Meat, the new Climate solution

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Words: Bella Parkes-Jones  (she/her)

The climate disaster is here with complete climate collapse lurking just behind it. For years innovations in technologies have been sold to us as our supposed saviours. One of these such solutions is lab-grown meat, which would theoretically put an end to the carbon heavy practice of livestock rearing. The carbon footprint of livestock rearing is a substantial one, making up 14% of global annual carbon emissions. However, the technology is not yet ready to deliver on this supposed greener food solution. The solutions for climate change are not something that need to be discovered. Communities around the world have valuable climate-saving knowledge but are being disregarded. We cannot deny that we will forever be fused to nature; we cannot ignore that we must learn to live within its rules. No matter the leaps and bounds we make in technology, lab-grown meat is another machine pushing us further from the natural world.

The idea of lab-grown meat is a beautifully clear green one. It would take away the environment-draining practice of raising huge amounts of livestock to meet the global demand for meat. More accurately, the global North’s excessive demand for meat. This new perfect solution they posit is going to cut those high carbon emissions generated by livestock rearing. The ice caps will refreeze, bees will return and we will all sing and dance around mother earth. The UC Davis Department of Food found that lab-grown meat could one day produce 80% less carbon emissions than traditional beef rearing. These promising figures, however, rely on technology that has not yet been created. We do not have the time to wait on this innovation when ecosystems around the world are already crumbling.

The current method to grow this meat in labs is no more beneficial to the environment than the swathes of the Amazon cut down to raise cattle. Purified growth media is used to produce this lab-grown meat and this is a product of the resource exhaustive pharmaceutical industry. This growth media is used to cultivate the cells to produce enough protein for us to consume. The same UC Davis study has shown that if the current lab-grown meat was produced at industrial levels it would be 25 times higher than current meat industry emissions. The solution for our climate crisis is not sitting waiting for these mythical, idyllic technologies that are being promised. Technological advances and our prioritisation of them has arguably been one of the major sparks to the climate inferno we find ourselves in. We cannot look for it to be our saviour. We must, instead, learn to live within our means.

For years we have been told the innovation needed to fight climate change is around the corner. That we just need to sit tight and those scientists in white coats will produce the perfect answer. We won’t need to stop consuming at the rate we do, or exploiting the global majority for our comfortable lives. Even in its most sustainable form, lab-grown meat would only be a plaster on the huge damage current food systems cause to our environment. Mono-cropping, to feed livestock, has systematically stripped biodiversity all over the world. The issue in our current food system is over consumption. The development of lab-grown meat is not a solution, rather a false idea of progress to a green future that we can cower behind. 

Western food structures are not the only way to feed humanity. By embracing this new lab-grown meat we are ignoring the voices of indigenous communities. From the Arctic to the Himalayas have an extensive understanding of food systems accumulated over thousands of years. They have been tried and tested and have ensured the protection of up to 80% biodiversity, as one UN report shows. Indigenous voices should be championed on the lands these people have lived on for generations. Surely, we must look to those who know the land to help us understand how to protect it rather than turning blindly to those robots who caused the original fission from nature. The solution is staring us in the face.

A solution is not what the climate needs, it’s what humanity needs. In the history of Earth, we are a tiny blip, a blight. Humanity lacks the power to destroy the Earth. We need the earth, it does not need us. All we are doing is burning our only house. The humming and hawing of how to deal with climate change is done. All of our technological progress has made us forget that we can’t use this technology to make another planet. Lab-grown meat won’t save us either. We need to reintegrate ourselves with our world. This is all we’ve got and we must take care of it. The timer is nearly at zero and we need to choose a wire to cut. Will it be green or red? solutions-for-humankind-commentary/


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