TL;DR: If we all stopped eating animals, food-related emissions would be cut by up to 70%; we actually don’t need to eat animals, so just stopping is a simple way to cut enormous amounts of emissions; don't let "perfect" get in the way of "good" but just start doing something; totally doable actions and helpful tools at the end.
There’s no getting around it: animal agriculture is incredibly destructive to our planet. Here’s a neat summary of a landmark study across 119 countries, published by The Guardian in 2018:
"The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing."
(Get the full study here.)
A simple way to see the impact of what you eat is this awesome climate change food calculator, which gives you a quick (and fun!) comparison of the environmental impact of different foods. Go play with it now before you read further!
A study conducted by the Oxford Martin School (Oxford University) recently found that a hypothetical global adoption of a vegan diet by 2050 would cut food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 70%.
SEVENTY PER CENT!
(They also projected economic benefits to the tune of 570 billion US dollars and a reduction of global mortality by up to 10% in this scenario, but that’s just icing on the cake.)
The researchers acknowledged that these outcomes would require ‘significant changes in the global food system’, which is obviously not a simple matter. However, the logistical problem of everybody going vegan overnight (an extreme, unlikely scenario) doesn’t constitute an excuse for us to throw up our hands and do nothing at all.
The study modelled four scenarios to the year 2050: a “business as usual” (what we’re currently actually eating globally); a scenario based on current dietary guidelines (no, that’s not what we’re eating currently—we don’t obey the guidelines!); a global vegetarian diet and a global vegan diet.
As is to be expected, the scenarios generated incrementally better outcomes:
(Get the full study here.)
The bottom line: we can do the most good, most quickly, if we just stop eating animals. And if that sounds too hard all at once, we need to just start somewhere.
But don’t we need to eat meat?
The short answer is “no”. Here’s a statement from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (the largest organisation of nutrition professionals in the United States, representing over 100,000 accredited practitioners):
“It is the position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that appropriately-planned vegetarian, including vegan, diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits for the prevention and treatment of certain diseases. These diets are appropriate for all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, adolescence, older adulthood, and for athletes. Plant-based diets are more environmentally sustainable than diets rich in animal products because they use fewer natural resources and are associated with much less environmental damage.”
What about just adhering to the guidelines? That would cut emissions by 29%, right? Meat is still a standard inclusion in dietary recommendations the world over. But in reality, you’re probably eating WAY more than is recommended by health professionals.
The Australian Dietary Guidelines recommend adults consume between 2-3 serves daily from the “lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes, beans” group. Two important things to note:
The "global planetary health diet", developed by an international commission of independent scientists and health professionals from around the world, allows for small amounts of animal flesh: no more than 98g of red meat, 203g of poultry and 102g of fish per week. It recommends we “embrace plants as a source of protein” instead, and consume at least 125g (measured dry – that’s a MASSIVE amount!) of legumes per day.
Humans don't need to eat animals, so please consider cutting out animal products for the planet. The single most impactful thing you can do alone is to just stop eating animals, and encourage other people to just stop too.
Tools to help!
Try this climate-friendly eating app and take the Climatarian challenge.
Contact me and request a copy of my e-book, “Easy Peasy Plant-Based Eating” which includes a vegan nutrition guide. I’ll send you one for free.
Download these 101 vegan meal ideas.
Pledge to go meat and dairy-free for 21 days this September with 1 Million Women.
P.S. Which is worse for the planet, beef or cars?