Senate debates

Monday, 4 December 2017


Climate Change

10:00 pm

Photo of Lee RhiannonLee Rhiannon (NSW, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Tonight, I encourage people to eat less meat. I have thought carefully before making this call. I've considered my comments long and hard because one's diet is something that is very personal. I have decided to add my voice to this call now as I believe the combination of the need for climate action, the need to reduce the suffering of animals, the need to end land clearing for grassland that reduces biodiversity and the need for healthy humans warrants a loud voice for an animal-free diet or, at least, a reduced animal diet.

The evidence about the impact animal agriculture has on increasing greenhouse gas emissions is very significant. In 2014, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. The panel said this about animal agriculture in that report:

… changes in diet and reductions of losses in the food supply chain, have a significant, but uncertain, potential to reduce GHG emissions from food production …

The IPCC findings came after another study that identified the importance of reducing meat and dairy consumption in meeting stringent climate change targets. That was published in the April 2014 edition of the climate change report. In 2010, a United Nations report called Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production: Priority Products and Materials stated:

A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.

That report put agriculture's global emissions at 14 per cent. The report stated that animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant based alternatives.

Overall, animal agriculture is responsible for about nine per cent of human-based, human-caused carbon dioxide emissions globally—that's from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. The same body has found that the livestock sector is responsible for about 37 per cent of human-caused methane emissions and about 65 per cent of human nitrous-oxide emissions, mainly from manure. They're all very significant contributors to the climate change that we are now urgently dealing with. The University of Adelaide's professor of climate change, Barry Brook, has estimated that raising animals for human consumption is responsible for half of Australia's short-term global warming gases. It's a very significant study that has been quite groundbreaking.

Eating vegetables, we know, produces lower greenhouse gas emissions. For example, potatoes, rice and broccoli produce approximately emissions that are three to five times lower than an equivalent mass of poultry and pork. I imagine a lot of people here would probably be horrified, and I'm not suggesting that they live on potatoes, rice and broccoli. I am just making the comparison, because these are urgent issues that we need to think about. The reason there is such a difference is simple, and this is what we need to get our heads around. It's more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it builds up muscle mass and then eat the animal. So I will emphasise again that, while I'm urging people to have an animal-free diet, there is also the very clear option of reducing one's animal product intake.

The evidence detailing the impact of an animal-based diet has been well documented by many credible academics and respected institutions. That work—and I've detailed some of it tonight—is having an impact. People are changing their attitudes and changing their diets to eat no or reduced amounts of animal products. Animals Australia have done some excellent work in this area, and they have documented some of the changes. There's a very significant climate action group in the United States called 1 Million Women. They've taken up this cause, as have Oxfam. Al Gore, who's done such significant work in this area, is now a vegan. Then there is the work of so many schools around the world. Many of them are adopting meat-free Mondays as a way to teach their students and staff about another way of putting fuel into their tank—that is, with fewer animal products. There really is some fantastic and considerable work that is gaining momentum and getting to critical mass.

The Stockholm International Water Institute is warning that we must reduce global animal production to just five per cent of our calorie intake by 2050 to make sure that we don't run out of fresh water. I forgot to give that reason when I nominated the many advantages of reducing animal products in our diet. The issue of the amount of fresh water that is needed for animal agriculture is huge, and the Stockholm International Water Institute has made that clear recommendation. Greenpeace has also encouraged its global followers to get behind World Meat Free Day. Again, this is an example of the momentum that is there for this change.

Reducing or replacing animal products in our diet is not hard. There is the great spin-off of being healthier, and the cost of your diet will be less. There's also the excellent spin-off for our society. Our society has an extraordinarily serious problem of increasing obesity, and an increasing number of people who are overweight. I'm sure most people here would have read the figures that show this alarming increase. There's also the spin-off of less animal suffering.

When I opened my speech I said that I had thought carefully about this. It's something I've thought about for a long time. But I've been reluctant to talk about it because I'm very conscious of how personal one's diet is. I became conscious of this from my experience, from my family's experience and just from mixing with people, particularly in social situations. When you meet somebody socially, you so often share food. Therefore, I've always been very careful and not voiced an opinion about the food that they should be sharing and enjoying. But I've now changed my attitude on that, and I think that we need to have this conversation.

It's also worth considering that, as individuals within a collective society, we've changed our attitudes in so many ways. In our own lifetime, we've seen changes in smoking. When I was growing up, people would smoke anywhere. Now there are restrictions on it. The issue of seatbelts and speeding are examples of how we have changed our behaviour for our own wellbeing and for the wellbeing of those around us. Then there are the restrictions on alcohol. There is also recycling: when I was little girl, we just threw all the rubbish in the bin. We didn't think about it. But then we learned that there was something that we could do that was very responsible. We are working as individuals in our own home, but it is having a collective benefit. I think that all those examples are reminders of how we can change our ways. Surely our diet is something that now warrants our attention. It will bring benefits to us personally, to our planet, and to all the animals that inhabit the planet with us.

Senate adjourned at 22 : 08