As the COP21 conference focuses on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions, it seems that world leaders are ignoring the industry most damaging to our planet — animal agriculture.

 

Monday marked the beginning of COP21 — a conference in which more than 190 nations gather to discuss a possible new global agreement on climate change, aimed at reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. According to Obama, the conference could be a ‘turning point‘, but with so much emphasis placed on fossil fuel as a contributing factor, it seems that world leaders are ignoring the industry most damaging to our planet: animal agriculture.

With climate change an undeniable reality, world leaders have been forced to confront the role of human activity in the mess — and if the facts and figures about animal agriculture’s effects are there, why aren’t they talking about it? It’s hard to believe that no one involved is aware of the meat and dairy industries’ impact on the environment, yet it’s nowhere to be seen on the COP21 agenda, and it begs the question: why hold a conference with the apparent intent to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions, only to refuse to acknowledge a leading factor? Money talks — and keeps people quiet.

It’s not just our leaders that seem to be avoiding the ugly truth; slightly lower down in the chain, big companies also seem reluctant to face facts. Take beloved ice-cream company Ben & Jerry’s, for example. Upon visiting their website you’re greeted with a large banner reading ‘Climate Justice at COP21!’, and the site is full of articles discussing the effects of global warming. One particularly troubling article of theirs highlights the seriousness of the issue by listing Ben & Jerry’s flavours that may be lost if global warming leaves crops in ruins (talk about vested interest).

Ben & Jerry’s, like almost everyone else, apparently, seem to gloss over and minimise the catastrophic effect animal agriculture has on our planet, stating on one page of their site: ‘we know there are some things on the farm that can have a negative impact on our environment when handled incorrectly’. No, Ben & Jerry’s, no. Livestock and its by-products account for 51 per cent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. You are one of the world’s leading ice-cream companies, producing hundreds of thousands of pints of ice-cream every day — which means that your dairy farms aren’t small ones. When farms hold as many cows as yours do, producing as much methane as yours do, the situation is always going to be incorrect.

The company has recognised their role in climate change somewhat by implementing a system that reuses manure for further purposes, such as fertiliser and cow bedding. It’s something, sure, but it’s difficult to be impressed; it’s not enough to acknowledge the damage you’re causing and only act on one part of the problem. The best thing Ben & Jerry’s could ever do for the environment is turn entirely vegan or shut down altogether. While I don’t expect to see either of these things happening any time soon, I’d really appreciate it if Ben & Jerry’s could stop playing eco-warriors while at the same time contributing to the leading cause of climate change.

On a related note, the National Union of Students (NUS) appears to be worryingly ill-informed regarding the causes of climate change. The Union is currently running a ‘Student Switch Off’ scheme at universities across the world, the idea being that every university residence tries to use as little energy as possible, with the residence that saves the most energy winning a prize.

I remember sitting in the kitchen of my flat while a Student Switch Off representative explained the scheme and its grand prize: a massive delivery of Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream. The scheme encourages students to put lids on pots while cooking and not to overfill kettles with water, then rewards those efforts to save the planet with pints and pints of ice-cream from methane-spewing cows. The irony would be laughable if it wasn’t destroying Earth.