The Candid Eye

December 1, 2009

Stop Eating Beef to Avoid Climate Change: Ramesh

Filed under: Global Warming,India — thecandideye @ 6:00 AM
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No, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh, a vegetarian himself, was not invoking any ancient Hindu scriptures, but what he said would certainly warm the cockles of those hearts who consider eating beef an anathema.

Citing measures for developed countries to cut carbon emissions, he said, “It has been seen that developed countries which eat beef have the maximum amount of emissions. They can cut down on emissions, if they stop eating beef.”

 

Meat eating leads to Global warming

“The single-most important cause of emissions is eating beef,” Ramesh said. “My formula is stop eating beef. This would stop the emission of [large amounts of] methane.”“You may laugh at it. But the solution to cut emissions is to stop eating beef. It leads to emission of methane (CH4) that is 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide. But the best thing for us, India, is we are not a beef-eating nation,” the minister went on to add.

He was speaking after the release of the United Nation’s Population Fund’s (UNFPA) report: State of World Population 2009 — Facing A Changing World: Women, Population and Climate.

While Ramesh quoted a number of studies — and global climate change expert R.K. Pachauri — to support his view, the issue has been debated for years.Last year, a UN Food and Agriculture Organisation study found that meat production accounts for nearly a fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions — emissions that are causing temperatures to rise, causing erratic rainfall, higher sea levels and stronger storm events.

On the flip side, many scientists argue that meat-eating is good for the environment because it eliminates animals whose manure emits methane, a greenhouse gas 23 times more potent in the global warming scenario than carbon dioxide.

Ramesh’s comments throw the ball back in the court of the developed world a fortnight ahead of the climate change negotiations in Copenhagen.Asking Indians not to expect much from the climate change conference in Copenhagen, Ramesh said the government would follow a “twin track” approach of not binding itself to any global agreement but at the same time putting in place “ruthless” measures to cut emissions on the domestic front.

“You should not have too many expectations from the Copenhagen summit. It looks like the negotiations would continue,” he said here releasing a United Nations report on population.”It seems there is a long haul before we arrive at an international commitment,” Ramesh added. According to the minister, though climate change is a fundamental issue for India, the country has to look at it from a development perspective.

“I think there is an abundance of evidence to show that climate change is not related in any way to population growth,” he said, adding rather it is more a lifestyle issue.Ramesh said this was evident from the fact that though China was recording negative population growth during the 1990s, its emissions kept on increasing.

“Emissions are caused by consumption patterns. There is no iron law to say that India with its growing population has chances of increasing emissions,” he said.He added that in fact India through its growth model can set alternative patters for growth without leaving carbon footprints.

Ramesh said climate change was in fact a domestic issue for India and the country should be prepared for ruthless measures to tackle it.”India is very vulnerable on the climate front. Nobody is more vulnerable than India. It is really a domestic issue for us,” he said.The response to this is that we act independent of what happens in the international scene, he said, adding, “while we reject legally binding emission cuts, on domestic front we have to be very careful”.

“Low carbon growth will be a part of the new five-year plan,” he added.Listing out some of the measures India needs to take, he said, “We need to have mandatory fuel efficiency standards, a prospective water legislation and renewable energy sources.”This twin track approach will help strengthen India’s position globally.

Related Post:

Is eating personal?

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November 27, 2009

Indian green lessons for the West

Filed under: Global Warming,India — thecandideye @ 6:00 AM
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Ahead of next month’s climate change negotiations in Copenhagen there’s a lot of anger in India about the West’s pressure on it to sign up to emissions cuts. The BBC’s Sanjoy Majumder travelled to India’s most industrialised state, Gujarat, to see at first hand some very effective – if homegrown – attempts at tapping renewable energy.

A woman carrying cow dung!

 

In the middle of an open field, a man crouches over some cow dung and uses two pieces of metal to scrape up large amounts of it before deftly depositing it into a pan.

He then transports this to a large biogas plant – essentially made up of three silos sunk into the ground and connected via an intricate maze of pipes to a large collection bin in which the cow dung is collected.

