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If you eat less meat, your mouth can help to stop climate change

If you eat less meat, your mouth can help to stop climate change

Your mouth can help stop climate change -- if it eats less meat

A new study has shown that eliminating the use animals as food would dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and give us a fighting chance against climate change. Researchers called for a massive switch to a plant-based diet, as the replacement of fossil fuels for renewables won’t be enough to meet climate goals.  

Image credit: Flickr / Steven Penton

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) recognizes animal agriculture. 14.5%This is nearly all of the emissions, but it is close. It is not to be underestimated. Animal agriculture is a large part of our total agricultural emissions. Research is showing that we can reduce our consumption of animal products (especially) red meat) could make a real difference.

Methane (CH4), nitrous oxide and N2O are the main contributors to animal agriculture’s emissions. They are more potent than CO2 and decay faster. While these emissions can be reduced by increasing efficiency and yields, for example, this won’t have the same impact as a transition to a plant-rich diet, the researchers argue. 

“We wanted to answer a very simple question: What would be the impact of a global phase-out of animal agriculture on atmospheric greenhouse gases and their global-heating impact?” Patrick Brown, founder and CEO of Impossible Foods and a professor emeritus at Stanford University, who co-authored the paper, said in a statement.

Rejecting beef 

Brown and Michael Eisen, a professor in genetics at UC Berkeley used publicly available data about livestock production, livestock-linked emission, and biomass recovery potential of land currently used for livestock to predict how the elimination of global animal agriculture production will affect net anthropogenic emissions. 

Then, they used a simple climate modeling tool to predict how these changes will impact the evolution and temperature of the atmosphere for the remainder of the century. They calculated the combined impact of reduced emissions and biomass recovery by comparing the reduction of emissions under different livestock replacement scenarios. 

The researchers considered four scenarios for dietary change: replacing all animal agriculture with a plant-based one, one that is more gradual, one that is more realistic, one that takes 15 years to transition to plant-based diets, as well as forms of each to replace beef by plant-based products. For each scenario, they assumed that non agriculture emissions would remain high.

Based on their climate model the researchers estimated that phasing in animal agriculture over the next 15-years would cut 68% CO2 emissions by 2100. This would result in 52% of the emission reduction needed to limit global warming at 2 degrees Celsius, which is the goal set forth in the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. 

“The combined effect is both astoundingly large, and – equally important – fast, with much of the benefit realized by 2050,” Brown said in a statement. “If animal agriculture were phased out over 15 years and all other greenhouse-gas emissions were to continue unabated, the phase-out would create a 30-year pause in net emissions.”

Brown and Eisen acknowledge, however, that the transition away animal agriculture will face many hurdles and present additional challenges. The production of meat, eggs, and dairy products is a key component of human diets worldwide. More than a billion people rely on animal agriculture for their livelihood.

It will take a large global investment to ensure that those who depend on animal agriculture for their livelihood do not suffer. The policymakers will need to invest to prevent food insecurity in areas where there is limited access to healthy, plant-based foods. 

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According to the USDA, animal products provide a source of protein and nutrients that are not currently available. Recent FAO dataThey argue that 18% of the calories, 40% protein and 45% fat in the human food supply are not required to feed the global population. Existing crops could replace the calories and protein from animals, while having a much lower environmental impact. 

“We have shown that global dietary change provides a powerful complement to the indispensable transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy systems. The challenge we face is not choosing which to pursue, but rather in determining how best to overcome the many social, economic and political challenges to implement both,” the researchers wrote. 

It’s fair to say that Brown, as the founder of Impossible Foods, would likely benefit economically from the reduction of animal agriculture. However, his findings are based on academic research. They are in line with Many previous studies These studies have shown over the years that the climate footprint of food production has been significant and that it is urgently needed to be addressed.

The study was published in the journal PLOS Climate

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