The standard Western diet is heavy on meat. As developing countries get richer their people want to eat more meat. But raising animals for meat is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and new research concludes that humanity must eat less meat to prevent dangerous levels of climate change.
Meat and greenhouse gasses
Even though Americans are eating less meat, consumption averages nearly 200 pounds per person per year. That’s twice as much per capita than in China, a nation of more than a billion people. But as the country’s economy booms, Chinese are rapidly increasing meat consumption. The same dietary trend is occurring in India, the world’s second most populous nation.
“Livestock’s Long Shadow,” a United Nations report published in 2006, identified raising animals for food as “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, as every scale, from local to global.” Climate researchers for the World Bank estimate that livestock production accounts for 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.
Eat 50 percent less meat
New research from the University of Exeter shows that if today’s rate of meat consumption continues, the inevitable rise in global population could lead to ecological disaster. In a report published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science, Exeter researchers said that to feed a population of 9.3 billion by 2050, humanity must increase farming efficiency dramatically by eating less beef, wasting less food and recycling waste.
Eating less meat would cut greenhouse gas emissions and leave more land available for growing bioenergy crops. To make a significant difference, average global meat consumption needs to drop from 16.6 percent to 15 percent of average daily calorie intake—about half the meat eaten in the standard Western diet.
Averting ecological disaster
The researchers estimated the outcome of four future diet and farming scenarios, including: high meat-low efficiency, low meat-low efficiency, high meat-high efficiency and low meat-high efficiency. Beef was the lowest efficiency farming option and pork was the highest.
By 2050, the high meat-low efficiency scenario would add 55 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. The low meat-high efficiency scenario would actually remove 25 ppm of carbion dioxide—the amount required to avoid exceeding the two-degree rise in global temperatures considered the threshold for ecological disaster.
Wasteful livestock production
Eating less meat could have such a significant impact on climate change because 78 percent of the world’s agricultural land—and 45 percent of all the world’s land—is used for livestock production. Livestock production is so inefficient that only about 4 percent of the crops grown for livestock result in meat. It’s been estimated that it takes 100 times more water to produce a pound of grain-fed beef that it does to produce a pound of wheat.
Another reason to eat less meat
From cutting cholesterol to preventing cancer, add climate change to the growing list of reasons to eat less meat. Reducing global meat consumption could have more of an impact on reducing climate change than spending billions on new energy technologies. Humans would be healthier, as well as the planet.