A significant number of scientists and environmentalists argue that a tax on meat would cut methane emissions, thereby mitigating climate change. Making meat more expensive could similarly have an indirect effect on rainforest destruction caused by soybean cultivation in the Amazon, since soy grown in Argentina and Brazil is used to feed livestock in the UK and other countries.

The much beloved (as well as maligned) animal rights organization PETA argues that a tax on meat in the United States would benefit the environment along with human health. A piece from PETA’s website cites studies that show that a vegan diet, which avoids all animal products, reduces an individual’s greenhouse gas footprint by 50% more than switching from a standard combustion engine-powered car to a hybrid vehicle. PETA also references UN studies on animal agriculture’s impact on climate change, biodiversity loss, land degradation and pollution.

Pic: Compassion in World Farming (Flickr CC)

Pic: Compassion in World Farming (Flickr CC)

PETA’s arguments stem from a total opposition to animal cruelty and exploitation. The activist group uses environmental reasoning to strengthen that argument. For climate scientists the principal agenda is different. Reducing meat consumption is a simple way to curb greenhouse gases. Changing the way the livestock industry functions could be another effective measure.

From the Guardian:

There are now 3.6 billion ruminants on the planet – mostly sheep, cattle and goats and, in much smaller numbers, buffalo – 50% more than half a century ago. Methane from their digestive systems is the single biggest human-related source of the greenhouse gas, which is more short-lived but around 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide in warming the planet.

While encouraging a more plant-based diet through education might be slow and unsure, a tax on meat would have a more immediate effect. Appeal to people’s morality and intelligence, but also hit them where it counts – their pocketbook.

But this means passing legislation that a rich and powerful industry would protest, what to speak of a populace accustomed to eating cheap meat. While the people and the climate would doubtless be better off with a significant reduction in meat consumption, a meat tax could be extremely difficult to institute in countries where large corporations call the shots.