think others in the household would find giving up meat altogether too challenging (at the moment…). So for now the compromise has been to substantially reduce the amount of meat in any dish (i.e. halve it at least), not eat meat every day, and to eat mainly wild (game) meat – we have an excellent game dealer at the Bath Farmers’ Market who sells wild deer and other game that have been culled rather than farmed.
    My personal challenge is to reduce the amount of dairy products I use, without compromising what I need to do to stave off osteoporosis. Still struggling with that one.

  3. I’ve just recently made the transition (due to climate and health reasons) to vegan most days, an egg here and there, chicken seldom, and so far I haven’t missed the foods I used to love (bacon being one of them). I saw a video of a pig laying a puzzle together, and since then, I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that they are much smarter than we “tell ourselves” to justify our treatment of them. Our kids’ generation need to learn and WILL learn what is best for them and the planet, no doubt, they’re open-minded. It’s changing the minds of the 40+ that is the big issue to me. They’ll be around for 40+ years (well into the 2050’s) eating meat, high consumption, not getting on the fossil-free track etc. Their contribution is crucial to keep us below the 2 degrees… At least where I live, that’s what I see (and I keep nagging them ;)). Great post! Thanks 🙂

      • I think we have to implement fees (sticks) for bad eco-choices (meat, gas-cars, plastic packaging) and make rewards (carrots) available for better ones. That’s for people more powerful than us to act on… I hope it doesn’t take a full on collapse of all eco-systems for everyone to get onboard. In the meantime we must inspire, enlighten, and keep blogging 🙂

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