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Climate Change

Most Irish people underestimate the link between eating red meat and climate change - ESRI

That’s according to a new study published by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI).

MANY PEOPLE DON’T yet understand how dietary choices such as eating meat can affect climate change, according to a new study.

In the study by the Economic & Social Research Institute (ESRI), people completed online diaries about their day and then listed the actions they thought mattered most for their carbon footprint.

The majority of those surveyed listed behaviours associated with transport (64%) and home energy use (56%). 

Very few people (just 4%) listed any aspect of their diet. 

Any references to food were more likely to be about where it came from or how it was packaged than whether meals contain foods linked to high emissions, such as red meat.

The report outlined that although each stage of food production is associated with emissions, farm-based processes contribute far more than other stages. 

Dr Shane Timmons of the ESRI told The Journal that research suggests that “the type of food matters more than, for example, where it’s from or how it’s packaged”. 

“You could be eating, in Ireland, vegetables that are shipped from other countries that will have a much lower carbon footprint than red meat that is produced here given the emissions associated with ruminant livestock, in particular,” he said. 

The report noted that ruminant livestock, such as cows and sheep, are the largest source of farm-based greenhouse gas emissions. 

Almost half the population (46%) reported eating red meat more than one day per week. 

People under the age of 40 eat beef and lamb slightly less often than those over the age of 60 (45% vs 49%, respectively) but consume other types of meat more often.

One in four people report having changed their diet to reduce their carbon footprint. The most commonly reported change was to reduce the consumption of beef or lamb (18%). 

A slightly larger proportion, at 27%, reported that they would like to but can’t, mostly citing cost and not knowing what to eat as the biggest difficulties.

However, the largest group, at 47%, did not see a need to change what they eat.

The report noted that dietary behaviour is afflicted by a “lack of awareness of emissions embedded within the type of food eaten”. 

It said that the majority of the public, when incentivised to outline behaviours that matter the most, “fail to identify that what they eat matters for their carbon footprint”.

It added that even the minority, about one in six, who report having reduced their red meat intake for environmental reasons “fail to consider their diet as mattering most for their carbon footprint”.

“It is hence unsurprising that most people have not changed their diet and do not intend to, despite surveys showing favourable attitudes towards climate change mitigation.”

Other findings

One-in-five people who travelled by car did not identify driving as a source of carbon emissions.

Almost half did not list home energy use and those who did were more likely to mention cooking than heating water or using white appliances, both of which produce higher carbon emissions.

The study also found that many people in Ireland have tried to reduce their carbon footprint, with 40% saying that they had reduced emissions from transport, mainly by driving less often.

Another 25% said they would like to reduce their transport emissions but can’t, mostly because they don’t have access to public transport.

However, 30% saw no need to change their transport behaviour.

A nationally representative sample of 1,200 adults completed diaries for the study, which was funded by the EPA.

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