By Michelle Kretzer
A global heatwave. Flooding in Cameroon, China, Germany, India, Niger, Nigeria and Turkey. Wildfires in Algeria, Canada, Greece, Italy and the U.S. An earthquake in Haiti. A first-ever drought on the Colorado River. Tropical storms in the Caribbean. Seemingly, every day brings a new natural disaster. Consequently, every social media feed brings new posts from people “heartbroken” by the devastation — followed by posts of the burgers or pork chops they had for dinner.
Oh, the irony.
The latest report from the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirms that we must slash greenhouse-gas emissions and keep the rise in global temperatures below 1.5°C (2.7°F) in order to prevent a planetary catastrophe.
Scientists at the University of Oxford found that a global shift to vegan eating would do just that, cutting emissions 70% by 2050 (in addition to saving 8.1 million lives and $700 billion to $1 trillion a year on healthcare, unpaid care and lost working days). A separate Oxford study, this one involving the largest analysis of global food production ever conducted, determined that rejecting meat and dairy is the best thing a person can do for the planet.
In an interview with The Guardian, lead study author Joseph Poore explained, “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car. Agriculture is a sector that spans all the multitude of environmental problems. Really it is animal products that are responsible for so much of this.”
Further research at New York University found that by transitioning agricultural land from animals to plants, we could actually remove years of carbon dioxide emissions from the Earth’s atmosphere.
It’s not rocket science. It is, however, climate science.
In his “code red for humanity” statement, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, “We are at imminent risk of hitting 1.5°C in the near term. The only way to prevent exceeding this threshold is by urgently stepping up our efforts and pursuing the most ambitious path. . . . [T]here is no time for delay and no room for excuses.”
You wouldn’t think that simply chowing down on climate-friendly food would qualify as “ambitious,” what with the availability of taste-alike plant versions of almost every kind of meat, milk and cheese imaginable. But, cue the excuses.
Most that I’ve heard run the gamut from laughable (“cows, pigs and chickens would go extinct”) to eye-roll-inducing (“cavepeople ate meat”).
“But the economy,” some say. OK, let’s look at the economy.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that animal agriculture costs the U.S. economy more in health and environmental damage from air pollution alone than it contributes. The study didn’t even have to take into account the negative health effects of eating animals, the damage from other forms of pollution and greenhouse-gas emissions or natural disaster relief.
And with the UN climate report promising more floods, more fires and more extreme weather events, those costs will only keep going up. Unless we reverse course.
Should we actually shut up about the climate crisis and the destruction it’s causing in every corner of the Earth? No. We should be shouting it from the rooftops — over a grill covered in Beyond Burgers and vegetable kebabs.