So after my college’s JCR miraculously passed a motion supporting Meat Free Mondays, only for it to then even survive the challenge of a referendum, the buck was passed to the MCR to decide upon a stance. Since Somerville would never go ahead with such a contentious proposal without support from both bodies, the MCR’s stance would effectively make or break the deal. The motion was defeated on Sunday, so meat will be offered in Hall every day for the foreseeable future. Not that we need worry, because it definitely doesn’t contribute much to climate change:
Depending on where and how it is produced, the FAO estimates that the livestock industry is responsible for between 13.5 and 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A more recent report, published by the Worldwatch Institute, estimated that it could be as much as 51 per cent. Some of the emissions are from the methane emitted by livestock. Methane is 23 times more powerful as a global warming gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). Other emitted gases, such as nitrous oxide, come from the manure produced by ruminants and other animals such as poultry and pigs. Nitrous oxide has 298 times the global warming potential of CO2. Still more GHGs come from the fertilisers used to grow animal feed, and from processing, storage and transport of meat products as well as from the clearing of rainforest to make room for livestock. Beef is the most energy intensive of all the meats we eat. According to the environmental group Greenpeace, eating 1kg of beef (the average weekly intake of meats of all types in the UK is between 1kg and 1.6 kg) represents roughly the same greenhouse gas emissions as a flight of 100km per passenger.
Researchers at the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, Japan, agree. In 2007 they found that producing 1kg of beef results in greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the amount of CO2 emitted by the average car over a distance of 250 kilometres.
Reading this, you’d think that any reasonable person would understand that the motive here is not to be paternalistic and force a healthier diet upon people. Nor is Meat Free Mondays about a group of hipsters insisting upon animal rights (Mondays only would in that case be remarkably arbitrary). It’s about the environmental impact of current meat consumption levels, period.
And yet, the opposition largely consisted of people worrying about potential students with medical quirks such that they must eat meat on a daily basis, as if such extreme cases couldn’t warrant exemptions when and as they arose, but rather simply had to override all considerations of sustainability to the contrary. If it wasn’t that, the objection was that Meat Free Mondays would constitute some sort of Stalinist tyranny in which a contentious moral value is imposed upon free people, unreasonably coercing them. Yes, because all students would be dragged in chains to the dining hall and forced to eat vegetarian food. It’s not like any alternative kitchen facilities are provided in college for those so desperate to dodge their duties.
And that raises another point here: even if this was coercive, that doesn’t demonstrate that it’s wrong. Coercion is easily justified when done in the name of a good cause. Nobody other than the most absurd of anarchists objects that the government threatening thieves with imprisonment violates their right to liberty. And similarly, when the environmental interest here is this strong, it’s clear that there are overriding reasons which make concerns about liberty irrelevant. Nobody has the right to eat meat whenever they wish, because that right would have to be encompassed, by entailment, under the apparent right to act in an environmentally destructive manner. And if you insist that such a right does exist, invoking them as valid moral claims quickly starts to lose its value.
If exceptionally intelligent Oxford students aren’t able to see and act on this, preferring to rationalise their desire to selfishly continue consuming the amount of meat that they currently do, there’s a good chance we should declare the world Fucked right now.