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Behavioural change key to ‘going green’: expert

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Dr John Barry

Dr John Barry

People have been urged to move away from a meat-based diet

People have been urged to move away from a meat-based diet

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Dr John Barry

With heightened awareness around climate change and our environment, more and more people are looking for ways to “go green”.

However, with the best intentions in the world, there are many perceived eco-friendly actions we are taking that turn out to be at best ineffective, and at worst counterproductive.

Dr John Barry, Professor of Green Political Economy at Queen’s University, says there is a “general phenomena” of people undertaking green practices, but in another part of their life they are doing the opposite, counteracting all the “green good” they have done.

“For example, people might recycle more or become more plant-based in their diet, but all the ecological advances of that will be cancelled out if you’re flying around the world,” he said.

“It seems like common sense, but it is a recognised social behaviour.

“There are also questions to asked around electric cars.

“People think electric cars are the answer, but actually, if you pop the hood on the electric car supply chain, you’ll find a lot of murky human rights abuses, and the extraction and exploitation of the environment in places where we have to mine things like zinc and magnesium, metals we need to make the batteries for electric cars.

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“Really, the solution is, as we’ve seen from the pandemic, work from home if you can, or use active travel — walking or cycling. Then you can use public transport.

“I do have a concern around the promotion of electric vehicles in that it is sending out the wrong signal. We should be urging people not to travel if they don’t have to, walk or cycle when they can, then use public transport, and finally go down the electric car route.”

Many companies and products promote themselves as green or eco-friendly, but when you read the small print, they really aren’t, says Dr Barry.

He also says there are problems with a plant-based diet.

Moving away from meat and dairy can help the environment, but there is a danger of becoming reliant on processed vegan-friendly foods and ‘fake meat’ products.

“Not only could they be harmful, but ecologically, the production of these processed products is not environmentally-friendly,” he added.

“By going plant-based in our diets, we need to go for fresh forms of protein and carbohydrates, not processed food.

“Unlike eating raw vegetables, processed vegan foods or fake meats use more energy in their production, like oil and gas.

“It’s much more ecologically-friendly from an energy and climate point of view to avoid processed food.

“We need to be focusing on ‘farm to fork’ in the real sense of the term, as every part of the journey of processed food from production to your table uses up carbon energy — processing in the factory, driving to supermarket, refrigeration, cooking.

“The are other forms of dietary choice you can make that use less carbon energy in the chain from production to consumption.”


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