Friday, 12 February 2010

Becoming vegetarian 'can harm the environment'

Adopting a vegetarian diet based around meat substitutes such as tofu can cause more damage to the environment, according to a new study.

By Nick CollinsPublished: 7:33AM GMT 12 Feb 2010

It has often been claimed that avoiding red meat is beneficial to the environment, because it lowers emissions and less land is used to produce alternatives.
But a study by Cranfield University, commissioned by WWF, the environmental group, found a substantial number of meat substitutes – such as soy, chickpeas and lentils – were more harmful to the environment because they were imported into Britain from overseas.

The study concluded: "A switch from beef and milk to highly refined livestock product analogues such as tofu could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to supply the UK."
The results showed that the amount of foreign land required to produce the substitute products – and the potential destruction of forests to make way for farmland – outweighed the negatives of rearing beef and lamb in the UK.
An increase in vegetarianism could result in the collapse of British farming, the study warned, causing meat production to move overseas where there may be less legal protection of forests and uncultivated land.
Meat substitutes were also found to be highly processed, often requiring large amounts of energy to produce. The study recognised that the environmental merits of vegetarianism depended largely on which types of foods were consumed as an alternative to meat.
Donal Murphy-Bokern, one of the authors of the study and former farming and science coordinator at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, told a newspaper: "For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim.
"Simply eating more bread, pasta and potatoes instead of meat is more environmentally friendly."
Lord Stern of Bradford, the climate change economist, claimed last October that a vegetarian diet was beneficial to the planet.
He told a newspaper: "Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world's resources. A vegetarian diet is better."
Liz O'Neill, spokeswoman for the Vegetarian Society, told The Times: "The figures used in the report are based on a number of questionable assumptions about how vegetarians balance their diet and how the food industry might respond to increased demand.
"If you're aiming to reduce your environmental impact by going vegetarian then it's obviously not a good idea to rely on highly processed products, but that doesn't undermine the fact that the livestock industry causes enormous damage."
The National Farmers' Union said the study shower that general arguments about vegetarianism being beneficial to the environment were too simplistic

China's fears of rich nation 'climate conspiracy' at Copenhagen revealed

'Conspiracy to divide developing world' will make future talks harder, says leaked government reportMark Lynas: How China wrecked chances of Copenhagen deal

