A diesel-driving, meat-eating climate minister

Balanced diet: MP Claire Perry says her typical family meal is a meat and vegetable stir-fry.

Is she a hypocrite? Britain’s climate minister, Claire Perry, has come under fire for refusing to encourage eco-friendly diets. A meat-eater herself, she also admitted to driving a diesel car.

The clock is ticking. Scientists say we only have 12 years to save the world from the catastrophic impacts of climate change, and many claim that adopting a meat-free diet is the biggest way an individual can help.

However, this opinion is not shared by MP Claire Perry. Minister for Energy and Clean Growth, she is responsible for Britain’s fight against global warming.

"I like lots of local meat,” she told BBC News this week: “I don’t think we should be in the business of prescribing to people how they should run their diets.”

Asked if MPs should eat less beef and encourage the public to do the same, she slammed the idea as “the worst sort of nanny state”.

Craig Bennett from Friends of the Earth swiftly accused her of a “dereliction of duty”, claiming that the evidence is “very clear that eating less meat could be one of the quickest ways to reduce climate pollution.”

Indeed, in a report released last week, scientists claimed that huge reductions in meat-eating are necessary to avoid climate breakdown. Britons must cut their beef consumption by 90%, it claims.

Meat and dairy production causes 14.5% of global CO2 emissions — more pollution than is produced by all the world’s transport. If everyone gave up it up, global farmland use could be reduced by over 75% — an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined.

“We know food choices are very personal, and that behaviour change can be difficult to encourage,” claims Professor Peter Smith. “We need to change our diets if we are to have a sustainable future.”

Nevertheless, politicians are often reluctant to endorse environmental messages like this, fearing it will hurt their chances at the ballot box.

Yesterday, Perry also admitted to driving a diesel car despite their bad environmental reputation. (Scientists claim that electric vehicles will emit half the CO2 emissions of a diesel car by 2030.) “I’m pretty sure my next car is going to be an electric one,” Perry insists.

Is she a hypocrite?

No to eco

Of course, some argue. Perry is in charge of leading Britain’s fight against climate change and she has a duty to set an example. The behaviour of individuals will make a decisive impact on the climate crisis. Our leaders must not shy away from making controversial statements on diet and lifestyle. Earth’s future hangs in the balance.

Not necessarily, others respond. Ultimately, technological advances and innovation in farming could make a bigger impact than dietary choices. Furthermore, people do not necessarily need to give up meat; cutting down makes a difference too. Spreading aggressive messages of abstinence will only turn people away from environmentalism altogether.

You Decide

  1. Should everyone give up meat to help the environment?
  2. Do you believe that politicians can fix climate change?

Activities

  1. In one minute write down all the ways that young people can help the environment. Discuss your ideas with the class. Which three ideas would be the most effective? Would politicians be able to encourage everyone to do these things? Why/why not?
  2. Watch the second video in Become An Expert — it details the key findings of a landmark climate report. Based on the information in the video, do you think that “catastrophic” climate change can be avoided? Why/why not?

Some People Say...

“Practically every environmental problem we have can be traced to our addiction to fossil fuels.”

Dennis Weaver

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Claire Perry made these comments as she launched Green GB Week, which aims to show how the UK can simultaneously boost the economy and cut emissions. She said one way of fighting climate change would be to invest in complex machinery capable of sucking carbon dioxide directly from the atmosphere. “Let's work on the technology to solve these problems at scale," she said.
What do we not know?
Experts have warned that “unprecedented” action is needed by all governments to stop catastrophic levels of warming. We do not know if politicians will heed this warning, and if the measures they will undertake will be enough. For example, fracking has recently been authorised in Britain — a process of extracting natural gas which is extremely polluting.

Word Watch

12 years
According to a landmark United Nations report released last week. See the second video in Become An Expert for more details.
Nanny state
A government which is seen as overprotective or as interfering unnecessarily with the personal choice of citizens.
Friends of the Earth
Founded in 1969 as an anti-nuclear group, the organisation is now primarily associated with environmental campaigns.
Report
Research led by Marco Springmann of Oxford University. For more details see The Guardian link in Become An Expert.
14.5%
According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. By contrast, transport accounts for 14% of global emissions.
75%
As reported in the paper “Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers,” by Joseph Poore.
Scientists
The claim comes from a modelling study by Belgium’s VUB University.

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