What if the
whole world went vegan?
The average person eats about 40kg
of meat per year. In developed countries, it’s double that or about the same
weight as an adult dolphin. But experts now advise cutting down the amount of
meat we eat, to help reduce climate change. So, here’s a thought experiment. What if the whole world turned vegan? Around 15% of all greenhouse gasses
emitted by humans are from livestock production. If we all became vegan, these
emissions would be slashed. Eating meat takes up space; a lot of it. Around 80%
of all farmland is dedicated to meat and dairy production. That’s about the
size of Europe, the US, China, and Australia combined.
Meat and dairy typically provide 18%
of our calories but account for 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from
agriculture. A report by the UN’s climate body, the IPCC, recommends we all
reduce the amount of meat we eat. And also how much we waste. The report found
8-10% of all global emissions are down to food loss and food waste.
But not all meat is the same.
Large-scale farming of beef has a particularly high impact and has been a big
factor in the loss of the Amazon rainforest. When cows digest their food, they
produce methane a powerful greenhouse gas that’s about 28 times more powerful
than carbon dioxide over 100 years. And when cows burp, this methane is
emitted. One cow releases between 70 and 100kg of methane every year, and there
are around 1.5 billion cattle in the world today.
But it’s not that simple. A lot
depends on how the meat is produced. Most meat is mass-produced by large-scale
industry, and this can come with a heavy environmental impact. But small-scale
farming of animals can have a lower environmental footprint. And sometimes, for
example in the case of traditional grazing, it can be beneficial in terms of
Vegan alternatives can also come
with their own problems. For example, large-scale production of soya can lead
to deforestation, and almond production requires huge amounts of water. But if
everyone switched to a plant-based diet, it could bring several positive health
benefits. One study estimated that if everyone ate a vegan diet with lots of
fresh fruit and veg, around eight million deaths could be avoided around the
world by 2050. There are no simple answers. But if everyone were to change how
they look at food, cultivate it, and eat it in a sustainable way, we could,
potentially, change the world.
Source: BBC Ideas