Our carbon footprint is important to our ecosystem and climate change if we’re going to save the planet for future generations to come.
According to scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet, avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact.
The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the 83% of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.
The study carried out by Oxford University and published in the journal Science, was based on a study of 40,000 farms in 119 countries and covering 40 food products that represent 90% of all food eaten. It assessed the full impact of these foods, from farm to fork, on land use, climate change emissions, freshwater use and on air and water pollution.
A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, land use and water use,” said Joseph Poore, at the University of Oxford, UK, who led the research. “It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car,” he said.
“Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much environmental problems. Avoiding consumption of animal products delivers far better environmental benefits than trying to purchase sustainable meat and dairy.”
One surprise from the work was the large impact of freshwater fish farming, which provides two-thirds of such fish in Asia and 96% in Europe and was thought to be relatively environmentally friendly. “You get all these fish depositing excreta and unconsumed feed down to the bottom of the pond, where there is barely any oxygen, making it the perfect environment for methane production,” a potent greenhouse gas, Poore said.
The new research has received praise from other food experts. Prof Gidon Eshel, at Bard College, US, said: “I was awestruck. It is really important, sound, ambitious, revealing and beautifully done.” He said previous work on quantifying farming’s impacts, had taken a top-down approach using national level data, but the new work used a bottom-up approach, with farm-by-farm data. “It is very reassuring to see they yield essentially the same results. But the new work has very many important details that are profoundly revealing.”
Prof Tim Benton, at the University of Leeds, UK, said: “This is an immensely useful study. It brings together a huge amount of data and that makes its conclusions much more robust. The way we produce food, consume and waste food is unsustainable from a planetary perspective. Given the global obesity crisis, changing diets – eating less livestock produce and more vegetables and fruit – has the potential to make both us and the planet healthier.”
Dr Peter Alexander, at the University of Edinburgh, UK, noted: “There may be environmental benefits, e.g. for biodiversity, from sustainably managed grazing and increasing animal product consumption may improve nutrition for some of the poorest globally.
We should interpret these results not as the need to become vegan overnight, but rather to moderate our meat consumption.”
Personally, this can’t go far enough. I believe we’re setting ourselves up to fail and fall in equal measures. Our eco-system that we are also a part of, relies on us reducing our carbon footprint.
Scientists have been talking about this for at least 20 years and we’re now only waking up to the realities of what will be catastrophic if we don’t take climate change seriously and act on it.
It is important we become vegan, perhaps not overnight but work towards cutting out most animal proteins. It is important we cut down considerably on our meat consumption if we are to save our planet, for our children and their children and all future generations.
In my next blog on climate change I will look at other ways we can reduce our carbon footprint on climate change.