This is where the dung is mixed with water and fermented to create gas, which is then piped to a large temple next door, the Jagganath temple in Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s biggest and most polluted city.

The temple uses the gas to cook food for 1,000 pilgrims every day.

Thick smog

The biogas plant is often showcased by the government of Gujarat to emphasise its commitment to green energy.

“We have been emphasising on renewable energy, we have been emphasising more on solar and wind energy, and we have been taking a number of measures that probably were not thought of also, let alone being taken, in the West, 25, 30, 40 or 50 years ago,” he says emphatically.Rajiv Gupta is a senior official who co-ordinates Gujarat’s headline grabbing climate change initiatives.

“See, ultimately every development, wherever it takes place, has certain costs. Our effort has been to reduce those costs to the bare minimum.”

But despite the drive to create a greener state, temple kitchens powered by cow dung are not the norm in Ahmedabad – it’s a city of chimney stacks and thick smog, where you get the impression that “climate change” is still unknown to most people.

Jagannath-temple-kitchen

But in the city’s schools there’s a definite sense that this may be changing.

Grade seven at the Rachana school could be straight out of a Charles Dickens novel, the girls and boys huddled together inside a grim classroom, lit by a solitary fluorescent bulb with paint peeling off the walls.

But what’s surprising is that the students here are not just being taught maths or physics, they’re being given a lesson on climate change.

‘Colonial nightmares’

“This is actually a national programme and it goes to 200,000 schools,” says Kartikeya Sarabhai, who designed it.

Much of the battle to go green depends on spreading information

One of Gujarat’s most passionate Greens, he’s a bit like an Indian Al Gore. So it’s surprising to learn that he is bitterly opposed to India signing up to emissions cuts at Copenhagen.

“I think that pressure from outside is negative. Having a Western country come and monitor us is taking us back to colonial nightmares. And you must realise that we’ve come out of colonialism and that we are a proud country,” he says.

It’s not just the adults – after class, I discover that even 12-year olds resent the way they are being singled out by the West.

“I think in USA they use more appliances and vehicles than us,” says one boy.

“They use more electricity, they always use their vehicles to travel small distances. We use public services like buses but they don’t use all this,” says a girl.

As dusk approaches, a thick smog settles on Ahmedabad and the green activist Kartikeya Sarabhai drives me into a teeming shanty-town of densely packed tin shacks.

Women dressed in colourful saris hunch over stoves, cooking dinner while half-naked children play on top of a rubbish dump. Looming large behind them are three giant chimneys from a coal-fired power plant, belching thick black smoke into the air.

It’s a perfect illustration of the dilemma that India finds itself in – to improve the lives of its poorest it needs to develop further and in the process build more carbon-emitting thermal plants among others.

But Mr Sarabhai believes that there are other solutions and the answers may well lie in the slums.

“You need to look beyond the squalor and see how efficiently they live their lives,” he says as he takes me on a tour.

Most of the houses, he explains, are built from broken bricks, tiles, stones which have been left over from construction sites.

“They dry their clothes on the roof and in the process cool their homes. They live close to their workplace,” he explains.

“Sometimes poverty offers us the most creative solutions. You don’t have to waste to grow rich.”

It’s a message that India will take to Copenhagen – that the answer to low-carbon growth lies in homegrown solutions.

And rather than being told what to do by the West, they could actually offer the world some expertise of their own.

November 23, 2009

Is eating personal?

James E. McWilliams, an associate professor of history at Texas State University at San Marcos and a recent fellow in the agrarian studies program at Yale University, is most recently the author of “Just Food.” Excerpts from his recent article that appeared in “The Washington Post”.

James E.McWilliams : Image Courtesy - http://www.txstate.edu/

I gave a talk in South Texas recently on the environmental virtues of a vegetarian diet. As you might imagine, the reception was chilly. In fact, the only applause came during the Q&A period when a member of the audience said that my lecture made him want to go out and eat even more meat. “Plus,” he added, “what I eat is my business — it’s personal.”

