Eating Less Meat Essential to Controlling The Climate Crisis
Thu, April 22, 2021

Eating Less Meat Essential to Controlling The Climate Crisis

Meat is a cultural staple for many communities across the globe. Meat consumption has massively increased with the rise of the global middle class / Photo by: Alexander Raths via 123RF

 

Meat is a cultural staple for many communities across the globe. Meat consumption has massively increased with the rise of the global middle class. Thus, our consumption of pork, beef, and poultry has reached a tipping point. A heavy diet of meat not only increases the risk of cancer, heart disease, and obesity, but it also harms our planet. 

The livestock sector – raising cows, chickens, and pigs – generates greenhouse gas emissions just as much as automobiles. At the same time, cattle ranches have cut millions of square kilometers of forests for grazing pastures. Recent studies have shown that several countries may have reached “peak meat,” particularly China and others in East Asia. A 2018 review by the UN predicted that there will be a 76 percent increase in global meat consumption by the middle of the century. This includes a 69 percent increase in beef and 42 percent increase in pork. 

The Guardian, a British news publication, reported that in the past 50 years, the average amount of meat consumed per person globally has nearly doubled. From only 23 kg in 1961, it has increased to 43 kg in 2014. Average individual meat consumption has been growing much faster than the rate of population growth -- four to five times more since 1961. 

“It is difficult to envision how the world could supply a population of 10 billion or more people with the quantity of meat currently consumed in most high-income countries without substantial negative effects on the environment,” the paper concludes. 

Eat Less Meat, UN Says

Our current food system accounts for up to a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Experts see this system driven with waste and inefficiencies. What people don’t know is that each stage of food processing – harvesting, storing, and delivering – uses energy, which means emissions. Our animal intake puts growing pressure on the food and land system. For instance, cows’ digestive system produces greenhouse gas called methane, which is far more potent than carbon dioxide. At the same time, their manure emits additional greenhouse gasses.

Recently, the UN released a high-level report that encouraged people to reduce their meat consumption to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. According to Nature, the world's leading multidisciplinary science journal, the researchers warn that the effects of the climate crisis will fall significantly short without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture, and human diets. Thus, shifting to plant-based diets is a major opportunity to mitigate the impacts of the climate crisis. 

Hans-Otto Pörtner, co-chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) working group on impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability, stated that it would be beneficial not only for human health and the climate if people in rich countries consumed less meat. 

A 2018 study published in the journal Nature reported that there is no easy fix to slow climate change, but reducing people’s intake of meat is one way everyone can help out. According to Mental Floss, an online site that delivers smart, fun and shareable content in an upbeat and witty environment, researchers propose a “flexitarian” diet. In a flexitarian diet, an average person would have to eat half the number of eggs they normally consume, 75 percent less beef, and 90 percent less pork. 

At the same time, the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance (CLARA) recommends that people should just consume two 5-ounce servings of meat per week and get their sources of protein from beans, nuts, and seeds. The researchers estimate that a flexitarian diet would cut greenhouse gas emissions by 56 percent. At the same time, it would reduce other environmental impacts by 6 to 22 percent. Additionally, a vegetarian diet might cut the greenhouse gas footprint by 25 percent.

Recently, the UN released a high-level report that encouraged people to reduce their meat consumption to curb greenhouse-gas emissions / Photo by: Sergey Pazharski via 123RF

 

It Might Ignore the Needs of Poor Nations

Eating less meat can help limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. While this could massively help our environment, a report published online in the Global Environmental Change journal stated that it could also have adverse impacts on people’s health and nutrition in some countries. Co-author Martin Bloem said that experts should be careful about oversimplifying things or prescribing a ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for diet and the climate.

Diet-related solutions to the climate crisis should not only address the problems of undernutrition, obesity, poverty and economic development but should also be sustainable. “It is critical to recognize that different countries have different priorities and are at different stages of development – meaning there are different imperatives for these countries and their populations,” Bloem said.

While the increasing meat consumption harms our environment, a campaign group has argued that meat and farmed animals shouldn’t be blamed for the climate crisis / Photo by: dolgachov via 123RF

 

While the increasing meat consumption harms our environment, a campaign group has argued that meat and farmed animals shouldn’t be blamed for the climate crisis. Recently, the European Livestock Voice launched a social media campaign #meatthefacts which aims to address misinformation. The spokesperson of the group stated that they want people “to think about the whole picture and all the consequences that simplistic speeches calling … for a ‘drastic reduction of livestock’ could have on Europe’s rural areas and society in general.”

According to the European Livestock Voice, the livestock industry has been wrongly blamed for the climate crisis. They emphasized that the sector has great contributions to biodiversity, bioenergy, and the rural economy.