Global Meat Consumption Scarcely Increasing

A long-standing concern for global warming has been that increased living standards worldwide and, with it, increased meat consumption will dramatically increase carbon emissions. Yet a study published in the current issue of Foreign Policy has found that consumption of meat is scarcely increasing. In the decade from 2008, meat consumption increased by just 0.69% each year.

Unsurprisingly, the biggest gains have been in large emerging economies enjoying substantially improved standards of living. Among them are Turkey (4.4% annual increase), Vietnam (4.3%), Brazil (2.2%), China (1.7%) and Indonesia (1.2%).

The largest per capita increases were seen in very poor countries: Malawi, Tajikistan, Chad and the Congo.

On the other hand, meat consumption in the richest countries is either steady or in decline. In the former group are the United States, Australia, Germany, France and the Scandinavian nations. Meat consumption is declining in Italy, Spain, the UK, Austria and Canada.

Perhaps the biggest surprise out of the research was India, where meat consumption has been falling by 1.3% per year since 2008, despite India’s GDP more than doubling in this period. An increasingly assertive Hindu nationalism may partly explain the trend there.

Meat and Global Warming

Animal agriculture is highlighted as an important contributor to global warming. Environmentalist commentators often mix this with an ethical argument for vegetarianism.

Agriculture accounts for roughly 18% of global emissions, depending on how its contribution to deforestation is factored. Last year a paper in Nature estimated animal agriculture contributed 57% of that amount.

The good news is that since 2008, total agricultural emissions have increased by only 6%. Energy emissions, by contrast, have increased by 17% and now make up 73% of all carbon emissions.

In other words, the so-called “low-hanging fruit” of emissions reductions – coal and petrol combustion – remain by far the most important factors in mitigating global warming, meaning that technological change and stopping the carbon lobby will do far more than any consumer-choice activism.

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Feature image courtesy of @macrz via Unsplash.

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