I’ve been writing about food and agriculture for more than a decade. Until that evening, however, I’d never actively thought about this most basic culinary question: Is eating personal?

We know more than we’ve ever known about the innards of the global food system. We understand that food can both nourish and kill. We know that its production can both destroy and enhance our environment. We know that farming touches every aspect of our lives — the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the soil we need.

So it’s hard to avoid concluding that eating cannot be personal. What I eat influences you. What you eat influences me. Our diets are deeply, intimately and necessarily political.

This realization changes everything for those who avoid meat. As a vegetarian I’ve always felt the perverse need to apologize for my dietary choice. It inconveniences people. It smacks of self-righteousness. It makes us pariahs at dinner parties. But the more I learn about the negative impact of meat production, the more I feel that it’s the consumers of meat who should be making apologies.

Here’s why: The livestock industry as a result of its reliance on corn and soy-based feed accounts for over half the synthetic fertilizer used in the United States, contributing more than any other sector to marine dead zones. It consumes 70 percent of the water in the American West — water so heavily subsidized that if irrigation supports were removed, ground beef would cost $35 a pound. Livestock accounts for at least 21 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions globally — more than all forms of transportation combined. Domestic animals — most of them healthy — consume about 70 percent of all the antibiotics produced. Undigested antibiotics leach from manure into freshwater systems and impair the sex organs of fish.

It takes a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of conventional beef. If all the grain fed to animals went to people, you could feed China and India. That’s just a start.

Meat that’s raised according to “alternative” standards (about 1 percent of meat in the United States) might be a better choice but not nearly as much so as its privileged consumers would have us believe. “Free-range chickens” theoretically have access to the outdoors. But many “free-range” chickens never see the light of day because they cannot make it through the crowded shed to the aperture leading to a patch of cement.

“Grass-fed” beef produces four times the methane — a greenhouse gas 21 times as powerful as carbon dioxide — of grain-fed cows, and many grass-fed cows are raised on heavily fertilized and irrigated grass. Pastured pigs are still typically mutilated, fed commercial feed and prevented from rooting — their most basic instinct besides sex.

Is meat eating, a cause for Global warming?

Issues of animal welfare are equally implicated in all forms of meat production. Domestic animals suffer immensely, feel pain and may even be cognizant of the fate that awaits them. In an egg factory, male chicks (economically worthless) are summarily run through a grinder. Pigs are castrated without anesthesia, crated, tail-docked and nose-ringed. Milk cows are repeatedly impregnated through artificial insemination, confined to milking stalls and milked to yield 15 times the amount of milk they would produce under normal conditions. When calves are removed from their mothers at birth, the mothers mourn their loss with heart-rending moans.

Then comes the slaughterhouse, an operation that’s left with millions of pounds of carcasses — deadstock — that are incinerated or dumped in landfills. (Rendering plants have taken a nose dive since mad cow disease.)

Now, if someone told you that a particular corporation was trashing the air, water and soil; causing more global warming than the transportation industry; consuming massive amounts of fossil fuel; unleashing the cruelest sort of suffering on innocent and sentient beings; failing to recycle its waste; and clogging our arteries in the process, how would you react? Would you say, “Hey, that’s personal?” Probably not. It’s more likely that you’d frame the matter as a dire political issue in need of a dire political response.

Vegetarianism is not only the most powerful political response we can make to industrialized food. It’s a necessary prerequisite to reforming it. To quit eating meat is to dismantle the global food apparatus at its foundation.

Agribusiness has been vilified of late by muckraking journalists, activist filmmakers and sustainable-food advocates. We know that something has to be done to save our food from corporate interests. But I wonder — are we ready to do what must be done? Sure, we’ve been inundated with ideas: eat local, vote with your fork, buy organic, support fair trade, etc. But these proposals all lack something that every successful environmental movement has always placed at its core: genuine sacrifice.

Until we make that leap, until we create a culinary culture in which the meat-eaters must do the apologizing, the current proposals will be nothing more than gestures that turn the fork into an empty symbol rather than a real tool for environmental change.

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