All responsible and reputable scientists agree that we are not reducing harmful GHG emissions fast enough to prevent devastating climate-induced catastrophes, such as extreme droughts, floods, and unstable climates. With this backdrop it is no wonder that we also hear of increasing anxiety, especially amongst the young, who feel hopeless in the face of the predicted catastrophe. Yet there is one highly empowering step that can result in a quick and consistent fall in harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The question to ask is, are individuals capable or smart enough to transition from the most harmful individual practice – the consumption of the meat/dairy diet – for the greater good?



Let me place this discussion in real-time context. Sicily is experiencing a severe drought due to a lack of winter rains, which has forced dozens of towns to ration water for both agriculture and residential consumption, with the risk to agriculture in Sicily being considered a “particular concern” by the EU’s crop monitoring service. Meanwhile, in the Po valley in northern Italy, rice farmers are still dealing with the impacts of a persistent drought that began in 2022 and devastated 7,500 hectares of rice fields last year alone. The Po Valley accounts for about 50% of the rice produced in the EU. These farmers have sought to diversify their crops in response to climate change because there simply isn’t enough water for their crop to be viable. The misuse of our water is an important point to remember in my discussion on climate and food insecurity.


In my book on Eastern Orthodoxy and Animal Suffering[1] I noted that the contemporary debate on the environment[2] highlights how historical theological and philosophical anthropocentricism with its inherent separationist ethos, denied animals the capacity for language, rationality and self-awareness. This resulted in the refusal to extend justice, mercy, personhood and any form of rights to animals, which in turn, determined our relationships and treatment of them. Over time it became increasingly easy to view animals as disposable life and units of production, rather than sentient beings and creatures loved by God. This exploitation and abuse have reached epic proportions since the second world war, as most animals are now produced in the intensive farming system, which as numerous research papers have proven, produces distortions of the animal’s true physiology, and leads to immense physical and psychological suffering because of mutilations, deprivation, and downright cruelty.  Natural behaviours and flourishing were and still are, overridden in favour of increased financial profit and cheap food.

More recently, Ethology has challenged the flawed philosophical and theological views that these abilities were unique to human beings. Informed opinion, which includes senior Orthodox theologians and philosophers such as Zizioulas and Ware, now accept that any differences are a matter of degree rather than absence. In addition, there is overwhelming scientific evidence that increasing numbers of species are sentient beings, who suffer physical pain, psychological distress, and are capable of joy and self-awareness. Legally, animals are still categorized as property although this is now being challenged in courts across the world.

The combination of these historical factors and mindset has led to the immense suffering of God’s non-human creation and resulted in far-reaching consequences for humans and the wider environment, such as water contamination, misuse and overuse, soil degradation and loss, and numerous environmental disasters. Increasingly, scientists in many disciplines recognize that our misuse and exploitation of animals is an important factor in GHG emissions, food and water insecurity, and climate instability. So why does this continue?


Much of the debate on climate change/instability has centered around the use of fossil fuels for energy, and the waste products of Carbon Dioxide and Methane. The world, in the form of COP treaties, agree on the urgent need for rapid reductions in GHG emissions by transitioning away from fossil fuels to renewable/green forms of energy. Like most of us, I cannot build, nor afford to buy solar panels, build a wind-turbine or nuclear power station, or create other green-energy technologies. We rely on the energy companies, and our governments, to do this on our behalf. Some governments, including my own, are helping individuals by placing caps on the cost of energy, and the energy companies in turn are recompensed by the governments. Yet the revenue for this compensation comes from citizens’ taxes, so we end up paying the energy companies in one way or another. Unfortunately for us and other life-forms on this planet, this deeply flawed process has not, and will not, motivate the energy companies to transition to cleaner energy technologies, or to do so more quickly than is currently the case. As a result, harmful greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise.

The equally harmful animal-based diet, however, has received far less attention until quite recently. Nonetheless, both issues have hit the same problem of the vested interests, who use the Tobacco industry’s effective disinformation and misdirection campaign methods, to perpetuate their lucrative yet very harmful businesses. Their refusal to make significant changes to our energy or food systems, brings these problems back to individuals to make changes in their lifestyles and eating habits to mitigate the looming disaster of the predicted Hot-House Earth scenario, the now 2.4 degrees rise in global temperature posited last week, climate instability and food insecurity.

The acceptance of this situation indicates that our governments are more concerned with short-term thinking that prioritises their re-election and short-term biased fiscal systems that favour the few, rather than in reorientating our economies and food production systems to save the lives of their citizens, and the myriad of other species on this planet. Increasingly more people recognise this fact, and various forms of climate anxiety are increasing.


In their excellent chapter in one of my two books on Climate Crisis and Creation Care[3], Van Susteren and Al-Delany discuss the psychological impacts of climate change. They inform us that all the losses associated with climate change carry with them an emotional toll. They outline the psychological, physiological, and psychosocial impacts of extreme weather events under specific headings such as, wildfires, violent storms and floods, summer heatwaves and drought, sea level rise, new disease threats, air pollution, vulnerable populations, and the processing of disasters. They clearly state that the medical profession is not ready for what is to come, and I suggest that we can make the same charge against our governments, and civil society in general. They also draw our attention to increased violence, much of which can be explained by unaddressed anxiety emanating from fears of impotence and vulnerability.

They explain that denial and inaction on climate-related issues is an attempt to try to control such fears, which only exacerbates the situation. What is needed, they state, is activism and now.


