What if one day everybody on earth pulled their forks away from their steaks and turned vegan? Whether for the sake of a healthier lifestyle or alleviate animals from suffering or to fight global warming, everyone has found their own reason to say no to a juicy burger, a fluffy omelet or a cheesy pizza. Even ice cream makes the no-no list. Would a vegan diet save the planet from climate change?
Your fridge might seem an unlikely setting for the fight against global warming, but did you know that food is responsible for over one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions? What’s more, meat and dairy make up the vast majority of that carbon footprint.
The UN says that farmed livestock accounts for 14.5% ofall man-made greenhouse gas emissions. To put that into perspective, the BBC reported that this is roughly equivalent to the exhaust emissions of every car, train, ship, and aircraft on the planet.
If we all went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would drop by 70% by 2050 according to a recent report on food and climate in the journalProceedings of National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The study’s authors from Oxford University put the economic value of these emissions savings at around $440 billion.
Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction.
The new study, published in the journal Science, is one of the most comprehensive analyses to date into the detrimental effects farming can have on the environment and included data on nearly 40,000 farms in 119 countries.
The findings reveal that meat and dairy production is responsible for 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products themselves providing just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein levels around the world.
With healthier plant-focused diets, healthcare savings and reductions in lost work could amount to as much as a trillion dollars per year. Overall, with the monetary value that society places on premature deaths, switching to more plant-based diets could save somewhere between one and 31 trillion dollars—up to 13 percent of the projected global GDP in 2050. Following global dietary guidelines could avert 5.3 million deaths, while a vegetarian diet could prevent 7.3 million and a vegan diet 8.1 million.
As PETA discusses, animal agriculture contributes to climate change by feeding massive amounts of grain and water to farmed animals and then killing them and processing, transporting, and storing their flesh is extremely energy-intensive. And forests—which absorb greenhouse gases—are cut down in order to supply pastureland and grow crops for farmed animals. Finally, the animals themselves and all the manure that they produce release even more greenhouse gases into our atmosphere.
Greenhouse-Gas Emissions increase with carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide - all-powerful greenhouse gases, and together, they cause the vast majority of climate change.
Carbon Dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels (such as oil and gasoline) releases carbon dioxide. Since it takes, on average, about 11 times as much fossil fuel to produce a calorie of animal protein as it does to produce a calorie of grain protein, considerably more carbon dioxide is released. Researchers acknowledge that “it is more ‘climate efficient’ to produce protein from vegetable sources than from animal sources.”
The billions of animals who are crammed onto U.S. factory farms each year produce enormous amounts of methane. Ruminants—such as cows, sheep, and goats—produce the gas while they digest their food, and it’s also emitted from the acres of cesspools filled with the feces that pigs, cows, and other animals on these farms excrete. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has shown that animal agriculture is globally the single largest source of methane emissions and that, pound for pound, methane is more than 25 times as effective as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in our atmosphere.
But alas, the world doesn't look to be giving up meat anytime soon, even if by 2050 food production will account for half of the allotted carbon budget that must be maintained in order to keep the world from warming by 2 degrees Celsius. Combined with all the other sources of greenhouse gases, even following global dietary guidelines won't be enough to keep us under the limit. The study authors suggest that working toward a more plant-based diet is the best place to start.
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