The Scottish Business Awards run by Josh Littlejohn and of course supported by Scotland’s Sir Tom Hunter and his ever-busy Hunter Foundation is one those special events that captured the imagination of Scotland.
I was lucky enough to attend them all so far. The speakers were superb, albeit with the exception of Sir Richard Branson, whom I felt was a little awkward and to be frank - a trifle boring. The best of the lot, by a country mile, was George Clooney. The man oozed charisma, charm and wit. It is no wonder he is as successful and respected as he is. But, there is one guest speaker in the history of these awards that stood out for me for all the wrong reasons - until now.
Let me set the scene. A massive ballroom with the great and good, sponsors, supporters and of course apprehensive finalists hoping to win an accolade on the night. The booze is flying, the atmosphere buzzing. Time to wheel in the guest speaker tonight to woo us all - Leonardo DiCaprio. I mean he is this generations’ Robert De Niro. A brilliant actor, who I can watch again and again in The Departed. To list all of his films here would take too much print space, but it is fair to say that he at the top of his trade. So, I was phenomenally excited to hear what he had to say and of course learn more of his story. But, that’s not how this panned out.
DiCaprio started waffling on about climate change and how red meat, especially beef was actually killing the planet. He had brought along an eminent speaker on the subject who had all the facts and figures to back up the science. I’ll be honest - I tuned out. Until, the subject of what was on the menu popped up and everyone nervously scurried to see what was for the main course. Thank God it was chicken, as everyone in the room laughed nervously, having listened to forty minutes of beef-bashing. No, I was not impressed with this mega star lecturing me on what to eat and how methane from cows would send the planet into oblivion. It turned me off DiCaprio. Until now....
He was bang on the money and although my closed mind at that time was not receptive to what he had to say, he was and is, way ahead of the game when it comes to beef farming and its impact on our planet. As a weekday vegetarian, who is happy to stick a pork kebab on the BBQ at the weekend, I have had some time to think harder about DiCaprio’s message. And the picture he paints is a shocking one. It is not one that Scottish farmers may want to hear.
Beef is one of the most resource intensive foods in our 21st century diet. Red meat has become a popular target for health and environmental activists in recent years. Scientists estimate that carbon emissions from the global livestock sector account for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions, more than the global transport sector. Go figure... Specifically, the beef and dairy industry accounts for 65% of all livestock emissions. Putting this statistic into perspective is a big eye opener.
I always thought that grain was grown for human beings. It makes bread, beer and a whole lot more. It is a staple of our diet and of course is plant based, so should in essence be good for us. But, I was stunned to learn that 70% of the grain produced in the USA alone is fed to animals, and 260 million and rising acres of land in the USA that was forested has now been cut back. Why? To make way for producing feed for livestock.
This highlights just how big this industry is and the scale of its growth in feeding cows. Bringing this back down to earth in the UK for comparison is interesting reading. The UK has 60 million acres of land that are broadly comprised of 42 million acres of “agricultural” land, 12 million acres of what is called natural waste (mountains, bog, moor and so on) and six million acres of the urban plot - houses, shops, businesses. That’s over four times the acreage of the UK moved from valuable forest to grain in the USA, simply to support livestock. Livestock that is killing the planet.
I can go on and on, a bit like Di Caprio that evening at the awards ceremony. From methane produced and how this affects carbon dioxide and our fragile ecosystem.
But, I’m pretty sure you get the gist of this argument. However, it is an important one for the planet and Scotland.
At some point in the future, there will come a tipping point.
President Trump will be long gone. “Make America Great Again” will have faded into make America breathe again. Activists, campaigners and dare I say it, the likes of you and me, will have woken up to the damage that beef and dairy farming causes to the planet. There will be even more scientific evidence coupled with more big stars like Di Caprio coming out against the beef industry. And then it will strike like a thunderbolt. Farming as we know it will have to change and adapt.
Perhaps now is the time to seriously help our farmers prepare for the maelstrom of change that is ahead of them. This will not be an overnight process, but fifty years to change mindsets, jobs, business models, subsidies, produce and machinery, as well as land.
Leonardo DeCaprio might be an old man by then. But, he made his point in Scotland that night and for me it has now hit home.