Do you ever wonder how your daily decisions can make a measurable impact to reversing global warming? The power is literally in your hands, but you have to put down that burger and pick up a bean burrito. Why? Because raising livestock contributes at least 15% of direct global greenhouse gas emissions. When we include indirect emissions, like deforestation to create new cattle grazing land in developing countries, that figure jumps up to a whooping 50%!
Our obsession with animal protein has dire consequences for both the planet and our bodies. The average American consumes 36% more protein than they need. Most likely because it is artificially cheap. In 2013, the US government subsidies the livestock industry with $53 billion.
I’m seeing pro-vegetable messaging coming up a lot recently, and not a minute too late. If you are a foodie, you’ve probably heard Michael Pollen’s infamous quote from 2007, “Eat Food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Ten years later, August 2017, the Atlantic published an essay suggesting one easy habit change, beans over beef. I think that is a good place to start for people who shudder in fear over the the thought of going vegan. Keep eating fish, poultry, eggs, and dairy, but seriously consider how many servings of red meat you eat in a week. Could you cut it in half to do your part in reversing global warming?
This argument is supported by the facts above, which I pulled from my new favorite book, Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken. There is a whole chapter devoted to 16 food-based solutions to achievable reductions in greenhouse gases.
Out of the 80 solutions that have been rigorously modeled and calculated for both financial and environmental impacts, a plant rich diet ranks #4. That means it has one of the greatest impacts out of all the proposed measures. And we don’t all have to be vegans! We only need 50% of the world population to reduce meat consumption, and we can eliminate a total of 66 gigatons of CO2.
For comparison, transforming 30% of global rooftop square footage to green roofs and 60% to cool roofs only reduces 0.8 gigatons of CO2. That solution ranks pretty low at #73.
This book has been an eyeopener for me. Chiefly, because it puts scientific data behind our assumptions of ‘good ideas’ for reversing global warming so there’s no more speculation. The wow factor is that educating girls and keeping forests in tact are just as important-sometimes more-than driving electric cars.
Stay tuned to this blog and I’ll pull out some more gems from this extensive resource. Until then, stay green my friend, and check your teeth for kale.
References (these facts are all based on real science yo!):
Ranganathan, Janet, and Richard Waite. “Sustainable Diets: What You Need to Know in 12 Charts.” World Resources Institute. April 20, 2016.
FAO. Tackling Climate Change through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2013; Goodland, R., and J. Anhang, “Livestock and Climate Change. What If the Key Actors in Climate Change Were Pigs, Chickens and Cows?” World Watch, November/December 2009.
Ranganathan, Janet, et al. “Shifting Diets for a Sustainable Food Future.” Working Paper, Installment 11 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. Washington, D.C.: World Resources Institute, 2016.
Carrington, Damian. “Meat Tax Far Less Unpalatable Than Government Thinks, Research Finds.” The Guardian. November 23, 2015.