In 2018, the UK introduced a sugar tax on drinks that contained more than 5g of sugar. Now in 2020, there are similar calls from multiple groups of health professionals, for the government to tax foods that have a harmful effect on the environment, and subsequently the climate. This would mean that meat and dairy products would cost slightly more; these industries make up over 25% of global greenhouse gases, with also 7 million tonnes of food wasted in the country each year.
But the question is, will it slow the climate crisis, and if so, will it be enough?
With the sugar tax as an example, we can clearly see it has done little to stop consumers purchasing these sugary drinks. Therefore, if the tax will not stop people buying meat, how will this tax help us reduce greenhouse gases? Meat will still be produced in mass forms of production, and this will keep emitting fossil fuels into the atmosphere, making this billion pound industry only increase in value.
It can be considered that there is an overemphasis on food and diets in solving the climate crisis; as we saw in September, initiatives like the Climate Clock are calling different audiences to change their ways in order to battle climate change, rather than the food industry. This could be another distraction tactic from massive corporations to blame the public for the state of the climate, using the nation’s bad diets to move the focus away from the people who are causing the damage in the first place. These health professionals suggest that the public of the UK should go on a Vegan diet, but is this realistic?
Humans started out as carnivores, and old habits die hard. Many people will not want to drastically change their lifestyle, or may not be able to due to the continuing inflation of healthy food alternatives. Whilst it is certain that the food industry substantially contributes to climate change, we cannot forget about where the other 75% of greenhouse gases have come from, such as: energy use, transportation, residential and commercial sectors.
The people opposed to switching their diets have a valid point in wanting the government to focus on other contributors, such as airline companies. Despite veganism being a popular, successful way to individually take action at climate change, this can’t be enough to reduce the emissions as much as we need to.
However, I’m sure some vegans here would love to disagree. I agree that something big needs to be done to combat climate change; I recycle as much as I can, limit my dairy and meat intake, and enjoy animal alternatives such as Quorn. To say an individual cannot help the climate at all is seen as selfish.
Dropping litter on the ground when there is a recycling bin two minutes away is seen as irresponsible, so shouldn’t high meat content diets be viewed the same way? Although there may be an overemphasis on agriculture as a sector that is harmful to the planet, surely if we all buy less animal products, supply and demand will lessen due to more families just having one vegan or vegetarian day a week.
I believe this tax should be implemented into our economy. If meat eaters refuse to give up their diet, they can easily pay the little price increase, just like the sugar tax. The money produced from this tax could go to initiatives that help lower our country’s carbon footprint. However, if consumers do want to do their bit to help the planet, limiting their animal product purchases and making more plant-based ones is an easy change to do, in order to give the best start for future generations. Nevertheless, we need to stay aware of how the government is holding global businesses accountable to their contribution of climate change, as although we can all make a difference, it is capitalism that will decide if we are destined to a harmful fate for our climate.
By Natalie Horrobin
Image: by Thomas Crenshaw via Flickr