I have always been a bit ambivalent about eating meat. I like the taste of beef, chicken, lamb and, to a lesser extent, pork, but I have always been aware that if I had needed to kill the relevant animal to eat its flesh, I (to coin a phrase) wouldn’t have had the guts to do it. I suspect that I am by no means alone in this. Most meat-eating humans finding beef or chicken nicely packaged in a supermarket fridge don’t give much thought to the “process” that has brought it there!
But consider the following facts. Today, we ourselves, together with the livestock we rear for food, constitute 96% of the mass of all mammals on the planet. Only 4% is everything else from elephants to badgers, from moose to monkeys. And 70% of all birds alive at this moment are poultry – mostly chickens for us to eat. We are destroying biodiversity, the very characteristic that until recently enabled the natural world to flourish so abundantly. If we continue this damage, whole ecosystems will collapse. That is now a real risk.
David Attenborough in the Foreword to “The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review”.
On the face of it, 2020 was a bit of a disaster regarding environmental issues. It was supposed to be the year of climate action, culminating with ambitious emission-cutting targets at the UN Climate Talks, COP26, in my home city of Glasgow in November. Unfortunately, our old friend SARS-CoV-2 put paid to that plan, though it has been rescheduled for November this year. While the virus reminded humanity how fragile it actually was, the planet continued to heat up, with 2020 turning out to be the joint hottest year on record. The year was marked by horrendous fires in the Amazon, and in the western United States. The Atlantic hurricane season was also the most active on record.
There were, however, one or two glimmers of hope. The European Green Deal has tackling climate change at its centre. Major economies, including China, the UK, France and Japan have made net-zero carbon pledges (although, in the UK at least, one would be cynical about any promises made by the Government).