Developed nations need to ‘lose weight’

By Cheng Yi Source:Global Times Published: 2015-12-7 15:18:01

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

As world's attention focuses on the ongoing Paris climate talks, debates and bargains centering around measures and responsibilities to curb global warming heat up, aiming to prevent the world's average temperature from rising beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

A previous report, which suggested that eating less meat could help reduce green house gas emissions(GHG), can be a useful and highly practical perspective in this heated discussion that can offer real solutions.

The report, released earlier by the Chatham House, says emissions from livestock, largely from burping cows and sheep and their manure, make up almost 15 percent of global emissions - equivalent to tailpipe emissions from all the world's vehicles.

"Dietary change is essential if global warming is not to exceed 2 degrees Celsius," concludes the Chatham report.

Reports as such offer a whole new perspective that individuals who actually suffer from the consequences of climate change can do something within their own power to make a difference, not as big topics like fossil fuel use that have been too often politicized.

However, report suggestions that upward trend of meat and dairy consumption from emerging economies such as China be "cut" to reduce GHG sound practically impossible and morally prejudicial. In fact, these calculations as such are systematically flawed.

The author apparently made his calculations through tinted spectacles - prejudices Western scholars have long adopted consciously or unconsciously when they pointed the finger at China's coal consumption, transport, GHG responsibilities and so many others.

Just like the denial and reluctance to emissions from the industrialized nations like the US, in the face of challenging their extravagant and wasteful "way of life," people from rich and welfare states showed their typical denial, reluctance and ignorance.

How can developing countries like China, with a GDP of $7,800 per capita (a fifth to a sixth of developed nations) and with 70 million people in the countryside living below the poverty line of $376, be blamed for meat over-consumption?

"The US has one of the highest levels of meat consumption in the world at about 250g per person per day, almost four times the amount deemed healthy by experts. And Europe is not far behind." The BBC reports, emphasizing that meat and diary consumption levels "have plateaued in industrialized countries," and there is "a general correlation between wealth and diet."

And it's widely known that the industrialized nations, that have accumulated wealth and welfare through these years but ignored the climate change repercussions, are responsible for 52 percent of total CO2 emissions in the world. 

Simply imagining the size of a typical Asian or American, one can easily find it ridiculous to blame a poor nation whose people, largely prone to eat vegetables in their dietary, and are just beginning to afford more meat and dairy, while people from rich nations, long enjoying their protein-rich and cheese-loving diet, are figuring how to down size their over-sized body.

Ironically, of all the 12 countries surveyed by Chatham House that are willing to reduce their own meat consumption to help tackle climate change, only 2 percent in Japan, 4 percent in the UK, and 4 percent in the US are willing to do so, while the willingness to change diets in developing nations such as China (19 percent), India (14 percent) and Brazil (12 percent) are much higher than the global average 9 percent.

Therefore, I believe, given the Paris conference is once again bringing the world to self-examination and sensible discussions aimed at action before too late, it's time for some real actions on the part of rich nations that indisputably bear more responsibilities.

A study of tens of thousands of British people's daily eating habits shows that meat lovers' diets cause double the climate-warming emissions of vegetarian diets. Avoiding excessive meat consumption, especially beef, is good for the environment.

Dozens of researchers have shown that eating less meat benefits personal health, namely, reducing cancer risk, aiding weight loss, helping lower cholesterol levels. Such a way of living also helps reduce wealth disparities in that meat products saved by the obese can be used to feed the hungry.

What may sound the most attractive is the fact that a low meat diet saves a lot of money and makes ones eco-friendly at the same time. So, it's high time for people of rich nations, especially the obese, to lose weight to make both the climate and themselves healthier.

The author is a media commentator.

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