Save the planet by cutting down on meat? That’s just a load of bull.
Look, I hate to be rude to the UN. I don’t want to seem churlish in the face of advice from a body as august and well-meaning as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But if they seriously believe that I am going to give up eating meat – in the hope of reducing the temperature of the planet – then they must be totally barmy.
We are going to have carnivorous festivals of chops and sausages.
No, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, distinguished chairman of the panel, I am not going to have one meat-free day per week. No, I am not going to become a gradual vegetarian. In fact, the whole proposition is so irritating that I am almost minded to eat more meat in response.
Every weekend, rain or shine, I suggest that we flaunt our defiance of UN dietary recommendations with a series of vast Homeric barbecues.
We are going to have carnivorous festivals of chops and sausages and burgers and chitterlings and chine and offal, and the fat will run down our chins, and the dripping will blaze on the charcoal, and the smoky vapours will rise to the heavens.
We will call these meat feasts Pachauri days, in satirical homage to the tofu-chomping UN man who told the human race to go veggie.
And the reason I respond so intemperately to his suggestion is that he completely misses the point. Everybody knows the reality, and everybody – every environmentalist, every Guardian columnist – pussyfoots around it.
The problem is not the cows; the problem is the people eating the cows. The problem is us. Oh, Dr Pachauri is quite right to be concerned at the emissions of noxious vapours from farm animals.
As the UN revealed in 2006, livestock make a bigger contribution to the greenhouse effect – to global warming – than every motor vehicle on the planet.
Cows are spreading remorselessly over the earth, as jungle is turned into pasture, and pasture is turned into cud, and cud is turned into the terrible ruminant efflatus that rises from the fields and the farms and swaddles the globe in a tea cosy of methane, 23 times as damaging as CO2.
Livestock now use 30 per cent of the earth’s surface, and farming now produces 37 per cent of the methane created by human activity, and every extra cow means thousands of extra cowpats, each cowpat seemingly innocent enough, but together capable of emitting enough steaming gas to change the composition of the upper air.
Yes, Dr Pachauri is spot on in his analysis. It is his prescription that is absurd. He is quite right that if you want to buy a gas-guzzler 4×4 Range Rover and you want to offset your greenhouse emissions, you just have to pop into the nearest field and assassinate a cow. And he is quite right that if we were to kill all the cows in the world, and all the sheep, we would greatly reduce our methane output.
What he neglects in his argument are the 1.3 billion people whose livelihoods depend on agriculture, and above all he forgets the global population of human beings. It is our appetite for meat that supports those farmers, and it is our insatiable desire for burgers that has called those poor cows into existence.
Why, oh why will the modern UN say nothing about the real issue, the prior issue, the unspeakable truth that is at the heart of deforestation, global warming, the depletion of the seas, the destruction of species and just about every environmental problem that afflicts us?
The biggest threat to the planet is not the lowing of the cows as they take over the Latin American savannah.
It is the dizzying increase in the numbers of people driving those cows and then eating them. The world’s population is up to 6.72 billion, and set to rise to 9 billion by 2050.
Now let me tell you something about the year 2050. It is not that far off. I fully intend to see it in, since I will be a mere 84, and I must say that I do not look with enthusiasm at the prospect of sharing the planet with another 2.3 billion people.
I am sure that they will all each be individually charming and they will all have much to contribute to the intellectual and spiritual life of our species. But they will also make life that much more crowded, sweaty and exhausting than it already is. They will accelerate the urbanisation of the world and the turning of rural south-east England into a gigantic suburbia.
And whatever Dr Pachauri may say, I do not think they will be persuaded to eat nut cutlets. Millions of years of evolution are not to be reversed by a spot of preaching from the UN. Man is an omnivore, culturally and probably biologically programmed to take protein from meat; and those meat animals must be farmed.
We cannot all eat moose, like Sarah Palin. We need cows. Not so long ago I stood in the vast canteen in the Beijing Olympic village and on one side were long salad bars, with virtually no one in the queue.
On the other side, of course, was McDonald’s, where Olympic athletes were lining up to take nourishment from the burgers reviled by right-thinking environmentalists.
Before Dr Pachauri preaches any more sermons against meat, I suggest he gets down to the UN canteen and sees what his staff are eating. Is he really going to snatch that schnitzel from their lips? Of course not.
It is time the United Nations remembered its historic role in campaigning against global overpopulation. There was a time when the UN used to champion female emancipation, education, family planning and all the real solutions to the world’s excessive and intolerable population boom.
It is time the world’s leaders had the wisdom and courage once again to talk the fundamental issue, rather than babbling about our diet. It’s not eating meat that does the damage. It’s the huge and remorselessly growing number of people who want to eat it.
[Ed: This article was first published in the Daily Telegraph on 09 September 2008 under the heading, “Save the planet by cutting down on meat? That’s just a load of bull.”]