Rajendra Pachauri (and panel) event: global warning on meat

UPDATE: video clips and full audio of the presentation on the CiWF site.

So, I went to the Compassion in World Farming event, Global Warning, with Rajendra Pachauri, twice-elected Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, but speaking personally (so he could liberally quote Gandhi?) on 8th Sep 2008 at the IET in Savoy Place, preceded by a reception and followed by a long question and answer session with a panel of experts. It was a high profile event. This is a simple regurge of the notes I took – the supporting reports are on the CiWF site.

Rajendra Pachauri

I wish I had the slides – they were basically statistics drawing on the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Global warming of over 2.5 deg will have unacceptable effects which will worst affect those areas with the least capacity to withstand them (e.g. low-lying Bangladesh).

Green house gas (ghg) emissions.  80% of all agricultural ghg is livestock, and livestock emissions comprise 18% of the tota (livestock, not meat – including for fibres, as asset, for draught, colonising land – i.e. not just productive but a range of functions.

Producing 1Kg of beef is the equivalent of 250km of EU driving, or lighting a 100w bulb for 20 days. Two thirds of the emissions are producing and transporting the animal feed. There is also hidden ghg – the packing, cooking, transporting and refrigerating. There are other emissions including ammonia which contributes to acid rain.

On the subject of water, the differential between beef and rice is five-fold.

On animal feed – 10kg of food (soya, mostly) yields 1kg of beef. 4-5.5kg for 1kg of pork, and 2.1-3kg for 1kg of poultry.

Income – where it increases, the first thing that people spend on is improving their diet. Understandably, to many people this means meat. The projections are that whereas we were collectively consuming 276m tonnes in 2006 (five times the amount we were consuming in the 1950s), by 2050 (with the projected population rise to 10b) we will at this rate be getting through 465m tonnes.

Will intensive farming help the climate? Doubtful. Still, I told somebody from CiWF who hadn’t heard of it (hello??) about Pig City, which looks to be as good as it gets, if you’re trying to balance welfare with emissions. The pig waste is processed by and fertilises a reedbed whose reeds are then used for pig nesting material. The methane is harvested for fuel. And so on.

What about being vegan? Well, yes – 70 years as a vegan saves 100 tonnes of CO2. Halving your meat consumption is better than halving your driving, for ghg.

But he doesn’t propose regulation, but fiscal measures.

There was a fair bit of Gandhi, culminating with “Be the change you want to see in the world”. Bloody hell, I knew I couldn’t do enough…

And a shameless plug, which I will reproduce here, for the Lighting a Billion Lives project.

The Panel

The panel comprised

  • Henning Steinfeld, author of Livestock’s Long Shadow, and member of a UN panel
  • Joyce D’Silba, author of Animals, Ethics and Trade, and CiWF person
  • Robert Watson from DEFRA and the Tyndall Centre, UEA
  • Felicity Lawrence, Guardian Consumer Affairs editor
  • John Powles, Medical Professor from Cambridge University

HS: livestock is a symptom of poverty. The first thing people do when they achieve middle classness is enrich their diets. There’s a shift from ruminants to crops. Intensive systems are climate-benign

JDS: 80% of the growth in animal consumption is rooted in animals as units in industrial farming systems. They are bred for high productivity and fast growth. 50m chickens are from just 3 breeding companies (USA). 27% of chickens are lame by the time they die at 6 weeks (long before their puberty at 18 weeks). High-yielding cows produce 10 times more than a calf would drink and suffer health consequences. Live animal trade – 5m sheep from Australia to Middle East per year. 120k cattle and 260k pigs die during transport. We need a compassion footprint.

RW: Climate change is the biggest threat to our development and security. We need individual responsibility and action.

FL: She worked undercover in an abattoir. Our consumption is manufactured to respond to US agricultural subsidies  of $165b between 1995-2005 affecting just five crops – cotton and the ones used in animal feed – soya, wheat, rice, corn. The speeches of USA presidents since Eisenhower and Kennedy have promoted the production and export of surplus food.

JP: looking for interventions with a ‘double dividend’. Livestock is a dynamic and expanding sector. To merely hold ghg at current levels we need to reduce mean consumption by 10%. This is geopolitically feasible through contraction and convergence. This would confer health benefits on those who eat too much and not enough and poor countries would see improvements in child growth.

RW: self-sufficiency is not what we should be aiming for – leaves us vulnerable to weather and disease. Up to 65% local is alright, but only further afield (Eu) can give us food security.

RP: Gandhi: think about how actions of yours affect the underprivileged.

Various panellists commiserated with each other about the withdrawal of big business funding, which they attributed to their outspoken views.

A knowledgeable woman challenged HS on assertions about intensification of farming, pointing out that pasture – and grazing animals – were helpful because of soil-carbon sequestration. However, there isn’t sufficient grazing land unless we accept further deforestation.


We need to act now. We need an international treaty.

My unanswered questions/observations

  • Pachauri and D’Silva both seemed to make out that we can swap meat for vegetables (Powles, the medic, didn’t). But what about amino acids? And how does getting enough, and a range of, protein fit into a climate-change-driven local agenda, including local food security?
  • What local circumstances need to be in place for animal welfare laws to improve country by country?
  • How does the animal welfare agenda fit in with the climate change mitigation agenda? Considering the emphasis on individual measures, would understanding more about animal sentience encourage us to eat less?
  • I was pretty dismayed at how disjointed the different panellists’ agendas were – Joyce D’Silva in particular seemed to be out of the loop of climate change concern. I thought her point about compassion footprint was a good attempt to hitch up to the carbon train. But I worry it won’t work. Better push on raising empathy with animals, building on research findings about the presence of higher-order thinking.
  • The focus on diet while shrugging at population projections was interesting. I wondered if all the panellists felt that population concerns were taboo. Deepened my impression that the climate change people are working in silos.
  • I found Pachauri’s views on nutrition a little bit thin. He just said he felt better when he stopped eating meat. What about the kids of the world with protein malnutrition. I hoped to see some economic and distribution models, but I suppose that’s not what he’s there for. Powles was the person who seemed to care about this.

The reception was vegan. The wine, though, Chilean.

The assembly of people at the reception beforehand and afterwards may themselves have included a large proportion of country-dwellers. From the way they congregated in the thoroughfares and doorways of the IET foyer and bar with no sense of anybody trying to move round them at all, they reminded me strongly of cattle. Barking a cheerful “Excuse me please,” elicited little gasps, hoots and other noises of surprise as they turned expectantly to find out what on earth you could possibly want to excuse yourself about. I mean, what could we want? You and your friends are blocking the only way out of this room, love – could you please shift? Raised in barnyards, almost certainly. I even had to climb over one woman. It was extreme, which is why I spent a long para explaining. Anyway, lest I begin to seem like somebody who cares little for country-dwellers unless they have more than two legs, or wings, I’d better be off. After all, there is a farm shop the other side of Fairlop. Maybe I could all too easily lose my basic consideration for other people in a crowd. We left fairly early. It was good.


4 thoughts on “Rajendra Pachauri (and panel) event: global warning on meat

  1. the Pig City architects would be so pleased to know the impact their video has had, it’s the only thing remembered from that funny exhibition at the Barbican

  2. Don’t get me wrong, I think eating pigs is an abomination. Did you know that they practice tactical deception? In studies, pigs who were privileged with knowledge of the whereabouts of food would attempt to mislead other pigs in order to ‘hog’ the food themselves.

    Yes, that’s a higher order thinking skill in evidence. These animals are not for eating.

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