Eco-Love & Sustainability: Connecting Climate Change with Meat & Dairy Consumption


Recently, my longtime bestie (hi Emily!) referred me to a Democracy Now! podcast episode that aired just after the November 2018 United Nations report on the climate crisis. Knowing that I stick to and promote a plant-forward diet that includes practically no meat and a small amount of dairy, Emily recommended I listen to this particular episode as it was focused on the link between devastating man-made climate change and the meat/dairy industries.

The episode aired on November 29th, 2018, just after the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a special report on the catastrophic impacts of global warming exceeding 1.5°C (which at this point, some would say is inevitable). It asserts that limiting global warming to this 1.5°C mark (if that’s even possible) would require rapid and intense changes to all aspects of society including land, energy, industry, building, transport and cities. Additionally, the report stated that in order to limit global warming to this 1.5°C or less target, human-caused carbon dioxide (CO2)/greenhouse gas emissions would need to decrease by approximately 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, while reaching net zero emission by 2050. This means that pretty much everyone needs to make serious lifestyle changes. You can learn more about the report on the UN’s website, find it here.

There are too many details of the report to go over in one blog post. So for now, I’m focused on the Democracy Now! podcast that linked significant reduction and/or elimination of animal product consumption (aka meat & dairy) to the sizable decrease of human-caused CO2 emissions, which could make the difference for future generations.

I realize that everyone can reduce their carbon footprint in the ways that work for them, and that their methods may or may not include changing their diets. But it seems that reducing or eliminating meat and dairy consumption could be a very impactful and relatively easy way to live a much greener lifestyle, and I saw this as a great opportunity to call attention to it.

So let’s start with the basics – what do the meat and dairy industries have to do with green house gases and man-made climate change? According to the podcast, livestock from meat & dairy products is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is the 2nd largest contributor after the fossil fuels industry. This isn’t surprising given the fact that as much as 83% of agricultural land worldwide is used in meat & dairy production, also making it the principle cause of deforestation, water pollution and biodiversity loss, as well as the second largest contributor to green house gas emissions.

So we’re using 83% of agricultural land to house and to feed the livestock that humans use as food, instead of using that land to produce nourishing vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains for direct human consumption. But actually, you wouldn’t even need as much farmland if meat/dairy production was significantly reduced (or ideally, eliminated). According to The Guardian, if meat and dairy were eliminated, global farmlands could be reduced by over 70% while still being able to supply ample food to the world population. How is this possible? The Guardian article shows that beef produces as much as 105kg of greenhouse gases per 100g of food created. On the other hand, a high-protein plant, like tofu/nuts/peas, produces less than 4kg of green house gases for 100g of food. This means that both greenhouse gases and land use could be significantly reduced by simply trading out plant proteins for meat proteins. Furthermore, this 70% of land, previously used for livestock and to grow feed for livestock, could re-vegetate, becoming home to trees that suck CO2 out of the atmosphere.

The argument laid out here is compelling. In fact, while my meat consumption is non-existent, and my dairy consumption is minimal, this podcast episode further pushed me toward full-on veganism, and I hope it helped open your eyes to the environmental benefits of switching to a primarily plant-based diet.

To finish this out, let’s summarize…

– the UN released a special report on the catastrophic impacts of global warming exceeding 1.5°C (which at this point, some would say is inevitable)
– to prevent the 1.5°C mark from being reached, carbon dioxide (CO2)/greenhouse gas emissions would need to decrease by approximately 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, while reaching net zero emission by 2050
– livestock from meat & dairy products is responsible for 15% of global greenhouse gas emissions, which is the 2nd largest contributor after the fossil fuels industry
– meat and dairy production uses 83% of agricultural land, much of which is used to produce feed for livestock
– meat and dairy production produces far more greenhouse gases than the production of plant-based proteins of the same value
– without livestock and feed for livestock, agricultural land could be reduced by as much as 70% while producing enough food to feed the global population
– without livestock and feed for livestock, land could be revegetated with trees that suck existing CO2 out of the atmosphere
– if you’re looking to make a positive & significant environmental impact, given the recent developments in terms of climate change, consider a plant-forward diet that includes mostly vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes and whole grains

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