Adam Bedford: Attack the climate change myths

Climate change used to be a hot media topic. Now we are overcome by the worrying state of a different beast altogether – the economy. There’s a common view that the public dumps its environmental concerns in times of economic uncertainty. But the reverse could be true, if my recent visit to a “climate change stand-up comedy night” at our local cinema is anything to go by.

I initially thought comedy and climate change didn’t mix. It sounded about as funny as listening to fingernails being scraped on a blackboard. The blurb did appear worthwhile, though – aiming to cut through complicated jargon without the need for indecipherable graphs, impossible charts and cute pictures of polar bears stranded on little bits of ice. So I went along with a farmer mate of mine.

I should have guessed what it would be like. Largely populated by people with a penchant for colourful knitwear, the evening preached to the converted. I am no climate change conspiracy theorist, so I was with them on many points, but I couldn’t agree with everything. Even in the surprising setting of a cinema, among a sea of hardened environmentalists, it was clear soon enough that some farming education was urgently required.

But that was not before we saw the need for some big-hitting changes. Reducing air travel is one example going shopping with a reusable bag isn’t. According to the host, the 134 plastic bags the average Briton uses every year account for only 2kg of the 11t of CO2 he is responsible for. So although this earns you environmental Brownie points with your conscience, the effect is pretty minimal.

There were a few titters of mirth along the way, and then my farmer mate volunteered to become our climate change impact personified. He wandered about the stage, with each pace representing the environmental effect of everyday activities. He marched forward to represent a hypothetical long-haul international flight. He stepped back a few paces by cutting his car usage. It was all great fun until we were told: “Eat much fewer meat products, and even the small amount you do eat should be organic or free range. Eating less meat is an excellent way to reduce your climate change impact.” There were many nods of agreement, but I said a naughty word under my breath.

There is nothing like a contentious statement to spark debate. One knowledgeable person mentioned that infamous FAO report and the apparent 18% of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production. Only a small minority came back with the view that the burping ruminants of the UK or anywhere else do not tell the whole story. For a start, about one-third of that 18% figure comes from deforestation.

Others questioned the logic of feeding crops to animals when the same land could be used to feed people instead. OK, but when you consider the 1.3bn people in the world who depend on livestock for their living, it becomes a social issue, too. Some people suggested organic production was the only way forward. And so the polarised debate went on.

Pondering the event later, I realised that, actually, the economy and climate change are closely linked. People will inevitably make different decisions about the food they buy based on the amount of money in their pocket. So it doesn’t help agriculture in the slightest when the false assumption that livestock production is inherently bad for the environment comes into play, too. It is up to everyone in farming to help put the record straight, now more than ever.

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