Where to Start

In a report by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, there’s an argument to be made for eating less meat. They’ve looked at the research and found we need to start looking at ways to cut down on carbon emission worldwide. Greenhouse gasses (GHG) from agriculture and land usage amount to about 14 gigatons (Gt) annually. That’s troubling when you compare that to 2050 goals of about 22 ± 3 Gt annually.

Goal Setting

in December 2015 the United Nations Conference of Practice (COP21) agreed upon a benchmark goal for climate change efforts. They collectively agreed to try to keep mean global temperatures from rising more than 2°C. Each country devised their own ‘mini goals’ and action steps known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC). The literature indicates that we have a 66% chance of meeting our 2°C benchmark if we bring down our GHG emissions to about 22 Gt by 2050.

Why This Matters

Here are a couple of things that have already occurred in conjunction with changing weather patterns and temperatures.

  • Extreme weather like flooding, heat waves, and fires
  • Population displacement from natural disasters
  • Threat to safe drinking water and food supply
  • Spread of vector and water-borne diseases
  • Damage to city infrastructure from flooding

I’m sure you get the picture…

Emissions from Agriculture

In 2010 carbon dioxide emissions from livestock alone contributed to about 14.5 Gt globally. The figure bellow shows a percentage breakdown of those emissions.

GHG from Livestock

It turns out most emissions come from ruminant animals like cattle, and goat undergoing a normal digestive process called enteric fermentation (otherwise known as farting, burping, and other bodily functions). Manure and land deforestation for feed crops and pasture follow next.

Wasted Food and GHG  

A publication from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations reports that one-third of food made for human consumption is never eaten (and therefore wasted) worldwide. In developing countries waste happens more after harvesting, processing, and storage in contrast to industrialized countries where food waste happens in the retail and consumption stages. If we can cut that amount by half, we can potentially save 4.5 Gt of carbon emissions in a year.

What Next?

 You and I need to find ways to cut back. The Johns Hopkins report did a review of five different studies all estimating projections for GHG emissions in 2050 in comparison to the 22 Gt threshold.

GHG mitigation

Basically, they all consistently show that agriculture related emissions from animal production will reach anywhere from 13-20 Gt by 2050 if no interventions are taken (red bars). They also calculate various relief scenarios in which we can shave off 5-10 Gt depending on intensity of the intervention (green bars).

A 50 % worldwide waste reduction can shave off 4.5 Gt of emissions, a 30% global reduction in animal product consumption (meat, dairy, etc.) can save 5.8 Gt and a combined approach could yield a 14 Gt savings in GHG emissions by 2050.

Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, we have a problem. In 2010 we emitted 49 Gt of GHG across all our major industries. It turns out the foods we eat along with the resources used to produce them (from farm to table) play a role in impacting our climate. Likely we’ll need to reevaluate how we produce meat to see the biggest impact. Changes to occur might include policy, targeted interventions etc. But on a more intimate level, if you haven’t made a new year’s resolution yet, maybe this could be it?