VEGGIE bacon. Oh, the controversy. Plant-based meat alternatives used to be regarded by foodies with the sort of disdain Carrie Johnson reserves for grey sofa cushions.

At our wedding 15 years ago, we served vegetarian bacon rolls to guests alongside the real thing, my husband being a lifelong veggie.

A friend who has munched his way through a field or two of ruminants in his time, couldn’t believe it. Plant protein was nothing like the real thing, he laughed, waving around his half-eaten bap.

It was a lovely moment when he realised he’d been eating veggie bacon without realising it.

The popularity of meat alternatives has increased significantly since then. When I spoke to my carnivorous friend for this piece, even he confessed to liking his cottage pie made with Quorn mince these days, which is a bit like hearing that Winnie the Pooh has a thing for artificial sweeteners.

We truly are in strange uncharted territory.

But our meat-reducing is not going far or fast enough to hold down global temperature rises, with the Committee on Climate Change (CCC) declaring that meat-eating in the UK needs to reduce by more than a third by 2050 (so far, we consume only six per cent less meat at home than we did in 1974). That means cutting back on a lot of KFC.

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This isn’t fiddling round the edges. Meat and dairy consumption matter to a quite staggering extent, accounting for 14.5 per cent of global emissions.

So should we all be more aware of this than we are? You might think so, but neither the UK nor the Scottish government is in a hurry to have this chat with us, far less reveal what might have to be done about our high carbon behaviour. A research paper produced by the UK government’s Nudge Unit suggesting ways to encourage people to eat less meat, fly less and adopt other changes, was deleted from the UK government’s website this week.

The Scottish Government meanwhile has been criticised for saying little about diet-change in its plans to tackle climate change.

Holyrood has a target of cutting emissions from agriculture by a quarter within a decade. To imagine that can be done without considering livestock emissions is “magical thinking”, the chief executive of the CCC, Chris Stark, has said.

Last month, the Climate Emergency Response Group of private, public and third sector leaders urged the Scottish Government to give the public urgent guidance on climate friendly diets.

No one is suggesting livestock should be deleted from the Scottish landscape but that farmers should be supported to diversify. Meat reducing is likely to have less of an impact on them than the UK’s new trade deals with Australia and New Zealand, set to bring cheap meat bearing thousands of food miles, into the country.

Flying is another tricky political issue. SNP transport minister Graeme Dey has called for “radical behaviour change” to reduce demand for aviation, but Scottish ministers are under fire for supporting a third runway at Heathrow at the same time, which would mean 75,000 more flights to Scotland from London by 2040.

There are two things going on here: fear that talking about changing personal behaviour will be unpopular with voters; and a feeling that trying to change people’s behaviour is fraught with risk and likely to end in failure anyway.

But those assumptions are wrong. The example of climate assemblies in both Scotland and elsewhere shows that people are motivated to act both individually and collectively to tackle climate change, if they are brought into the debate and feel part of the solution, which most don’t at the moment.

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And while it’s true that campaigns to promote healthy eating, tackle obesity and increase breastfeeding rates have had disappointing results after many years of effort, other behaviour change campaigns have had much more success. The trick, the experts would say, is to work with the psychological grain, not against it.

We already know that guilt-tripping people or asking them to make a choice that’s hard and inconvenient, is typically much less effective than making it easy and cheap for them to do the “right” thing.

But that doesn’t mean politicians don’t need to explain the rationale for change and the positive benefits of it. That’s still essential. A lower meat diet, for example, is a healthier diet. There’s always a focus on who loses out when a change is coming, like the smoking ban or plastic bag charge, but once it comes into force, the public quickly adapts and appreciates the benefits – provided the government has done the groundwork and explained in advance what those benefits are.

Unfortunately, the government of Boris Johnson in particular has a full-blown allergy to any form of public engagement that might be interpreted as nannying and has dug itself into a hole by indulging in the culture wars – playing up to Tory voters’ suspicion of anything that pits longer-term considerations like climate change against immediate concerns.

Ministers’ silence on this, however, is as unsustainable as our levels of meat consumption. So what can they do?

The UK government’s advisers in the Nudge Unit advocate changing the environment in which consumers make their choices by targeting businesses and then making it as easy as possible for consumers to make the “right” choices. This means doing things like putting environmental kitemarks and ratings systems on supermarkets and airlines, and putting emissions-per-portion on foods, to make businesses compete with one another to be more sustainable; it will almost certainly mean carbon taxes and a frequent flyer levy; and it will mean encouraging food producers and retailers to make plant-based food more accessible.

The sustainable choice should be normalised, and made cheap and convenient. Auto-enrolling people in pension schemes has normalised saving; minimum unit pricing for alcohol has reduced alcohol sales; and the sugar levy has reduced sugar consumption while requiring no change in buying habits by consumers: these policies demonstrate what works.

“When you put on the TV and parts of the world are burning, it brings the urgency of all this home,” said my meat-loving friend. He eats less beef and lamb now, but when he does, makes sure its locally produced and high quality.

There’s nothing very scary in that, now, is there?

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