Engaging People on the Climate Benefits of Eating Less Meat
The livestock sector accounts for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions – but most people don’t realize just how carbon-intensive our meat consumption habits are. If they knew how effective a global transition to a low-meat diet would be in fighting climate change, would it motivate them to alter their behavior?
It depends. Merely having that knowledge would likely inspire some people to eat less meat, but as this Scientific American blog article points out, other factors also come into play, such as how much meat they already consume, or whether they identify as environmentalists. For the rest of the population, a broader and more nuanced strategy is needed.
Just as with other types of climate communication, it’s best to avoid finger pointing, which can lead to resistance and denial. Rather than blame, the stronger message is one of freedom and empowerment. Eating less meat is a way to take control of your diet, and also make a tangible positive impact as an individual.
Along the same lines, rather than referring to climate-friendly behavior as a sacrifice, it’s more effective to focus on the co-benefits (saving money on energy, getting more exercise by walking or biking instead of driving, having cleaner air to breathe, and so forth). People in industrialized nations eat about twice as much meat as is considered healthy – so reducing their consumption will improve their health while also reducing carbon emissions.
Climate messaging is all about helping people to envision a better future – one they have the power to create.
By Annick de Witt, contributor to Scientific American
A new kind of messaging could make it easier to appreciate the enormous benefits of moving away from a meat-heavy diet
Over the last decade or so, the media have slowly but steadily fed the public information about the staggering impact of our meat-eating habits on the environment, and on climate change in particular. For instance, one recent study found that a global transition toward low-meat diets could reduce the costs of climate change mitigation by as much as 50 percent by 2050. From scientific reports and articles in magazines, to viral Facebook videos to documentaries like Cowspiracy and Meat the Truth, the news about the exorbitant contribution of a carnivorous to the greenhouse problem is clearly spreading.
However, despite all these messages, new research by my colleagues and myself shows that most people are still not aware of the full extent of meat’s climate impacts. We examined how citizens in America and the Netherlands assess various food and energy-related options for tackling climate change. We presented representative groups of more than 500 people in both countries with three food-related options (eat less meat; eat local and seasonal produce; and eat organic produce) and three energy-related options (drive less; save energy at home; and install solar panels). We asked them whether they were willing to make these changes in their own lives, and whether they already did these things.
While a majority of the surveyed people recognized meat reduction as an effective option for addressing climate change, the outstanding effectiveness of this option, in comparison to the other options, was only clear to 6% of the US population, and only 12% of the Dutch population.
That is remarkably low! Considering that climate change is one of the greatest challenges of our time, wouldn’t we want people to know the power of a simple solution that is in their own hands?
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