Tag Archives: climate change

Land use and climate change

Land use - grass and trees

A major UN report, Creating a Sustainable Food Future, addressing land use and climate change, states that the high consumption of meat and dairy produce is fueling global warming. It’s also making it hard to grow enough food for an expanding population.

The document, prepared by 107 scientists, says that if land were used more effectively, it could store more of the carbon emitted by humans. They also said that more people could be fed using less land if individuals cut down on eating meat. It’s estimated that 12 people could be fed a plant-based diet using the equivalent land for one person’s diet centered on meat. This equates to fewer trees cut or burned down to provide land to produce food.

The Earth’s land surface, and the way it is used, forms one of the foundations of human society and the global economy, but we are reshaping it in dramatic ways. Soil is sometimes neglected as part of the climate system, but it’s the second largest store of carbon after the oceans.

In order to feed the predicted 9.8 billion people on Earth in 2050, the world will need to produce 56 per cent more food compared to 2010. If the level of meat and dairy consumption rises in line with current food habits, six million square kilometers (2.3 million square miles) of forests would need to be converted to agriculture – an area twice the size of India. Two thirds would be changed to pastureland, with the final third being used for crops most of which would be used for animal feed, according to the report. The loss of carbon-dioxide-absorbing trees that are being cut down, further adds to climate change.

Johan Rockstrom, former director of the Potsdam Institute of Climate Change Impact Research, said: ‘To have any chance of feeding ten billion people in 2050 within planetary boundaries, we must adopt a healthy, plant-based diet, cut food waste, and invest in technologies that reduce environmental impacts.’

Let’s hope this report provides a wake-up call to farmers and policy makers worldwide.

Methane emissions are a big deal!

Cows eating

Rising methane levels may be thwarting climate change efforts. A 2017 study attributes about half of the increase to cows and other ruminant livestock which produce methane as they digest food.

Methane from cattle pie chartThese animals host microbes in their stomachs, gut filling hitchhikers that help them break down and absorb the nutrients from tough-to-digest grasses. Those microbes produce methane as their waste, which wafts out of both ends of cows. The manure that cattle and other grazers produce is also a site for microbes to do their business, producing even more methane. Now consider that there are 1.4 billion cattle in the world. You can see why so much of the methane being produced is from livestock.

“Methane emissions are a big deal. About a sixth of the warming that we’ve had since the start of the Industrial Revolution has been caused by methane,” said  Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the international emission tracking organization known as the Global Carbon Project.

Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a molecule of methane will cause 28-36 times more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Recent data shows that methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen from about 1,775 parts per billion in 2006 to 1,850 parts per billion in 2017.

So, one way to reduce that is to just stop eating beef, right? That’s what researchers near and far believe, including Paul West at the University of Minnesota.

“As an individual, one of the biggest effects that we can have [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture] is changing what we’re eating to eating a smaller amount of beef,” said West.

Why stop there? we ask.  To have the greatest impact, we all need to cut out animal products from our diets as quickly as possible. We can’t afford to only take small steps anymore.

To learn more, see our article: Cows Gas the Planet.

One Day a Week – new documentary

Paul McCartney has produced a new short documentary on the importance of going meat-free for just one day a week.  He explained the goal in making this film, “My film, ‘One Day a Week,’ aims to raise awareness of this important issue and show people that if we all join together in this effort, we can help improve the environment, reduce the negative impacts of climate change, and even improve people’s health.”

His daughters Stella and Mary McCartney, plus actors Woody Harrelson and Emma Stone are also featured, as they narrate and share facts about how livestock agriculture impacts climate change and the environment. “Meat Free Monday encourages people to not eat meat at least one day a week with the hope that if enough people do it and the idea spreads, it will make a difference,” said McCartney.

We encourage you to share this video with friends and family.

Cows gas the planet

Curious Cows

It’s worse than we thought. A new study showed that livestock cause the emission of even more methane than previously thought. Methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful at warming the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. Previous estimates of the global livestock industry’s methane production had been underestimating their total output, according to a new study by the Joint Global Change Research Institute. Read more

Global warming breaks another record

While world leaders gather in Marrakesh, Morocco, for the next major United Nations Climate Change Summit meeting, the UN World Meteorological Organization has announced global carbon dioxide levels have passed a symbolic threshold. Global average carbon dioxide levels are above 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in 3 million years.co2-chart

Unfortunately, the grand strategic narratives around the Morocco conference will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it. Read more

Something’s missing at the Paris Climate Conference

Paris climate summitThe grand strategic narratives around the COP21 conference in Paris will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it.

The Paris talks are of vital importance, not just for climate change itself but for framing what kind of food policy follows. Why does food matter for climate change? Well, it’s a major driving factor. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter says it well, “There is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production [on climate change] are massive.” In fact, a study written by two senior economists at the World Bank showed that the livestock-meat sector of the economy is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for some reason it barely gets a mention in Paris. It seems that in at least this one respect, the conference is in denial.

Don’t hold your breath for the conference to recognize this, much less use the feared “V word”. While sobering evidence like this has mounted for years, climate change policy makers have focused their attention on energy rather than food. This policy blind spot is because tackling the emissions from producing food means tackling consumers’ food choices, and they’re simply afraid.

The livestock sector’s impact on climate change has been persistently neglected – in both policy and practice – for a long time. Unlike other sectors such as waste, transport and energy, in which greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been attempted through varying means such as taxes, incentives or subsidies, the livestock sector has enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to carry on with “business as usual.”

But the environment simply can’t stand business as usual and demands courage from us all. Without tackling the problem of animal agriculture, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem.

To learn more about the meat connection to global warming, see our Global Warming Flyer.

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