We tax cigarettes and alcohol, in part to discourage their consumption, so why not tax meat? After all, bacon gives you cancer, cows cause climate change, and eating less meat could save us trillions of dollars. That’s why the Danish Council of Ethics recommends taxing beef.
"The Danes' way of life is far from climatically, sustainable, and if we are to live up to the Paris agreement's objective of keeping global temperature rise well below 2°C, it is necessary to act quickly," says the council, which reports to the Danish parliament.
Their initial recommendation is to tax beef. Globally, food productions accounts for up to 29% of emissions. Cattle are responsible for a huge 10%. Taxing beef, they say, could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from food by 20% to 35%.
"A large majority of the Council considers that the Danes are ethically obliged to change dietary habits," says the press release accompanying the new report. A tax on beef, it says, should be levied on consumers. This would discourage consumption by raising costs and "send a clear signal" to the public. Beef is also a good place to start, says the council, because people can easily continue to eat healthily without beef.
Reducing meat production may be essential to meeting climate goals, though it might be a hard sell to the general public. "I don't think it's possible to keep on a course for two degrees global warming—to keep climate change to safe levels—without looking at meat consumption," Laura Wellesley, a research associate at Chatham House, told Co.Exist last year.
The reduction in consumption is a clear benefit, but the raising of awareness that the Danish Ethics council recommends could be just as important. Most people have no idea that meat production causes climate change, even though it is responsible for almost 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. Giving up meat could be as effective as switching to a hybrid car in terms of cutting emissions.