Many cities and even countries have started to recognize these essential facts, and to acknowledge that changing our diet is critical, especially to prevent the continuation of global warming. By pushing plant-based food consumption and supporting alternative protein development, some governments, at the local, state or national level, have started to take important steps to reduce meat consumption.
The evidence is in. Yet, another study shows that the plant-based diet is best for the environment when it comes to global warming. Producing the food for a plant-based diet causes less global warming than any other diet. This study specifically compared the plant-based or vegan diet to the vegetarian diet, the standard American diet, the Paleo and the Keto diets.
To understand the results of the latest study we need to get technical for a minute. The way to say how much greenhouse gas is emitted in any “farm to your dinner table” diet is to measure it in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalents for every 1,000 Calories. The lower the number the less greenhouse gas is emitted. The lower the number the better for the environment. Here’s how the different diets stack up. The plant-based, or vegan diet, comes out as having the least greenhouse at 0.69. Next comes the vegetarian diet at 1.66. Then it gets much worse. The typical American meat centered diet hits the environment at 2.23 But the worst diets, in terms of global warming, were the Paleo diet at 2.62 and last place goes to the Keto at 2.91.
In a new report “The Breakthrough Effect” published for the World Economic Forum, three key “super-leverage” points have been identified as accelerating the move toward zero emissions across ten of the highest emitting sectors in the world economy. The public purchasing of plant-based proteins is identified as one of these super-leverage points, because of the impact of reducing meat production on the world’s rainforests in particular.
With time running out to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade, the report produced by an international team in conjunction with the University of Exeter, shows how parts of the global economy could move rapidly towards zero emissions by using government actions as super-leverage points. The three key actions they identify are:
the mandate of the sale of electric vehicles,
requiring green ammonia to be used in the manufacture of fertilizers,
and, most significantly for us, the public purchasing of plant-proteins.
A tipping point is reached when a low-carbon solution is able to outcompete its higher-carbon alternative, creating a feedback loop that supports the low-carbon solution, thus influencing transitions in multiple sectors of the economy simultaneously. In the case of plant-based proteins, a tipping point may be triggered once plant-based alternatives cost the same amount as animal protein and can offer an equivalent attractiveness (taste, texture, nutrition).
If global government purchasing (in hospitals, schools, prisons and government departments for example) of plant-based alternatives to high-carbon emitters, such as meat and dairy, is required, this could rapidly increase demand and help producers reach the economies of scale needed to bring costs down. It would also introduce millions of people to plant-based foods and help to shift social norms around meat consumption.
Researchers say that changing the market on this scale could free up 400-800 million hectares of land, equivalent to 7-15% of global agriculture land today, which would provide more land for carbon storage and biodiversity, while drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting incentives for deforestation.
The report concludes that the scale and pace of the economic transitions required to meet climate change goals are unprecedented in human history. While they cannot guarantee the outcome, the report writers urge policymakers to take decisions, such as switching public purchasing of food to plant-based proteins, and to act without delay!
Big meat emits more methane, a potent greenhouse gas, than big oil. If the 15 big meat companies were treated as a country, a recent report noted, it would be the 10th-largest greenhouse gas-emitting jurisdiction in the world. Their combined emissions outpace those of oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, researchers found.
The analysis from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and Changing Markets Foundation found that emissions by the companies – five meat and 10 dairy corporations – equate to more than 80% of the European Union’s entire methane footprint and account for 11.1% of the world’s livestock-related methane emissions.
Methane, expelled by cows and their manure, is far more potent than carbon dioxide, trapping heat 80 times more effectively and emissions are accelerating rapidly, according to the UN. According to the UN, cutting methane is the “strongest lever” we have to slow global heating. A University of Oxford study published in 2018 found that a 90 percent reduction in beef consumption was needed to avoid climate breakdown. In April 2022, a UN report also stated that the world must eat less meat.
Despite this, many world leaders, along with the general public, have been reluctant to accept that our diets are unsustainable. This year’s annual UN climate conference – COP27 – once again drew controversy for serving beef. The decision was blasted by The Vegan Society, which called it “disappointing.”
The US has resisted regulating farm methane emissions, choosing instead to offer voluntary incentives to farmers and companies for reducing greenhouse gasses. But change is unlikely unless the Environmental Protection Agency is allowed to regulate those emissions, said Cathy Day, climate policy coordinator with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. The 15 companies studied are based in 10 countries, five of which have increased livestock methane emissions in the past decade, the report said. China’s emissions have increased 17%, far more than other countries.