Jonathan Watts, Damian Carrington and Suzanne Goldenberg, Thursday 11 February 2010 15.30 GMT
Rich nations furthered their "conspiracy to divide the developing world" at December's UN climate summit in Copenhagen, while Canada "connived" and the EU acted "to please the United States", according to an internal document from a Chinese government thinktank obtained by the Guardian.
The document, which was written in the immediate aftermath of Copenhagen but has only now come to light, provides the most candid insight yet into Chinese thinking on the fraught summit.
"It was unprecedented for a conference negotiating process to be so complicated, for the arguments to be so intense, for the disputes to be so wide and for progress to be so slow," notes the special report. "There was criticism and praise from all sides, but future negotiations will be more difficult."
The authors - all members of a government environmental research institute - were not part of the Chinese negotiating team, but their paper was commissioned by the environment ministry and circulated internally to the minister, vice-ministers and department chiefs in the days after the conference. The ministry currently plays only a marginal role in climate policy making but many of the paper's observations were echoed by China's chief climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua, in a recent speech given at Beijing University.
The authors were downbeat about the prospects for international talks and China's position within them. "China, which was in the conference spotlight, played an active and constructive role, but was also under huge international pressure. It is predictable that our country will face a tougher challenge in future climate talks," it says.
Analysing international reaction to Copenhagen, the paper lists a selection of responses from the UN secretary-general, the Chinese foreign minister, the European commissioner, prominent NGOs and major media organisations, including the Guardian. It was written before the publication of the most strident criticisms of China's tactics by Mark Lynas, climate change adviser to the Maldives, and the UK climate and energy secretary, Ed Miliband.
Contrary to those views, the paper argues that the primary goal of China's negotiators was not to spoil the summit, but to resist a deal from rich nations that would put an unacceptable burden on China and other developing countries.
In their evaluation of the outcome, the officials' top point is that "the overall interests of developing countries have been defended" by resisting a rich nation "conspiracy" to abandon the Kyoto protocol, and with it the legal distinction between rich nations that must cut carbon emissions and developing nations for whom action is not compulsory.
The internal report acknowledges that unity among China's traditional allies in the developing world became harder to maintain in Copenhagen. "A conspiracy by developed nations to divide the camp of developing nations [was] a success," it said, citing the Small Island States' demand that the Basic group of nations - Brazil, South Africa, India, China - impose mandatory emission reductions.
The paper is scathing about the US-led "umbrella group", which it says adopted a position of inaction. Canada, it says, "was devoted to conniving" to convince the world that its pledge of a 3% emissions reduction between 1990 and 2020 is significant, while having no intention of meeting its Kyoto protocol target of 6%.
There are no comforting words for the European Union, which used to pride itself on playing a leadership role in climate talks. "Copenhagen was a setback for the EU", the authors say, in part because Europe "suggested the abandonment of the Kyoto protocol in order to please the US." The ministry has not responded to the Guardian's request for a comment on the leaked paper.
The authors note that the Copenhagen accord which emerged from the summit was not legally binding and lacked a global target for emissions. But it says that overall the accord was a "step forward", noting progress on a consensus to limit global warming within 2C, progress on the funding by rich nations of climate change adaptation measures in poorer nations and a "last minute" compromise by developing nations on the verification of their carbon pledges.
Lynas, who was present at many of the key negotiating sessions, said: "It's astonishing that this document suggests the Chinese really believes the absurd conspiracy theory that small island states were being played like puppets by rich countries. The truth is that the small island states and most vulnerable countries want China and its allies to cut their emissions because without these cuts they will not survive. Bluntly put, China is the world's No1 emitter, and if China does not reduce its emissions by at least half by mid-century, then countries like the Maldives will go under."
He added: "I think these claims of conspiracy are just a bullying tactic, to force more progressive developing countries back into line in case they too start demanding more serious action by China."
Speaking last month, China's chief climate negotiator, Xie - who also serves as vice-minister of the National Development and Reform commission which controls China's climate policy - also referred to the pressure from small island nations. "The rich nations were completely trying to make conflict among developing countries," he said.
He also described the "international fight on climate change" as a contest for economic development space and stressed that the way forward for China was to put more effort into building a low-carbon economy. "Countries with low-carbon industries will have a developmental advantage," said Xie. "Some people believe this is a global competition as significant as the space race in the cold war. "
The concluding section of the leaked document proposes a series of constructive initiatives. In what appears to be a bid by the environment ministry to play a greater role in carrying out climate-related policy, the report suggests amending air pollution control laws to include greenhouse gas emissions.
The official US version about what happened at Copenhagen is also harsh. Todd Stern, the state department climate change envoy, said this week that the summit "a snarling, aggravated, chaotic event." But America attributes the difficulties to a central divide between those countries - led by China - insisting rich countries bear the entire burden of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the position held by the US that rapidly emerging countries must also take action. Stern suggested the divide had not been bridged. China, along with India, South Africa and Brazil, had been "ambiguous" in its follow-up commitments to the accord.
Tom Burke, the influential environmentalist and a founder of E3G consultants, said: "There was indeed a lot of work done to get developing nations to put pressure on China. [But] it was not a conspiracy of any kind unfortunately as Britain was acting entirely alone on this front. Neither our EU allies nor the US mounted any kind of diplomatic effort. Pretty well everyone in Copenhagen, not just the developed countries, complained about China's blocking tactics."

