Meat on the BBQ

Will “net zero” make meat too expensive?

Claim

Craig Kelly has said that:

  1. A meat tax to achieve net zero emissions (suggested as part of the “‘climate emergency’ hoax”) will make meat “unaffordable” for ordinary people.
  2. This “mass delusion” will be “under the guise of ‘keeping them safe’ from bad weather”.

These claims were in these two Facebook posts on 10 November.

Verdict

1. Medical and environmental groups in UK and Europe have suggested a tax on meat because of its environmental cost, but it won’t make meat unaffordable.

2. This is a total misrepresentation. The purpose is NOT to prevent bad weather, but to reduce carbon emissions (which are NOT a delusion!) and reduce bad weather.


The reality behind the claims

A meat tax has been suggested

Agriculture and forestry contribute about 20% to greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through land clearing, fertiliser use and digestive processes in cattle. This contribution will have to be reduced as part of the wider effort to reduce emissions.

One way to move towards lower emissions is to tax those land use activities that have a large environmental impact, which could include meat production. The idea, similar to taxes on tobacco and alcohol, is to send a price signal that will lead to lower usage and also help pay for the health and social impacts.

One proposal is for a EU tax that would increase the cost of steak by 25%, with smaller taxes on pork, chicken, etc. The tax rate isn’t mentioned in a UK proposal.

These are only suggestions at this stage, but the idea has the support of the United Nations and some expert health and environmental bodies, and may well be adopted.

A tax would have several advantages

Reducing meat consumption would have several advantages:

  • It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions (admittedly not by a large amount, but it is important that all sources be reduced).
  • Medical experts say the high level of meat consumption in western countries is unhealthy, and reducing it would save lives and reduce costs to health systems.
  • It would reduce disease outbreaks, such as mad cow disease, SARS and Covid-19, which have come from eating meat.
  • Meat production has larger environmental impacts than many other foods.
  • Meat is a less efficient way to feed the world population.

While these may not be reasons to stop eating meat entirely, they are good reasons for governments to encourage a reduction in meat consumption.

Understanding “net zero”

Net zero doesn’t mean reducing all emissions to zero.

It means balancing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to the atmosphere with removing these gases, especially CO2, from the atmosphere. (This is more or less what happens when we fly and choose to pay to have the CO2 emissions offset.)

It would be impossible to cut GHG emission to zero, but we can achieve net zero by various methods of carbon removal:

  • restoring forests,
  • boosting soil uptake of carbon via plants and organic matter,
  • direct air and bioenergy capture and storage, and
  • mineralization (injecting carbon into minerals in soils).

If carbon is removed from the atmosphere, some carbon-emitting activities could continue while still achieving new zero.

For example, in response to proposals to tax meat production, farming groups have proposed that, using carbon capture, they offset the environmental damage done by their industry.

So will meat become unaffordable?

All this is only a proposal, so no-one can speak with certainty.

But it seems most unlikely that meat will become “unaffordable” except for “the elites”. A 25% increase in beef prices will make a difference but:

  • it won’t prevent people buying meat, as taxes on cigarettes have shown;
  • it will likely be negotiated down as the industry offers offsets; and
  • taxes on other meats will be less.

Besides, if Mr Kelly is concerned about the less wealthy, he could support more progressive tax regimes where “the elites” pay a little more and low income workers pay a reduced tax which compensates them for the increased meat taxes.

Keeping us safe from bad weather?

I have said it before and I can only repeat. Action against climate change doesn’t aim at preventing bad weather, but to reduce it and the harm that it does.

Last summer’s bushfires show that this is important. Those bushfires were NOT a “delusion”. The conclusion of experts that climate change was making bushfires more severe wasn’t a “delusion” either. We clearly need to do what we can to reduce the bushfire and drought threats getting even worse.

Conclusion

Lifestyle change is inevitable whether we like it or not. Either we’ll adjust to a lower carbon lifestyle, or we’ll suffer in less acceptable ways.

Changing our farming and eating habits will be part of that change. Reducing meat consumption will benefit us and the planet in many ways. There is nothing to be afraid of here; rather it is something to be welcomed and embraced.

But this doesn’t mean the end of meat-eating. That suggestion betrays a lack of understanding net zero.

Mr Kelly has constructed another straw man (excuse the sexist expression, but that’s the name given to this fallacy). He’s disregarded the science, exaggerated the issue of meat consumption and ignored the solutions that net zero allows.


References

Photo by Paul Hermann on Unsplash.

    1. Thanks. That is a good show. I didn’t want to go too far into how to achieve net zero – makes the post too long – but it is an important topic that I should cover more sometime.

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