Belfast Telegraph

Fionola Meredith: Cut out meat and give up your car: is this really what we have got to do to save world?

The UN's new report on climate change is scary, but Fionola Meredith says shaming people isn't going to work

By Fionola Meredith

You know that deliciously juicy steak you were planning to eat for your dinner tonight? Take it right now and chuck it in the bin. No more steak for you. It will be lentils for tea from now on, or a few mung beans if you're lucky.

Oh, and I'm afraid you're going to have to give up your car too. Today. Just take it to a scrapyard and leave it there. It's the bus from here on in, or better still walking. Think of all that lovely fresh air.

What do you mean, you don't want to give up eating meat and driving? Don't come whingeing to me about it. This is the new reality if we're going to save the planet.

According to an apocalyptic new United Nations report by the world's leading scientists, humanity must make radical and unprecedented changes to its diet, including a vast reduction in the amount of meat we eat, in order to protect ourselves from the ravages of climate change.

Petrol cars must go and be replaced by electric ones, and vast forests must be planted to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

New research in the journal Nature indicates that in the western world the consumption of beef must fall by an incredible 90%, and we have to start eating five times more pulses and beans. The research is reportedly the most comprehensive analysis to date of the food system's impact on the environment.

Nobody can deny that this is all extremely serious life-or-death stuff, which will affect the lives of billions of people. And the conclusion is stark: the planet is getting hotter, which means more disastrous floods, droughts and extreme heatwaves. The UN report warns that there are just 12 years in which to keep global warming under critical levels.

Action is clearly needed on a gargantuan scale, but the size of the problem is almost too huge to comprehend.

And let's face it, we're not really going to abandon eating meat or driving our cars, are we? Not any time soon.

Change can begin with the individual, for sure, and I believe wholeheartedly in personal responsibility, but to make a difference everyone in the whole damn country would have to give up their super-size burgers and their bloated gas-guzzling 4x4s.

Do you think that's likely to happen?

One thing is certain: if there is to be any hope of creating behavioural change on a vast societal level the very last thing the authorities should be doing is preaching at people, lecturing them from a great height and trying to shame them into compliance.

This is too often the default mode of everyone from council officials in charge of waste to super-zealous environmentalists.

Take a small local example. Here I am, walking through Botanic Gardens, one of the most beautiful and restful places in our city. It's a lovely autumn day and I'm enjoying the soft quality of the light, the changing colours of the trees.

Then I come upon an ugly hovel that seems to be made entirely out of plastic junk squatting offensively in front of me on the path.

This is a Pod of Shame, a "sculpture" provided by Belfast City Council that aims to highlight the amount of waste we generate.

Who is to blame? The mirror inside the hovel reveals the answer: yes, it's you. You filthy, selfish, greedy, rubbish-spreading excuse for a human being. And I bet you eat meat too, don't you? Yes of course you do. I hope you are suitably ashamed. It's true that I am a reluctant recycler, but there's nothing about a rubbish, guilt-tripping and visually unpleasant artwork like this that makes me think: "Hmm, yes, I must take a more responsible approach to sorting my waste items in order to save the planet."

Modern public discourse has become an absurd, polarised fight between the good people (everyone who agrees with wonderful, enlightened, ultra-compassionate me) and the bad people (everyone else).

So of course the UN climate change report has been instantly hijacked by the militant vegans, high on virtue and absolutely convinced of their own moral purity. They've been screaming that they were right all along, and that people who consume animal products - including environmentalists who occasionally enjoy a sausage or two - are entirely and deservedly to blame for the fast-approaching apocalypse.

And so the world burns to a crisp to the sound of self-righteous types vitriolically squabbling about whose fault it is.

Might as well get that steak back out of the bin and enjoy it while you can.

Belfast Telegraph

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