How Meat Is Causing Global Warming
Are Our Diets Killing The World In Addition To Ourselves?
It’s no big secret that meat is bad for you, or milk for that matter. Yet, is the world’s obsession with eating other species killing off our dear planet also? Scientists seem to think so. Most of us are aware that our cars, our coal-generated electric power and even our cement factories adversely affect the environment. Until recently, however, the foods we eat had gotten a pass in the discussion. Yet according to a 2006 report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), our diets and, specifically, the meat in them cause more greenhouse gases carbon dioxide (CO2), methane, nitrous oxide, and the like to spew into the atmosphere than either transportation or industry.
The ‘inconvenient truth’ is that beef is slowly killing the planet in addition to ourselves. Climate change is speeding up because of the ever increasing demand for livestock, and the forests are not safe either.
In three decades, emissions related to agriculture and food production are likely to account for about half of the world’s available “carbon budget” – the limited amount of carbon dioxide and its equivalents that can be poured into the atmosphere if we are to hold global warming to no more than 2C.
While energy generation, transport and buildings have long been a target for governments, businesses and campaigners looking to reduce emissions, the impact from food production has often been left out. But on current trends, with intensive agriculture increasingly geared towards livestock rearing, food production will be a major concern.
The research, led by scientists at the Oxford Martin School, found that shifting to a mostly vegetarian diet, or even simply cutting down meat consumption to within accepted health guidelines, would make a large dent in greenhouse gases.
Adhering to health guidelines on meat consumption could cut global food-related emissions by nearly a third by 2050, the study found, while widespread adoption of a vegetarian diet would bring down emissions by 63%.
The additional benefit of going further, with the widespread adoption of veganism, brought a smaller incremental benefit, with emissions falling by about 70% in the projections.
However, beef needs significantly more resources (e.g. land, fertilizer, and water) than other sources of protein source go to.
Eschel et al. 2014 estimated that producing beef requires 28 times more land, 6 times more fertilizer and 11 times more water than producing pork or chicken. As a result, the study estimated that producing beef releases 4 times more greenhouse gases than a calorie-equivalent amount of pork, and 5 times as much as an equivalent amount of poultry.
Eating vegetables produces lower greenhouse gas emissions yet. For example, potatoes, rice, and broccoli produce approximately 3–5 times lower emissions than an equivalent mass of poultry and pork (Environmental Working Group 2011).
The reason is simple – it’s more efficient to grow a crop and eat it than to grow a crop, feed it to an animal as it builds up muscle mass, then eat the animal.