Farming must embrace GM technology to fight 21st-century food crisis’

Mark Henderson, Science Editor

Farming must fully embrace genetically modified (GM) crops to meet the dual challenges of population growth and global warming, according to Hillary Clinton’s chief scientist.
Nina Fedoroff, who advises the US Secretary of State on science and technology, heads a group of senior researchers who call today for a “radical rethink” of farm practice to meet 21st-century demand for food.
Writing in the journal Science, they urge world leaders to do more to promote GM technologies so that scientists can create crops that produce higher yields and that can grow in the harsh conditions of a warmer world.
“There is a critical need to get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology and develop forward-looking regulatory frameworks based on scientific evidence,” the scientists say. They argue that an agricultural revolution is needed to address two threats to global food security over the coming century.

The world’s population is forecast to rise from 6.8 billion today to about 9 billion by 2050, creating a vastly increased demand for food. At the same time climate change is likely to reduce the yields of much of the land currently under cultivation, creating a risk that food production will fall as demand for it rises.
The authors, who include climate experts, plant biologists and agricultural researchers, point to a little-reported effect of the 2003 European heat wave as a harbinger of things to come.
“The average temperature that summer was only about 3.5C above the average for the last century,” they say. “The 20 to 36 per cent decrease in the yields of grains and fruits that summer drew little attention. But if the climate scientists are right, summers will be that hot on average by mid-century.”
Global warming is likely to reduce yields because photosynthesis is less efficient in many crops at raised temperatures. GM technology has the potential to deliver improved crop yields from arable land and to create new varieties that can thrive in salty soil and during drought and floods, the researchers say.
The report comes amid increasing pressure from scientists for greater use of GM crops. Britain’s chief scientist, John Beddington, has backed GM as part of the solution to global food security, as has Sir Gordon Conway, a former chief scientist at the Department for International Development.

Tofu can harm environment more than meat, finds WWF study

Ben Webster, Environment Editor

Becoming a vegetarian can do more harm to the environment than continuing to eat red meat, according to a study of the impacts of meat substitutes such as tofu.
The findings undermine claims by vegetarians that giving up meat automatically results in lower emissions and that less land is needed to produce food.
The study by Cranfield University, commissioned by the environmental group WWF, found that many meat substitutes were produced from soy, chickpeas and lentils that were grown overseas and imported into Britain.
It found that switching from beef and lamb reared in Britain to meat substitutes would result in more foreign land being cultivated and raise the risk of forests being destroyed to create farmland. Meat substitutes also tended to be highly processed and involved energy-intensive production methods.
Lord Stern of Brentford, one of the world’s leading climate change economists, caused uproar among Britain’s livestock farmers last October when he claimed that a vegetarian diet was better for the planet. He told The Times: “Meat is a wasteful use of water and creates a lot of greenhouse gases. It puts enormous pressure on the world’s resources. A vegetarian diet is better.”
However, the Cranfield study found that the environmental benefits of vegetarianism depended heavily on the type of food consumed as an alternative to meat. It concluded: “A switch from beef and milk to highly refined livestock product analogues such as tofu could actually increase the quantity of arable land needed to supply the UK.”
A significant increase in vegetarianism in Britain could cause the collapse of the country’s livestock industry and result in production of meat shifting overseas to countries with few regulations to protect forests and other uncultivated land, it added.
Donal Murphy-Bokern, one of the study authors and the former farming and food science co-ordinator at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, said: “For some people, tofu and other meat substitutes symbolise environmental friendliness but they are not necessarily the badge of merit people claim. Simply eating more bread, pasta and potatoes instead of meat is more environmentally friendly.”
Liz O’Neill, spokeswoman for the Vegetarian Society, said: “The figures used in the report are based on a number of questionable assumptions about how vegetarians balance their diet and how the food industry might respond to increased demand.
“If you’re aiming to reduce your environmental impact by going vegetarian then it’s obviously not a good idea to rely on highly processed products, but that doesn’t undermine the fact that the livestock industry causes enormous damage and that moving towards a plant-based diet is good for animals, human health and the environment.”
The National Farmers’ Union said the study showed that general statements about the environmental benefits of vegetarianism were too simplistic. Jonathan Scurlock, the NFU’s chief adviser for climate change, said: “The message is that no single option offers a panacea. The report rightly demonstrates the many environment benefits to be had from grazing pasture land with little or no other productive use.”
The study also found that previous estimates of the total emissions of Britain’s food consumption had been flawed because they failed to take account of the impact of changes to the use of land overseas.
Salad days
• About a quarter of the world’s population eat a predominantly vegetarian diet
• There are 3.7 million vegetarians in Britain
• Only 2 per cent of the French population don’t eat meat
• There is a longstanding myth that Adolf Hitler was vegetarian but recent research suggests that he ate at least some meat

