If the world stopped producing meat and dairy products and switched to a plant-based diet system in the next 15 years, it could reduce greenhouse gas emissions enough to cancel out all other economic sectors’ emissions for the next 30-50 years.
That’s according to Research in progressToday’s publication in the journal PLOS Climate. The paper’s authors say such a shift would “substantially alter the trajectory of global warming,” as animal agriculture is estimated to account for around 15 percent of global greenhouse gases emissions.
Pat Brown, a professor emeritus of biochemistry at Stanford University and the founder and CEO of the plant-based meat company Impossible Foods, and Michael Eisen, a professor of genetics and development at the University of California Berkeley, modeled the long-term “climate opportunity cost” of Continue reading Production of business-as usual meat and dairy products. (Seafood’s environmental impact was not included in the analysis.)
First, they calculated the effects of ending animal agriculture — and the high levels of methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide emissions it generates — and replacing it with a plant-only food system.
But direct emissions aren’t animal agriculture’s only contribution to climate change; 30 percent of the Earth’s land is used to either raise farmed animals or to grow crops to feed them. The report’s authors model that restoring or “Rewilding” all of that land to ecological health would create a massive carbon sink, capturing and storing carbon that otherwise would’ve added to climate change.
“There is an amazing potential to do something that no other existing scalable technology has, which is to actually reduce atmospheric levels of all three major greenhouse gases [methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide],” said Eisen. “[It’s] something we have to do.”
“The current levels of these greenhouse gases are enough to send us over the edge from a climatic sense,” he added. “It’s no longer enough to just stop putting stuff into the atmosphere — we have to go backward.”
It is unlikely that a 15-year-long phase-out of meats and dairy will ever happen. And it’s worth noting that a massive shift to plant-based eating would financially benefit Brown and Eisen. Brown’s Impossible Foods is a Highly valuedEisen is an adviser to the company. Both are shareholders in company. The paper discloses the conflicts of interest of both authors.
Matthew Hayek, an assistant professor of environmental studies at New York University, believes that science is solid, despite the conflict of interest. He was a recent graduate of the University’s Environmental Studies Program. Vox contributor.
“Your background doesn’t necessarily have to impact the rigor of your results. To me, this looks like a rigorous analysis of how earth’s atmosphere would physically respond to such a drastic change in agriculture and emissions,” Hayek explained to me. “But your funding affects the scope and gamut of research questions that you ask, and the manner in which you aim to solve those questions.” That goes for both pro-meatAnti-meat researchers.
Brown He encourages skepticism. “You should be skeptical, and you should take into account any conflict of interest for authors. I always do that,” he said. “But the great thing about it is, you can check the data analysis, and you can do it yourself.”
Brown’s financial stakes are significant, but the global stakes are important for all. ResearchIt has been shown that even if all fossil fuel use and emissions are eliminated, it doesn’t mean we can eliminate them all. other sectors), the world will not reach the Paris climate agreement’s target of keeping the increase in global temperature to 1.5°C or 2°C above pre-industrial levels.
In other words, reducing meat and dairy production isn’t just a nice-to-have in the effort to avert the worst effects of climate change, it’s a significant part of the global toolbox. It is imperative that humanity acts quickly.
“The rapidity is just as important as the magnitude,” Brown told me. “Every single day we’re not doing something about it, we’re getting further and further down the road to irreversible damage.”
It’s obvious but has to be restated: A 15-year phase-out of meat and dairy production is something that is only likely to happen in an academic model. It would be logistically impossible. It would also require significant state intervention, which would be a political nonstarter. Regulating meat production and consumption would be feasible. All Political Toxic.
It would also make it impossible for the recipient to transition. Estimated 2 Billion PeopleMost people in the global South raise their own livestock for income and food, but they consume far less meat than those in rich countries.
Why did Brown & Eisen create a 15 year phase-out? They said they want the climate community to pay more attention to the food system’s role in the climate crisis. Eisen said he hopes the impact would be “for people to realize just what kind of potential climate benefit we’re sitting on.”
Brown opposes politics This mandates and insists on this shift being market-driven. It can be done, pointing out historical precedents like the Rapid transitionDigital cameras are now available. But the market alone couldn’t make such a swift change happen; plant-based meat accounts for less than 1 percentThe global meat market is today. Big FoodSelling more plant-based meats and dairy, but not fast sufficient to change the food system.
According to the Good Food Institute, an organization that advocates for plant based meat and dairy alternatives (a non-profit), the sector may even have difficulty sourcing and manufacturing enough ingredients. Meet the 2030 demandIn the late 2030s, the food industry will be dominated by a few.
The study serves more usefully as a thought experiment, illustrating meat and dairy’s enormous carbon footprint, how much humanity would benefit from shifting to plant-based eating, and, hopefully, spurring efforts to reimagine how we produce protein with a growing global population that is Every year, we eat more meat.
It’s a challenge governments and corporations — and the consumers who Keep eating more meat — We have largely ignored them at our peril, producing more burgers and wings, and rack up a climate bill future generations will be left with to pay.
