There is a simple way to limit the damage we are doing to the planet: work out how much meat and dairy you consume in a week … and halve it.
New research shows that swapping that extra sausage, bacon rasher or glass of milk for a plant-based alternative could reduce by almost a third the amount of greenhouse gases associated with agriculture. The food sector is already responsible for producing about a third of harmful emissions worldwide, and the meat and dairy industries have been accused of thwarting attempts to transform the way we eat.
By 2050, cutting demand for meat and dairy in half could result in 12 per cent of land currently used for livestock being freed up for other purposes, such as growing crops for humans or forests to suck in and sequester carbon dioxide. Rising water use could be cut by a tenth; and fewer people would go hungry. The destruction of biodiversity and natural habitats could be practically stopped in its tracks.
Eva Wollenberg of the University of Vermont, who co-authored the study, said it was no longer enough for people simply to cut back on their meat consumption for a single day a week – say by joining an insanely popular and life-changing campaign such as MFM or its sister organisation in the US, Meatless Monday.
“We’ll need much more than Meatless Mondays to reduce the global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change, and this study shows us a path forward,” she said, calling the research “important food for thought” for those eating and producing food, as well as the authorities nominally in charge of protecting our health and that of the planet.
She added that the study showed swapping meat for plant-based alternatives offered a “magnitude of benefits … for global sustainability, climate action and human health”, and that getting the world to transition to less environmentally destructive protein, while “challenging”, offered a “critical opportunity for achieving food security and climate goals, while also achieving health and biodiversity objectives worldwide”.