Fabricated quote used to discredit climate scientist

Sir John Houghton explains to Steve Connor how global warming sceptics have misrepresented his views
For climate sceptics it was a key piece of evidence showing that the scientists behind global warming could not be trusted. A quotation by one of the world's most eminent climate scientists was supposed to demonstrate the depths to which he and his ilk would stoop to create scare stories exaggerating the threat of global warming.
Sir John Houghton, who played a critical role in establishing the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPPC), was roundly condemned after it emerged that he was an apparent advocate of scary propaganda to frighten the public into believing the dangers of global warming.
"Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen," Sir John was supposed to have said in 1994.

The quotation has since become the iconic smoking gun of the climate sceptic community. The words are the very first to appear in the "manual" of climate denialism written by the journalist and arch-sceptic Christopher Booker. They get more than a million hits on Google, and are wheeled out almost every time a climate sceptic has a point to make, the last occasion being in a Sunday newspaper article last weekend written by the social anthropologist and climate sceptic Benny Peiser.
The trouble is, Sir John Houghton has never said what he is quoted as saying. The words do not appear in his own book on global warming, first published in 1994, despite statements to the contrary. In fact, he denies emphatically that he ever said it at any time, either verbally or in writing.
In fact, his view on the matter of generating scare stories to publicise climate change is quite the opposite. "There are those who will say 'unless we announce disasters, no one will listen', but I'm not one of them," Sir John told The Independent.
"It's not the sort of thing I would ever say. It's quite the opposite of what I think and it pains me to see this quote being used repeatedly in this way. I would never say we should hype up the risk of climate disasters in order to get noticed," he said.
Even though the quotation appears on about 1.77 million web links, no one seems to know where it originated. On the few occasions a reference is cited, it is listed as coming from the first edition of Sir John's book, Global Warming: The Complete Briefing, published by Lion Books in 1994. But Sir John does not say it in this edition, nor in subsequent editions published by Cambridge University Press.
Christopher Booker, a newspaper columnist, considers the quotation so important that he lists it at the top of the first page of his most recent book on climate scepticism, The Real Global Warming Disaster, published last year. Mr Booker also cites the 1994 edition of Houghton's own book on global warming as the source of the quotation, even though there is no mention of it there. Mr Booker did not respond yesterday to enquiries by The Independent.
Benny Peiser, a social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, also cited the 1994 edition of Sir John's book as the source of the quote, which he used last Sunday in an article denouncing the alarmism of climate scientists. Dr Peiser admitted to The Independent that he had not read the book recently and had only used the quote "from memory" because it is so widely cited in other books on climate scepticism.
"I've seen it printed in many books. He is well known for making these statements. I've used that quote on many occasions from one of the books on climate alarmism. If he makes the claim that he never said this then he has to clarify that," Dr Peiser said.
"If he publicly says that he never made that statement then, of course, I wouldn't use it, but this is the first time I've heard [his denial] and this has been going on for 15 years. This quote has been used for the past 15 years," he said.
In fact, the earliest record of the quote comes not from 15 years ago but from November 2006 when it appeared in a newspaper column written by the journalist Piers Akerman in the Australian newspaper The Daily Telegraph. Akerman, a controversial right-wing columnist and global warming sceptic, appears to be the first person to use the quote verbatim in an opinion piece criticising the Stern Review, which looked at the economic effects of global warming.
"This alarmist approach reeked of stupidity, snake oil, and misguided gospel preaching but was in line with a formula adopted by the first chairman of the IPCC, Sir John Houghton, who produced the IPCC's first three reports in 1990, 1995 and 2001 and wrote in his book Global Warming, The Complete Briefing, in 1994: 'Unless we announce disasters no one will listen'," Mr Akerman said.
