It is becoming increasing clear that humankind is driving climate change. Increasing temperatures, disastrous weather, and sea level rise are the result of rapidly rising levels of CO2 and methane.
Recent UN reports make clear that we need to take action immediately.
“We are at a crossroads. The decisions we make now can secure a livable future. We have the tools and know-how required to limit warming,” said IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee. (1)
“Climate change is the result of more than a century of unsustainable energy and land use, lifestyles and patterns of consumption and production,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Jim Skea.
A recent UN report specifically outlined the impact that factory farms and animal agriculture is having on the environment.
“What we eat, and how that food is produced, affects our health but also the environment. Food needs to be grown and processed, transported, distributed, prepared, consumed, and sometimes disposed of. Each of these steps creates greenhouse gases that trap the sun’s heat and contribute to climate change. About a third of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions is linked to food.” (2)
“The largest chunk of food-related greenhouse gases comes from agriculture and land use. This includes, for instance:
- methane from cattle’s digestive process,
- nitrous oxide from fertilizers used for crop production,
- carbon dioxide from cutting down forests for the expansion of farmland,
- other agricultural emissions from manure management, rice cultivation, burning of crop residues, and the use of fuel on farms.”
“The climate impact of food is measured in terms of greenhouse gas emissions intensity. The emissions intensity is expressed in kilograms of “carbon dioxide equivalents” – which includes not only CO2 but all greenhouse gases – per kilogram of food, per gram of protein or per calorie.”
“Animal-based foods, especially red meat, dairy, and farmed shrimp, are generally associated with the highest greenhouse gas emissions. This is because:
- Meat production often requires extensive grasslands, which is often created by cutting down trees, releasing carbon dioxide stored in forests.
- Cows and sheep emit methane as they digest grass and plants.
- The cattle’s waste on pastures and chemical fertilizers used on crops for cattle feed emit nitrous oxide, another powerful greenhouse gas.
- Shrimp farms often occupy coastal lands formerly covered in mangrove forests which absorb huge amounts of carbon. The large carbon footprint of shrimp or prawns is mainly due to the stored carbon that is released into the atmosphere when mangroves are cut down to create shrimp farms.”
“Plant-based foods – such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, peas, nuts, and lentils – generally use less energy, land, and water, and have lower greenhouse gas intensities than animal-based foods.
Here are three charts showing the carbon footprint of different food products. Emissions can be compared based on weight (per kilogram of food), or in terms of nutritional units (per 100 grams of protein or per 1000 kilocalories) which shows us how efficiently different foods supply protein or energy.”
“Where appropriate, shifting food systems towards plant-rich diets – with more plant protein (such as beans, chickpeas, lentils, nuts, and grains), a reduced amount of animal-based foods (meat and dairy) and less saturated fats (butter, milk, cheese, meat, coconut oil and palm oil) – can lead to a significant reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to current dietary patterns in most industrialized countries.”
The question then becomes, “what can we do to alter the course we are presently on?”
Several studies suggest that a massive reduction in the eating of meat and adoption of a vegan diet can dramatically affect the amount of CO2 and methane being released into the atmosphere.
Phasing out animal agriculture represents “our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change,” according to a new model developed by scientists from Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley. (3)
“We wanted to answer a very simple question: What would be the impact of a global phase-out of animal agriculture on atmospheric greenhouse gases and their global-heating impact?” said Patrick Brown, a professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry at Stanford University. Brown is also the founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, a company developing alternatives to animals in food production.
“Reducing or eliminating animal agriculture should be at the top of the list of potential climate solutions,” Brown said. “I’m hoping that others, including entrepreneurs, scientists and global policymakers, will recognize that this is our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change, and seize the opportunity.”
Brown added, societal attitudes toward food are far from fixed. “Five hundred years ago, nobody in Italy had ever seen a tomato. Sixty years ago, nobody in China had ever drunk a Coke. Mutton was once the most popular meat in America,” he said. “People around the world readily adopt new foods, especially if they are delicious, nutritious, convenient and affordable.”
The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine chimed in with how important it is to reduce animal agriculture, especially for the climate…
“According to one climate change calculator, eating 75 grams of beef—a typical fast-food hamburger—daily for a year contributes greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving a car 7,196 miles—that’s crossing the United States about 2.5 times. Compare that to eating 150 grams of beans—about a third of a can—daily for a year, which is equivalent to driving a car 93 miles.” (4)
“The world’s five biggest meat and dairy producers emit more combined greenhouse gases than ExxonMobil, Shell, or BP, the top three oil production companies, according to a report by GRAIN and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.”
“The American Medical Association adopted a policy in June 2022 that declares climate change a public health crisis that threatens the health and well-being of all people.”
“Eighty-six percent of health care professionals say that they have a responsibility to inform the public about the health effects of climate change, and 90% say that they need to inform policymakers, according to the results of a survey in The Lancet Planetary Health.”
A consumer organization called the Humane League summarizes the urgency.
“The production of meat takes a huge toll on our planet. Breeding, raising, and slaughtering billions of animals for food every year requires massive amounts of natural resources, like fresh water and land, and generates massive amounts of waste and pollution. Simply put, our appetite for meat—and the factory farming system that feeds it—is unsustainable. By eliminating our consumption of animal products and making the switch to plant-based eating, we can stop the rapid depletion of Earth’s resources, slow the threat of climate change, and help protect our planet for generations to come.” (5)
By changing what we do as individuals, by changing what we endorse and support as a society, we can have a positive and lasting impact on the climate and the future of the human race.
In addition to changing our diet, we can change what we support and invest in. Divestment from companies that propagate and support animal agriculture is crucial.
To learn more about how you can align your investments with your values and divest from Fossil fuels and factory farms, email me at email@example.com
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