The complicated mechanics of shifting diets
This isn’t the first study to suggest how a completely different food system might alter the course of climate changes. A similar study was published last month. PaperPublished in Nature FoodThe study found that 54 high-income countries would adopt the EAT-Lancet diet — a primarily plant-based diet — they could cut their emissions from food by nearly two-thirds.
But Brown and Eisen’s research is new in that it looks at the emissions savings from globally phasing out meat and dairy and how it would, in essence, cancel out the yearly forecasted increase in total greenhouse gases from all other sources, like energy and transportation, For between 30 and 50 years.
Other changes, such as improving agricultural yields, can be made to reduce Food waste, and reducing the emission intensity of livestock production would help minimize the food system’s environmental toll, the study authors say, but they wouldn’t have near the same effect as phasing out livestock production.
Eisen and Brown also found that 90% of the emissions reduction could be achieved simply by reducing the production of ruminant animal like sheep, cows, and lamb. Ruminants emit high levels of methane, which is a greenhouse gas more potent than carbon dioxide.
But there are other things. Vox’s Kelsey Piper has writtenAlthough poultry may be more efficient from an environmental perspective, the industry is a welfare disaster for animals. Chickens are treated much worse than cattle because they’re so small and they’re farmed in much higher numbers. (Globally, there are 68 billion chickens(Compared to 302 million cattle, these animals are far more likely to be raised each year.) Piper calls it “Swapping one moral disaster for the next.”
How would a phase-out for many of the poorest people in the world, who depend on livestock production for their survival, work? The study does not provide a comprehensive investigation of this critical question, but it does get some attention.
“The transition away from animal agriculture will face many obstacles and create many challenges,” the authors write. “Meat, dairy, and eggs are a major component of global human diets, and the raising of livestock is integral to rural economies worldwide, with more than a billion people making all or part of their living from animal agriculture.”
The authors add that “substantial global investment will be required to ensure that the people who currently make a living from animal agriculture do not suffer when it is reduced or replaced.” But it’s unclear where such substantial investment would come from.
Brown replied that subsistence agriculture is a significant part of the global populace. Is shrinking, “and that train is not going to stop,” and points to the West as the main culprit of high food emissions, where a shift to plant-based eating would make the biggest impact for the climate.
Apart from the logistical and politically impossible task of eliminating meat and dairy production within 15 years, rewilding land that was used to house and feed animals would also face steep economic and political hurdles.
There are many ways to make money. major voluntary British efforts underway to do just this, which has seen some success, but it’s also rankled some farmers who Do not be alarmed they’ll be forced to change farming practices and be excluded from key decisions on how UK land is used.
We’d still need land to support a plant-based food system, but far less, according to Brown and Eisen. Right now, about one-third of Earth’s land is used to feed or house farmed animals, but if everything we ate was directly derived from plants, Brown and Eisen say we’d only need to use 7 percent of it.
Solutions to increase plant-based diets in the near-term
Consumers are expressing excitement about it, that’s for sure Plant-based foodsThis is partly due to the more realistic-tasting replicas made by Impossible Foods (and other startups) of burgers and eggs as well as poultry.
The plant-based sector is Growing rapidlyBig Food is beginning to include plant-based foods in its wider climate pledges. Panera Bread and Burger King UK, for example, are aiming to make plant-based food a part of their menus 50 percent vegetarianIn the coming years, Tesco, a major European grocery retailer, plans to increase its plant-based foods sales by 300 percent by 2025. KFC has introduced meatless chicken nationwide last month, and McDonald’s McPlant burger, made with Beyond Meat, lands in 600 locations on February 14.
These types of pledges and launches are not additive. Big Food isn’t committing to reduce meat and dairy production in the way that large automakers are Transforming their gas-powered fleets from gas to electricPlant-based meats still make up less than 1 percentThe retail market.
Education and framing can help. Research is ongoingWorld Resources Institute, an environmental nonprofit, found that consumers are twice as likely to choose vegetarian options when they see information on restaurant menus about beef’s environmental impact.
Prices for meat from plantsThe prices of plant-based boosters are dropping, which should influence consumer uptake. However, the impact may not be as significant as one might hope. According to ResearchThe Breakthrough Institute, a tech-focused environmental think-tank, estimates that a 10 percent decrease in the price plant-based meat could increase plant-based meat consumption by 23 percent. However, it would only reduce cattle production 0.15 percent.
The organization said that while the politics surrounding meat are firmly established today, that could change very quickly. Plant- and cell-based meats and dairy alternatives could be much more delicious and cost-competitive than animal meat. Social, corporate, and political barriersThe argument against widespread adoption could begin to weaken.
Brown says that this change must be market-driven. “Try to regulate [meat], you get thrown out of office,” he said. “Try and force people to change their diets, you’re not going to be their friend anymore. It has to be market-driven.”
Eventually — for the reasons Brown and Eisen have bluntly laid out — governments will need to craft policy to change meat and dairy production in order to reach climate targets, especially those of high-income countries, which emit an outsized proportion of the global share of greenhouse gas emissions. Influencing consumer behavior and what’s available on fast-food menus and grocery store shelves — market-driven approaches — will be critical, but can only do so much.