Within three years of Akerman's piece being published, climate sceptics had jumped on the supposed quotation, citing the source as Houghton's 1994 book. Mr Akerman did not respond to enquiries by The Independent.
Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, also cites the 1994 book as the source of the quote, which he uses extensively in his writings and lectures advocating climate scepticism. The quotation, he says, is a prime example of the alarmism and exaggeration of the climate change community and the IPCC.
Although Lord Monckton replied to an email asking him for the source of the quotation, he did not reply to a second email pointing out that it does not appear anywhere in Houghton's 1994 book.
Sir John, who was the former head of the Met Office but is now living in semi-active retirement in Wales, said he is considering taking legal action because he feels that the continued recycling of the misquotation is doing him and his science a huge disfavour.
"It doesn't do me any good because it suggests to everyone that I have hyped things up. I've been growing aware of it now for some time. The trouble is, if I just deny it then it cuts no ice with the people who want to believe it. I have to consider legal action," Sir John said.
How Sir John's words were twisted
The scientist...
Sir John Houghton
He is one of the most distinguished climate scientists of his generation. He was professor of atmospheric physics at Oxford University until 1983, when he became director general of the Meteorological Office where he established the Hadley Centre. A devout Christian, Sir John has been a strong advocate of the global research effort into climate change. He was the first head of the scientific working group of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and was lead editor of the panel's first three reports outlining the science of global warming. In 1994 he popularised the message of these reports in a book called Global Warming, The Complete Briefing. The book is widely cited by climate sceptics as saying: "Unless we announce disasters, no one will listen". However, Sir John said that this quote does not exist anywhere in the book and he has never said or written such a statement.
... and the sceptics
Lord Monckton
Otherwise known as Christopher Monckton, he is one of the most articulate and theatrical of the climate sceptics, lecturing extensively in the US. He likes to identify errors by climate scientists which he says fall in the direction of "undue alarmism and flagrant exaggeration". He has frequently cited the quotation of Sir John Houghton's as a prime example of the deeply flawed nature of the scientists behind the global warming "scare". Lord Monckton cited the source of the quote as Sir John's 1994 book, but did not reply to enquiries pointing out his error.
Christopher Booker
A journalist and author, Booker has been a thorn in the side of climate scientists. His latest book, The Real Global Warming Disaster, is seen as the "manual" of climate scepticism. He deems Sir John Houghton's quote as being so important that it lies at the top of page one. Again, the source of the quote is cited as the 1994 edition of Sir John's book on global warming. Booker has been a fierce critic of the IPCC and of Sir John's Hadley Centre. He believes that the computer models used by climate scientists are deeply flawed and that it is not carbon dioxide that has been driving the climate but natural changes driven by the activity of the Sun and changes to the ocean currents. In short, Booker believes that global warming is merely a "bizarre set of collective delusions".
Benny Peiser
A social anthropologist at Liverpool John Moores University, he has not published any scientific research into climate change, but believes that the field is marred by alarmism. He has also used the Houghton quotation, but said yesterday that he cannot recall where he had come across the quote, except that it was from another book on climate alarmism. Peiser said he was unaware that Sir John denies saying the words.
Roger Helmer
He is a Conservative Member of the European Parliament and an outspoken climate-change sceptic on the EU's "alarmism". He has written that Sir John's quotation is "priceless", but like many other sceptics could not give a precise source for the quote. Mr Helmer said yesterday that he would retract his statement and apologise to Sir John if it turns out that the scientist has never said what is claimed. "It's been quoted in lots of books I've read... it could well turn out to be an urban myth. If it's not true I'll be happy to correct it and apologise to Sir John," he said.