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)