In his chapter in the same book on Creation Care, Miller discusses the social role of religions in the climate emergency and advocates the ‘see-judge-act’ model of Catholic social action. He states that ‘all institutions, including religious communities on the local, national, and international level must be open to thinking and acting in unprecedented ways.’ In his section ‘Living in Denial, Living a Lie,’ he offers studies that buttress the science of Van Susteren and Al-Dilany mentioned earlier, when discussing the double reality that arises from the avoidance of discussing ‘truths’ which make others feel ‘guilty, fearful and helpless.’ He argues that in so doing, we are essentially supporting the very systems that perpetuate the evils against God’s creation.

These past few years have seen the rise of student activism and groups like Extinction and Animal Rebellion and XR Elders. Many, including Miller, advocate non-violent direct action by religious groups. However, in response to this type of direct action, the British government at least, are looking at ways to limit legitimate protests, with the dangers to our freedom and liberty becoming increasingly obvious. It is not difficult to predict the banning of these types of protests as various elements of society take to the streets, just as they were doing pre Covid, demanding greater and faster action on climate instability. Such confrontations will be manipulated by malign forces/governments, with the almost inevitable outcome of increased levels of violence.

The question to ask here is what changes are available to us and once identified, will we be willing to make the necessary changes?  Last week a study from Ireland identified that whilst most citizens were concerned about climate change, they did not want to give up their cars, and saw no connection between climate change and their dietary choices. Yet there is a wealth of scientific evidence from numerous disciplines that indicate that by reducing or eliminating meat and dairy from their diets, individuals can produce meaningful reductions in GHG emissions and increase water and food security, without any confrontation or violence. The question remains as to whether we are smart enough to do so.


Essentially at this stage in the climate crisis, we have a numbers and efficiency issue. Despite numerous scientific and UN reports consistently informing us that a significant reduction in animal numbers, as a direct result in the reduction of meat/dairy consumption, is a highly effective way of tackling climate change, water depletion and environmental destruction, animal numbers continue to rise. Hundreds of millions of animals are raised, processed, and transported around the globe each year. Such numbers require huge amounts of land for food, most of the world’s water, and vast amounts of energy to produce, process, and transport them.

In efficiency terms, the use of grain and other human-edible food for non-human animal food, reduces the global food balance as livestock inefficiently convert grain into meat and milk. According to the FAO, they convert the carbohydrates and protein contained in grain into a smaller quantity of energy and protein than humans could have gained by directly consuming the grain. These figures are not insignificant and you would not run your family finances in this way. For example, for every 100 calories of human-edible cereals fed to animals, only 17-30 calories i.e., less than one third of the original potential energy, enter the human food chain, and for every 100 grams of grain protein fed to animals, just 43 grams – less than half, enter the human food chain as meat or milk. Similarly, 70 per cent of the wild fish used in animal feeds could instead be eaten directly by humans. The evidence is clear – the less animals we eat, the quicker we will reduce GHG emissions, the overuse of water, the destruction of our forests for grazing land and the depletion of the soil.

The alternative vegetarian/vegan diets are the opposite in all regards. They are economically viable and physically and psychologically beneficial, for they will also reduce our level of anxiety, as they facilitate some form of control and achievable goal at reducing climate instability. They are also entirely possible to follow without violence, conflict, or danger. This will however require an element of sacrifice for an unspecified period and herein lies its flaw.

If we look across the globe at the wars and the suffering that exists, we see a high level of avoidance strategies and tokenism by the richer countries and large corporations, but not only them, by us also. We refuse to make significant changes to adequately deal with the plight of the suffering poor, the suffering animals, and the suffering environment. This is not a surprise for we humans are not generally known for our altruism, but for our arrogance and greed. Norman Russel’s work on early Monasticism found that gluttony was a constant problem and remains so in wider society until today.

The fact that many ascetics were and are vegan/vegetarian ought to remind us of God’s original dietary choice and thus the most appropriate dietary path to follow. It is important to remember that whilst God gave us the dispensation to eat meat, it was just that. He does not command or force us to do so; we retain the freedom to follow God’s original dietary choice for us. It is also important to remember that whilst we may not be killing or rearing the animals in inhumane ways, by our choice/demand for cheap animal-based food products, we are part of the reason why such practices and processes exist and continue.

For those who can do so, and in the richer nations this is most of us, this simple, single action would result in saving the lives of billions of people, other species, ecosystems and resources like water and productive soil. One would like to think that if we were as smart or rational as Aristotle and his ilk would have us believe, we would eagerly grasp this nonviolent, achievable, and effective opportunity but I am not convinced that we will.


Faith groups can provide an alternative voice and vision for the future where the entire world is viewed as interconnected, delicately balanced, and sacred. They can offer a practical holistic approach, which includes spiritual and ethical guidance on the link between climate change, a flourishing creation, and socially responsible goals for a more balanced and just world. A vision that replaces the existing damaging energy and food production models with an integrated, regenerative, and distributive system that focuses on the intrinsic value and well-being of all created beings working in harmony and balance, and importantly, one that works for all and at ground level. The question of whether we will do so however remains. To end this lecture, I turn directly to each of you. Have you been convinced by my arguments? I suggest to you that if you are not, it is unlikely that enough people will make the necessary dietary transition to combat climate instability and social breakdown in the time left available to us, and the consequences of that is becoming increasingly obvious to all who have ears to hear and eyes to see.

[1] Eastern Orthodox Theology and Animal Suffering: Ancient Voices in Modern Theology. (Cambridge Scholars Publishing 2018)

[2] Arguably, the contemporary non-Orthodox debate on the Church’s responsibility for the environmental crisis began with White’s article in 1967 “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis.”

[3] Climate Crisis and Creation Care: Historical Perspectives, Ecological Integrity and Justice

Climate Crisis and Sustainable Creaturely Care: Integrated Theology, Governance and Justice