Miss 14 came home from school the other day to announce, "If we all cut meat and dairy [consumption] by half, we could stop climate change."
It sounded too easy to be true. Is this some nonsense academics are touting to steer pliable young minds away from meat and milk to something wimpy like tofu and soy?
My daughter's class has been watching Before the Flood, a 2016 documentary film presented by National Geographic. It features Leonardo DiCaprio travelling to five continents and the Arctic to witness climate change firsthand. The film also details actions individuals and society can take to prevent the disruption of life on our planet. Before the Flood urges viewers to push elected officials to support alternative energy sources such as solar and wind power.
And also, to curb consumption of animal products. Research in the journal Science published earlier this year was the largest analysis of farming's environmental impact to date. It found avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet.
An article about the report in The Guardian states "… without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75 per cent – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife."
Analysis finds more than 80 per cent of farmland is used for livestock that produces just 18 per cent of food calories and 37 per cent of protein.
It's hard to admit all those teenagers who've suddenly become vegan or vegetarian were right.
And it's hard, if you and your family regard Saturday bacon and pancake brunches as sacred, to imagine foregoing the smell and taste of a real, piggy strip of sizzling meat and fat. Turkey bacon makes me shake my head in resignation.
No wonder climate doubters still walk among us. We want our bacon, Scotch fillet, utes, and SUVs. And the climate denial machine, fueled with industrial money, has mounted a fierce campaign to muddy the waters. They followed the example of the US tobacco industry, which refuted cigarettes caused cancer, even though its own research showed a link as early as the 1950s. One tobacco company scientist was quoted saying, "A demand for scientific proof is always a formula for inaction and delay and usually the first reaction of the guilty … in fact scientific proof has never been, is not and should not be the basis for political and legal action."
You can doubt the credibility of an estimated 90 to 97 per cent of scientists who believe climate change is human-caused; believe instead it's a conspiracy foisted on us by liberal academics who've spent too many years in laboratories and not enough time in the real world.
Trouble with that theory is, scientists do examine the real world, in places like Antarctica, the Yukon, The Arctic Circle … and on the glaciers of the Southern Alps, which New Zealand researchers say have reduced by nearly half over the past 100 years.
Young people are motivated to act on climate change because they're going to be around a lot longer than us older folk. Adolescents have fallen for the logic that people – yes, us – are responsible for warming seas, melting glaciers, worsening weather patterns, forest fires … among other ills.
I'm proud of our children's environmental awareness. They have more information and more incentive to protect the planet than those of us above age 20.
A friend's daughter, Papamoa College Year 9 student Jessica Arlund, understands this urgency. She produced a four-minute video called Time Capsule, asking what we should show future generations: Naked forests? Photos of extinct wildlife? Empty oceans? Or factories, plastic and cars? Time Capsule
The film is shortlisted in the national Someday Challenge. I wiped tears of pride and culpability watching Jessica's message.
What happened to the days when kids mostly embarrassed their elders by pulling pranks?
Part of me screams, "It's too late. I can't do anything to protect the world for my children's children. Sorry, kids. I didn't know."
But I know now.
Back to meat. What if curbing consumption really would make a difference? Is it unpalatable to swap pork for pasta, or switch Scotch fillet for fish? Where would that leave Kiwi farmers, who've already invested money and time making environmental improvements?
Though Dairy NZ reports greenhouse gas emissions produced for every kilogram of milk solids have fallen by almost a third in the 25 years to 2015, total emissions from agriculture rose 12 per cent in the same period. Time for radical change.
Imagine cow pastures replaced with a sea of soybean or yellow pea plants. Faux meat has gotten tastier, its texture more true-to-life than ever. If protein substitute prices drop, we can better afford to eat like people who want to stay on Planet Earth.