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Increasing our Compassionate Footprint
Thank you, Professor Midgley for giving us your time on this matter. Listening to all that is coming out of COP21, one can’t help but dread to think what kind of future we are leaving to our children. On Kieno Kammies show on Cape Talk radio you mentioned that Botswana, for example, would become a desert if we do not manage to contain the rise in global temperature to 2 degrees C. And if we don’t get it right, we are apparently facing the extinction of one-third of all life on earth. Very scary. None of us want to leave a world like this for our children to inherit.
The projections you mention are relevant if we fail to get our emissions (and land use) under control. There is still time to avoid these really adverse outcomes.
Do you know of any head of state that actually mentioned the impact of animal agriculture on Climate Change?
Actually, yes. I recall the New Zealand Prime Minister mentioning agriculture in his opening address, and it is an item on the SBSTA (Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) agenda. So this is a real issue to join the negotiations but there is still a lot to be done to work out what the best policies might be.
Animal Voice editor, Louise van der Merwe asked University of Stellenbosch Professor Guy Midgley, for comment. Professor Midgley is an internationally recognised expert on Climate Change and Biodiversity, and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in the field.
I think that there are likely to be more and less sustainable agricultural options. Clearly clearing savannah and forest in the tropics to grow crops to feed cattle in intensive feedlots is a risky option. Here in southern Africa things are a bit different.
We have replaced indigenous game in their millions with cattle, sheep and goats. Grazing and browsing in natural vegetation is essential to maintain ecological processes. Sustainable farming with livestock is therefore more feasible here. This does not excuse production practices that are abusive to animals.
Thus, the agricultural issue is on the scientific agenda, but it is complicated and hard to tackle in parallel with the fossil fuel issue that in itself calls for a complete change in the world's energy system. I think negotiators may feel that we have to get energy right first, and then move to sort out agriculture issues.
That's not to say that nothing is being done - there is also action on deforestation and work going on to sequester carbon into many kinds of natural ecosystems.
Many thanks again for giving us your insight into this issue.
interview with Professor Guy Midgley