Psychological and Environmental Aspects of Who We Eat

A new book explores how our meal plans are ruining earth and remedies for change

Posted Aug 26, 2016

"Demand for animal products is projected to increase by 50 percent from 2013 to 2025, and 70 percent by 2050" (Moses Seenarine, Meat Climate Change)

Who we eat, psychology, and climate change 

A few weeks ago I discovered a recently published book by Moses Seenarine called Meat Climate Change: The 2nd Leading Cause of Global Warming. I was deeply impressed by his global perspective and his detailed analysis of the psychological, social, and environmental issues that center on our choices of who (not what) to eat, and how changes in our meal plans could make positive changes for the future. His discussion of the psychology of denial (pp. 50ff), including marked gender differences, is excellent, and should be of interest to numerous Psychology Today readers. 

Some facts, to whet your appetite for more:

"The agricultural sector is responsible for at least 22% of total global manmade GHG [green house gas] pollution, 80% of which come from livestock production." (p. 3)

"Women are troubled to a greater extent about climate than men and are further willing to make major lifestyle modifications to do something about it. The gap is wide as 21% in some parts of the world." (p. 50)

"Overgrazing occurs on 33% of all rangeland, and often marginal rangelands are used intensively when historically productive adjacent range has become overgrazed and unproductive." (p. 217)

"Chicken, once a distant third to cattle and pig carcass, is now the most popular animal flesh in the US. The average American eats almost 84 pounds of chicken a year, more then twice the amount eaten in 1970. In 2007, 8.9 billion chickens were raised and sold as food in the US, a remarkable jump of more than 1,400% since 1950." (pp. 256-257)

The book's description reads:

With permission of the author
Source: With permission of the author

Meat Climate Change is an essential guidebook on the intersection of climate and diet, and related environmental, social and psychological issues. The book covers a wide range of disciplines, and reviews hundreds of research studies." The good news is that plant-based diets can stop climate chaos! This must-read, essential guidebook show how, and in addition there are chapters on the critical 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, health under climate change, diet and health, antibiotic resistance, food-borne illness, and zootic diseases like bird flu. The book examines intersectional issues like how climate and diet will impact agriculture, the poor, water, forests, soil, oceans, biodiversity and disease. The book provides an excellent background on climate literacy, and great insights into climate politics. Importantly, it explores near term climate change scenarios to the year 2100, and necessary personal, social and policy changes for climate mitigation.

I was incredibly impressed with Mr. Seenarine's book and his detailed analysis of the issues at hand (there are 1149 notes at the end), and I was fortunate enough to be able to ask him a few questions about his recent book. Our interview went as follows.

1. Why did you write Meat Climate Change?

Demand for animal products is projected to increase 75% by 2050. Even if the world went fossil free by 2100, increasing animal consumption will continue to cause catastrophic global warming. This book would be useful to anyone interested in learning about climate change, the environment, diet and health, social inequality, and animal-based agribusiness. It is addressed to the general public, students, educators, social and environmental activists, climate scientists, and policy-makers.

Long before undertaking this study, I was inspired by Dr. Robert Goodland's 2009 groundbreaking article on greenhouse gas releases from animal-based agribusiness. Goodland's article is becoming dated, and is largely dismissed by climate scientists and activists alike. Dr. Goodland's work is too important to be maligned and forgotten, and this book addresses his critics head on. I wrote this book to raise awareness on this vital issue, and as a tribute to Dr. Goodland, who recently transitioned.

2. How long did it take?

The book itself took a year and a half to write. And prior to writing, I spent years researching climate, diet, and related issues.

3. What is your major message?

The bad news is that the Earth has already warmed 1°C from pre-industrial levels. Above a 2°C rise, the likelihood of severe and irreversible consequences significantly increases. This means greater threats to people and public health. The good news is plant-based diets can stop climate chaos! This book can help to heal the world, people, animals and nature. Readers will benefit from the book in many ways, including improved health and relationship with their environments. This book and its readers can lead to the saving of countless lives, and the survival of thousands of species, including humans

4. What role do you think adults play in educating children about their meal plans and climate change?

Adults provide role models for children to follow. Climate and food denialism among adults will lead to the same in children and business-as-usual becomes normalized. I wrote this book for the kids indoctrinated into compulsory carcass-consumption that is similar to their casual consumption of carbon-based fuels. The young may not fully realize the impact their consumption is having on their present and future lives, and it is important for adults to warn them about this.

5. Why are so many so slow on the uptake of information about meat and climate change?

There are various reasons, from denial and cognitive dissonance to the four "N's" of carnism—that it's natural, normal, necessary, and nice. Macro forces have an enormous influence on people's over-consumption habits. The fossil fuel and animal product industries spend billions of dollars annually on generating structural demand, and structural denial. In addition, trade agreements, state subsidies, and public purchasing are driving demand by lowering prices and normalizing over-consumption. Global warming is advancing rapidly but most governments, businesses, and people are operating as if nothing has changed.

6. Do you have hope for the future?

There is hope and there is hopium. A moralistic approach to reducing over-consumption takes time and may not reduce emissions quickly enough to avoid catastrophe. Advocates of change at the individual level are swimming upstream against a tsunami of corporate and state interests and actions. However, the climate crisis itself represents an opportunity for increasing environmental awareness and mass action. Plus, plant-based diets are a viable option to reducing global warming and there are compelling reasons for governments to encourage this transition through regulation and intervention. Western countries and the developed world are a large part of the problem, and citizens can pressure these states become a major part of the solution. 

7. Is there anything else you'd like to tell your readers?

To stop global warming and preserve a future for children, we have to reduce the burning of fossil fuels, as well as greenhouse gas emissions released from the production and consumption of animal products. And we must put livestock production on the agenda of climate talks. 

I was incredibly impressed with Meat Climate Change and I hope it reaches a wide audience. The facts of how we are ruining our magnificent planet by our meal plans are indisputable as are the facts about how our meal plans influence us personally and globally. As Mr. Seenarine notes, it is essential to "put livestock production on the agenda of climate talks" and also that we do all we can to leave our children and theirs the very best Earth possible. This must be our mandate for the future.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.

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