The effect of animal agriculture goes far beyond methane when it comes to global warming. It’s one of the biggest drivers of deforestation, due to the pressure to clear forests to raise crops for animal feed or provide grazing land. In addition, animal agriculture is one of the biggest users of fossil fuels, used to plant, fertilize and harvest the animal feed, transport the animals to slaughter, to meat processing plants before being send to grocery stores.
The only solution to reducing the greenhouse gases and devastation caused by animal agriculture is for everyone to stop eating animal products.
Earlier this month, Alaska announced that it had canceled the entire snow crab harvest for the year. The sudden shutdown of the snow crab season has left the state shocked.
The population of the species, which lives in the cold waters of the Bering Sea, has fallen below the regulatory threshold for the first time, so they cancelled the harvest in the hope of reviving the species. The crab count was 8 million in 2018 and fell to only 1 million in 2021. The sharp drop is due in part to aggressive commercial fishing, but climate change is a more likely culprit. These creatures thrive in water temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. The worry is that the waters will not be cold enough to sustain these crustaceans.
Major cities all over the world are being encouraged to adopt the Plant-Based Treaty to shift their communities to climate-friendly plant-based diets. Los Angeles is one of the first cities, and the largest one in the US, to sign the treaty, following a meeting by the LA City Council last month where they unanimously voted to adopt the Plant-Based Treaty.
This vote was taken prior to the C40 World Mayors Summit, where mayors of the world’s largest cities meet to discuss climate mitigation strategies, which took place in Buenos Aires last month. It brought together almost 100 mayors from major cities around the world, including London, Hong Kong, and Copenhagen. They met either in person or virtually. A group of almost 200 organizations and businesses urged the mayors to shift their communities to climate-friendly diets, and to demonstrate their commitment by signing their city up to the Plant-Based Treaty and the Good Food Cities Declaration. Alongside these commitments, continued alignment with the 19 “best practices” that define the C40 group, including taxing high-emission foods such as meat and making plant-based foods the default option on menus, is expected.
The food we consume has a massive impact on our planet. According to one analysis, based on UN data, the diet that helps fight global warming the most, by having the least greenhouse emissions, is the vegan diet followed by a vegetarian diet. You can see how the different diets stack up when it comes to global warming in the graph below.
When it comes to global warming we need to move fast if we are to avoid the worst consequences of global warming. A switch to a plant-based diet may be just what we need to avoid the worst consequences of global warming.
America is thirsty. But there’s something powerful we can all do to help quench that thirst.
First, let’s unpack some stats. 43% of the U.S. and 51% of the lower 48 states are currently in drought. 234 million acres of cropland in U.S. is experiencing drought. 130 million people in the U.S. are currently affected by drought this week. It’s a big problem.
What can we do about it? After all we can’t change the weather. True, but we can change what we eat and it turns out that may be more effective than anything else. Eating vegetarian foods saves a huge amount of water because producing meat is so water-intensive compared to plant foods.
The earth needs you. More and more businesses and multinational organizations are sending us the same message: a plant-based diet is vital and necessary for a sustainable environment. One of the latest is the global management consulting firm, Boston Consulting Group (BCG), which published a report entitled, “Food for Thought: The Untapped Climate Opportunity in Alternative Proteins.”
Investing in plant-based foods can make a big difference. According to BCG’s report, investments in plant-based alternatives result in 11 times more greenhouse gas reductions than those in zero-emission cars. They also come out on top when compared with green cement technology and green building investments. “There’s been a lot of investments into electric vehicles, wind turbines, and solar panels, which is all great and helpful to reduce emissions” says BCG’s M. Clausen. He goes on to say, “We have not seen comparable investment yet [in alternative proteins], even though it’s rising rapidly,” he added. “If you really care about impact as an investor, this is an area that you definitely need to understand.”
Many people advocate buying local as a way to reduce the greenhouse gases causing climate change. Buying from local or regional farmers who grow and raise your food, so that it doesn’t have to be shipped a long distance, saves the CO2 used in transportation, but in fact doing so only saves about 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases that are generated in growing and processing most of the food we eat, according to an expert who has analyzed where most of the climate impact of our food comes from.
It’s the kind of food that ends up on the truck that determines the carbon footprint, explains Sandra Noonan, the Chief Sustainability Officer of Just Salad, a restaurant chain, and it is one more reason to switch to a plant-based diet. Supporting local farmers is always a good idea, but it doesn’t have a huge impact on our carbon footprint, since most of the greenhouse gases generated in producing food happen earlier than the final step of trucking it to your local market or store.