Eat less meat to save Earth?

Plant-based diets could see emissions fall by 8bn tonnes a year

reason.com

Why Giving Up Meat Won't Have Much of an Effect on Climate Change

Meat

Going vegetarian would reduce a person's greenhouse gas emissions by around 2 percent

The idea that giving up meat could help prevent climate change is gaining traction in American media. "Want to Save the Planet? Go Vegan Study Says," a Newsweek headline last year. The study, published in Science, found that "moving from current diets to a diet that excludes animal products has transformative potential," including the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from food production by half.

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Climate crisis: Eat less meat to save the Earth?

By Daniel J. McLaughlin

As the climate crisis continues, people are looking for ways to cut down on their carbon emissions.

A change in your diet can help reduce the greenhouse gases you are emitting. A UN report recommends cutting meat out of your diet to change how we produce food and the land we use.

However, others warn that it will have a minimal impact.

The Claim

Eating less meat and cutting food waste could reduce climate change, according to a new report by the United Nations.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global temperatures will not be kept at safe levels unless we change the way we produce food and manage land.

The report says that global carbon emissions could fall by up to 8 billion tonnes a year, if people switched to a plant-based diet.

By 2050, dietary changes could free millions of square kilometres of land.

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chair of the IPCC's working group on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability, said: "We don’t want to tell people what to eat.

"But it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect."

The Counterclaim

However, Bjorn Lomborg, president of the Copenhagen Consensus Center thinktank, says that meat-eaters should not be shamed by vegetarian environmentalists.

In an article for USA Today, he argues that giving up meat does not have much of an effect on climate change.

Lomborg, who is a vegetarian, explains that the headlines that describe how vegetarians cut their carbon footprint by half can be "misleading".

He writes: "First, that cut isn’t to our entire emissions - just those from food. That means four-fifths of emissions are ignored, according to an analysis of emission from the European Union, which means the impact is actually five-times lower.

"Second, the more optimistic figures about how much of your emissions you can cut are based not just on a vegetarian diet, but on an entirely vegan one where we avoid every single animal product altogether."

Lomborg adds that a non-meat diet will likely reduce your emissions by around 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide. That's a cut of emissions by just 4.3 per cent.

The Facts

While estimates vary, the BBC reports that lifestock is responsible for up to 14 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions from human activities.

Farming generates carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide (from fertilisers and wastes to soil), and methane from animals belching. The latter produces the equivalent of 3.1 gigatonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere every year.

Beef is the most damaging of all foods in terms of emissions, followed by lamb, farmed prawns, chocolate, farmed fish and pork. A 2017 study calculated that each kilogram of beef consumed in the United States produces 26.5 kilograms of carbon emissions - five times more than chicken or turkey.

According to the National Geographic, producing beef uses 20 times the land and 20 times the emissions as growing beans (per gram of protein). It also requires more than 10 times more resources than producing chicken.

A reduction in the consumption of beef has produced results. Americans now consumed 19 per cent less beef than they did in 2005, resulting in a reduction of 185 million metric tonnes of emissions - the equivalent if 39 million fewer cars on the roads.

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www.nature.com

Eat less meat: UN climate change report calls for change to human diet

Efforts to curb greenhouse gas-emissions and the impacts of global warming will fall significantly short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets, leading researchers warn in a high-level report commissioned by the United Nations.

The special report on climate and land by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) describes plant-based diets as a major opportunity for mitigating and adapting to climate change ― and includes a policy recommendation to reduce meat consumption.

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