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‘In Norway, no meat is not an option’

A Dutch student living in Tromsø makes an appeal to Norwegians to consider the global impacts of their meat-heavy diet.

'In Norway, no meat is not an option'
The meat industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. Photo: oleandra/Iris
One of my biggest surprises whilst living in Tromsø was not finding out that back in 2008 Norway knighted a penguin to colonel-in-chief of the King's Guard. Instead, it has to do with food. This bastion of Arctic research, which has a front row seat to observe the heating of our planet, seems to be reluctant to ask a particular question and I am left wondering why. 
 
Here it comes: Should we, just maybe, eat a little bit less meat?
 
In the traditional Norwegian cuisine, vegetarian cooking only happens by accident; when the supplies run out during a snowstorm or after being visited by a polar bear. 
 
This year, a proposal to go vegan in the cantina was turned down before entering the floor at the Tromsø Municipality. Amongst the reactions, the opposition noted that in Northern Norway 'no meat' is not an option.” Such a dogged rejection should not be interpreted as an indication of Norwegian stubbornness but simply points out the persistence of traditions. 
 
 
In Bolivia, for example, asking for a meal without meat can provoke responses ranging from frowned pity to outright contempt. For many of us, a meal without meat is not a meal. Meat is something masculine and strong. A rudimentary cultural sentiment from a time when hunting a buffalo was more than pushing a button. It’s food that will turn you into a warrior, instead of a tofu twat. However, this warrior food contributes to some rather unpleasant problems on our pale blue dot. 
 
Because the meat industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world. There it is. Greenhouse gas emissions of the livestock sector are estimated to be 14.5 percent of the global total. That number exceeds the direct emissions of transport. So, if everybody would stop eating meat, it would have a bigger impact than if we would all stop driving our cars. 
 
Cows produce significant amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas that is 23 times as potent as carbon dioxide. But that is just the beginning. The extensive use of fertilizers leads to over-fertilization of water, which may trigger algal blooms. This in turn can result in decreased oxygen levels, which might be harmful for fish. We also have pesticides flowing into rivers and affecting water quality. 
 
 
Governments fail to act against logging, which wipes out rich forests to clear pasture for grazing and agriculture. For the past five years, over two million hectares of forest have been cleared every year. A large part of this land is used to produce soy, a famous meat replacement. Yet only six percent is used for human food, while 75 percent ends up in feed for pork, cattle, poultry and farmed fish. 
 
Closer to home, intensive reindeer herding has led to overgrazing which has contributed to a systematic decline of lichen vegetation. Support of local business is important, but at what cost? 
Another aspect often overlooked is water. One kilogramme of beef requires around 15,500 litres of water to produce. In comparison, producing an equivalent number of calories in cereal takes a quarter of that amount. With clean water often mentioned as a potential cause for a third world war and one in ten people lacking access to it, that is an interesting statistic. 
 
 
The truth is that cheap meat is only made possible by polluting the environment. 
 
If the costs are so high, how are they maintained? Long term ecological management, often paid for by the government. Subsidies that help to keep the price low, paid by governments. Low wages in abattoirs; a human cost paid for by foreign labourers with their life quality and perhaps our karma. Eventually, “external costs” are often paid for with taxpayer money, or degradation of livelihood. And the estimated global economic costs of climate change in the upcoming decades run wildly between hundreds of billions to trillions of dollars.
 
The question is: why do we not hear more about this? Perhaps politicians avoid the question for fear of a public opinion backlash and being punished by consumers during elections. On both a national, as well as a global level, meat is a sensitive topic with big interests. 
 
In Norway’s fjords we find the world’s most advanced fish farming industry. Likewise, nearly half of the European Union budget is spent on agriculture and fisheries through a framework that was designed in the face of widespread food shortages during the post-war period. This money goes to subsidies but also projects to promote dairy and meat consumption. The production of meat alone presents about 28 percent of the total agricultural output of the European Union, around €96 billion. 
 
Research by Chatham House concluded that “climate change is not currently a primary consideration in food choices”. Consumers look at taste, price, health and food safety but not climate. In other words, there is a wide awareness gap regarding the link between food and the environment. 
 
But a lot of us do know about this, and it is easy to ask whether writing yet another article about it will change anything. Because this is not only about knowledge, it is about trying something new and changing habits. Costs rising into the billions are abstract numbers and the suffering of others is something faraway. 
 
As long as every day the sun rises and supermarket opens, what will make us care? Plenty of reasons show why we should and the least we can do is to remind ourselves and others of these facts over and again. 
 
Something to keep in mind when piously pledging to your New Year’s resolutions: why not try a meat-free Monday? A vegetarian meal, including fish, will carve 48 percent of your dietary carbon emissions, which is around 13 percent of your daily footprint. 
 
This article is not a call to boycott meat. It is not written by a guy driving an organic bike and only drinking ecological tea from Brazil that tastes like morning dew and rain forest. As matter of fact, I like meat a lot. I simply would like you to ask yourself: should we, just maybe, eat a little bit less of it?
 
Mark de HoopMark de Hoop is a 23-year-old from The Netherlands with an interest in sustainable development and environmental education. He currently lives and works in Tromsø. He suggests the following resources for more information: Meat-free Monday, Angela Morelli, 'Cowspiracy' and this UN report on the environment impacts of our consumption habits. 

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How do Norway’s CO2 emissions compare to other countries?

Norway can be seen as either a relatively green country or one of the worlds largest polluters, depending on whether you include emissions which occur abroad as a result of its oil trade.

Pictured is the chimney of an industrial building emitting fumes. When taking emissions per capita into account Norway is one of the worlds top 20 CO2 producers.
Pictured is the chimney of an industrial building emitting fumes. When taking emissions per capita into account Norway is one of the worlds top 20 CO2 producers. Photo by veeterzy on Unsplash

Norway has long been in the strange juxtaposition of being perceived as one of Europe’s greener countries while being one of the continent’s biggest natural oil and gas producers. 

While most new cars sold in the country are electric, and the coalition government has announced several carbon-cutting goals as part of its government policy platform, the nation of 5.3 million will continue to develop its oil industry and press on with exploration for gas and “black gold”. 

Within its own borders, then Norway is only the world’s 61st biggest CO2 polluter, according to data on the country’s carbon dioxide output provided by climate researchers Cicero and the Global Carbon Project for broadcaster NRK

The country emits 41 million tonnes of CO2 annually, according to figures it submits to the UN. This pales in comparison to the 329 million tonnes released by the UK, the 1.5 billion tonnes emitted by Russia, the 4.7 billion tonnes the USA has reported to the UN, and the more than 10 billion tonnes China discharges.

By this metric, Norway looks to be relatively green. However, when emissions per capita are considered, Norway leapfrogs the UK and China, emitting 7.7 tonnes per person.

These figures don’t consider the environmental impact of the country’s oil and gas trade. Most of the industry’s emissions occur outside of Norway and are therefore not included in the national figures. 

READ ALSO: How will climate change impact Norway?

When emissions released by the oil and gas trade outside of the country’s borders are accounted for then Norway becomes the 17th largest nation in terms of CO2 output. 

Additionally, when emissions produced outside its borders are taken into consideration, carbon dioxide generated per person in Norway jumps from 7.7 tonnes to 93.6. This puts Norway fourth overall, behind oil giants Qatar, Kuwait and Brunei. 

Norway’s petroleum minister, Marte Mjøs Persen, told NRK that the country wasn’t responsible for emissions produced abroad as a result of oil and gas exports. 

“Not according to the Paris Agreement. There we are responsible for the emissions we have in the Norwegian sector,” Persen told NRK. 

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