Tassos Haniotis: 'If we want to be politically correct about climate change, we had better start by being factually correct'
I think it can be fair to say that beef has not had its best days lately. From the LANCET report linking diets to health and sustainability, to the recent food safety scandal in Poland, the beef sector is once more on the receiving end of news headlines.
Yet, while the second issue is a blatant violation of the law (the solutions to which are within easy reach provided the will exists), the direct linkage of beef production and consumption to climate change, the issue coveted by the former, is less straightforward. There is no doubt in my mind that the livestock sector plays a crucial role in any strategy that seriously wants to address climate change. This, though, requires placing the big picture and basic facts into perspective.
This is more so since the current debate about beef and its role in climate change bears similarities with the heated debate about food security in the aftermath of the financial and commodity crisis a decade ago. Then, as now, one single factor (biofuels then, beef now) was expected to address the issue at stake.
At that time, many argued that banning biofuels would have solved the shortage of food and high price problem, and strategic stocks would have saved the developing world from the vagaries of price volatility. Now, beef seems to have assumed the disproportionate burden of proof on climate action, excluding from this process many other significant and untouched factors that are not so trivial. However, should this be the case?
The big picture
Since the beginning of time man has been faced with five basic needs - food, shelter, clothing, movement and the energy to do it all. Innovative solutions in achieving these have always been of great benefits for our species but, unfortunately, to the great cost and damage to other species and the planet. Faced with this reality comes the increased recognition, at least in words if not in actions, that our future has to be sustainable, if it is to be at all. Current sustainability challenges, exemplified by climate change, help push for greater urgency in the search for solutions that could contribute in changing things. To be sustainable themselves, such solutions need to avoid the search for quick fixes.
A little done by many will be of greater benefit than a lot by a few
Reversing the path towards the abyss will firstly require a slowdown, before the reversal of current trends - there is simply no other way, and the sooner this is publicly acknowledged the better. This is not a betrayal of sustainability. It is a recognition of the fact that a little done by many will be of greater benefit than a lot by a few, opening the way for achieving a great extent by all.
Such solutions should reflect a proportional contribution of action and progress in all the above five basic needs, with the understanding that proportional does not mean equal as the underlying parameters differ.