Are cattle why Texas lawmakers deny climate change?
A new international report argues that a meat tax could help mitigate global warming
In the largest ever gathering of world leaders, the global representatives of 196 nations on Dec. 12 signed a historic climate change pact.
The consensus of great global powers and some of the planet's poorest nations alike was that the landmark agreement is necessary to make changes in human behavior that will slow and limit the earth's increasing temperature.
A new study, however, suggests that people worldwide need to make a change in their eating habits. And one way to accomplish such a dietary change might be a meat tax.
Republicans discount human climate causes: Most scientists and citizens across the world agree that humans have affected and now can help alter for the better the effects of climate change.
Much of the Texas Congressional delegation, however, is not among that group. Lone Star State lawmakers, at almost all levels of government, tend to be climate change deniers.
That's not a big surprise, since so many Texas elected officials nowadays tend to be Republicans.
And the state GOP's official position is that "while we all strive to be good stewards of the earth, 'climate change' is a political agenda which attempts to control every aspect of our lives. We urge government at all levels to ignore any plea for money to fund global climate change or 'climate justice' initiatives."
That position expands beyond my native state's borders. In Washington, D.C., two Texans in on committees that oversee the country's scientific efforts recently have been slamming efforts to combat climate change.
Rep. Lamar Smith, chair of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee, has pressed ahead his inquiry that questions the processes and findings of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Smith wants to see NOAA internal emails on global warming research and has sought to bring the agency's chief and its staffers into closed-door, deposition-like interviews.
On the other side of Capitol Hill, Sen. Ted Cruz recently convened a hearing of his Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness to discuss, in Cruz's words, "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth's Climate."
While Cruz, who recently has picked up momentum in his quest to be the GOP's 2016 presidential nominee, described the hearing as open, the witnesses were skewed four-to-one against human involvement in climatological effects on our planet.
A beef with a warming planet: But sharing membership in the Republican Party might not be the only or main reason these Texans deny climate change.
It also could be because of one of the iconic symbols of my native state: beef.
All those herds of cattle scattered across Texas are enormous contributors to carbon emissions. And we steak and hamburger and barbecue lovers are to blame.
That's a key finding of Chatham House, the Royal Institute of International Affairs, an independent policy institute based in London. In a Nov. 24 report, the group said that reducing global meat consumption is critical to keeping global warming below the danger level cited in the Paris climate change accord.
The researchers also noted:
- Our appetite for meat is a major driver of climate change.
- The livestock sector accounts for 15 percent of global emissions, equivalent to exhaust emissions from all the vehicles in the world.
- A shift to healthier patterns of meat-eating could bring a quarter of the emissions reductions we need to keep on track for a reduction in global warming.
- As more people around the world can afford meat, consumption is projected to increase by about 75 percent by 2050.
Taxes for the greater good: While it's difficult to change eating patterns -- trust me, I know. We eat smoked brisket a lot in our house. -- one way to shift consumer diets is through taxing what we eat.
"Interventions to change the relative prices of foods are likely to be among the most effective in changing consumption patterns," according to the report. "Opportunities include removal of direct or indirect subsidies to the livestock sector, subsidization of plant-based alternatives, or interventions to increase the price of meat and other unsustainable products, such as a carbon tax."
The report also points to product-specific taxes that it says have been used "by a number of governments to remove incentives for the consumption of certain unhealthy products, notably sugar-sweetened beverages." These cases, generally known as sin taxes, point to the potential for influencing meat and dairy consumption habits through taxes.
Laura Wellesley, a research associate at Chatham House, says she and her colleagues realize that the public response to a tax on all meat, not just beef, would be opposed by a large portion of the world's consumers. But she thinks that it won't last.
"Our focus group discussions seem to suggest that any resistance would be relatively short-lived," Wellesley told Fast Company. "There's a recognition that other behaviors have changed -- smoking, for example -- in response to government measures that may at first have been unpopular. People do tend to come to accept the need for those kinds of measures if the rationale behind them is made clear."
Cultural hurdles, too: However, the report does acknowledge that there are factors beyond price.
"The culture of meat-eating is complex and highly influential," according to the report. It cites "social norms, including meat-based meals cooked by close friends and family members," and the strength of such social interactions in countries as diverse as the United States, the United Kingdom and Brazil.
The weekend barbecue in Brazil is a long-established tradition that brings people together and, for some, it is the high point of the week, particularly in the south of the country, according to the report.
"There was a concern that to limit meat consumption might require respondents to sacrifice social activities and to be marginalized in their peer group by such behavior," notes Chatham House.
Sounds like Brazil is a lot like Texas.
Would a tax on beef or other meat make you change your diet? Or would you cut back on other food products in order to slap a T-bone on the grill every summer weekend?
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