Eliminate animal agriculture, stop global warming!

Cattle eating hay through bars in barn.

Eliminating animal agriculture over the next 15 years would effectively stop global warming in its tracks — largely halting the increase of greenhouse gases for the next 30 years, according to a recent study.

According to this study, the largest contributor to that decrease in warming the planet would be a massive expansion in prairie, forest and grassland as the global economy converts away from land-dependent practices like cattle-raising, said co-author of the study Patrick Brown. According to Brown, we have long known that animal agriculture is a potent source of greenhouse gasses, primarily as a result of methane and nitrous oxide released from livestock waste. The change in land use adds to that.

These are bigger problems than the carbon dioxide released from tailpipes and smokestacks. Methane warms the atmosphere between 25 and 80 times more intensely than carbon dioxide, which it gradually degrades into, according to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) data. Another gas rising from manure pits and fertilizer into the atmosphere, nitrous oxide, is even worse. Its heating effect is about 260 times as much as carbon dioxide, according to the IPCC. By putting together these two factors — the reduction in emissions with the increase in wildlands – the study found that the global switch to a plant-based diet would have the same effect as cutting carbon dioxide emissions by 68 percent.

Since the primary source of carbon dioxide is the burning of fossil fuels in cars and powerplants, eliminating animal foods would also buy disproportionate time – and time is of the essence when it comes to global warming. According to Brown, “Reducing or eliminating animal agriculture should be at the top of the list of potential climate solutions.” Meanwhile, livestock takes up about 80 percent of the world’s agricultural land, although it provides less than 20 percent of the calories in the world diet, according to Our World in Data. A change in land use has many potential benefits.