This article looks into plant-rich diets as a climate change solution. It is based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative to map the top 100 most effective solutions to reverse global warming.
This was another inclusion that made me like Project Drawdown even more. With 8 out of the top 20 most effective solutions for reversing global warming coming from the food sector alone, action in this area is imperative to tackling climate change.
It is safe to say that 2019 has been a momentous year for plant-based diets. With Veganuary inspiring many people to try out a vegan lifestyle, even if it is only for a month, with many going on to reduce their meat consumption thereafter. Brands have responded in turn by adding vegan options to their menu’s, the most well publicised of which in the UK was the Greggs Vegan Sausage Roll.
There is also the pending IPO of Beyond Meat, who could be valued at $1.2 billion. It is safe to say that plant-based diets have definitely hit the mainstream in 2019. This is all good progress which is necessary to reduce meat consumption worldwide.
The authors behind Drawdown open with the ominous statement:
“That Western diet comes with a steep climate price tag. The most conservative estimates suggest that raising livestock accounts for nearly 15% of global greenhouse gases emitted each year; the most comprehensive assessments of direct and indirect emissions say more than 50 percent.”
There is also one farm animal in particular that is having an outsized effect on our climate:
“Ruminants such as cows are the most prolific offenders, generating the potent greenhouse gas methane as they digest their food… If cattle were their own nation, they would be the world’s third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases.”
Let’s look into the numbers that allowed plant-rich diets to be ranked as the 4th most effective solution to reverse global warming. They calculate that plant-rich diets could reduce CO2 emissions by 66.11 gigatons by 2050. This is made up of 26.7 gigatons which come from dietary change and 39.3 gigatons which come from avoided deforestation from land use change. The authors were unable to provide cost and savings data as they were too variable to be determined. Overall, plant-rich diets remain one of the most impactful solutions to reduce carbon emissions.
The authors point towards the evidence of the overconsumption of animal protein in many places across the world and its links to adverse health impacts.
They also point towards evidence from the WHO which debunks a long-standing myth that consumption of animal protein is necessary for development:
“According to the World Health Organisation, only 10 to 15 percent of one’s daily calories need to come from protein, and a diet primarily of plants can easily meet that threshold.”
They also point towards research from the University of Oxford, that showed that uptakes in plant-rich diets would release dramatic savings for healthcare systems worldwide:
“Dietary shifts could be worth as much as 13 percent of worldwide gross domestic product in 2050.”
It seems that the case for plant-rich diets is robust with enormous social and environmental benefits.
The authors do point towards potential roadblocks:
“Bringing about profound dietary change is not simple, because eating is profoundly personal and cultural.”
The authors point to one potential way of doing this:
“It is also necessary to reframe meat as a delicacy, rather than a staple.”
This is something that I think is really important to encouraging greater uptake of plant-rich diets.
The authors also point towards the enormous subsidies that prop up livestock production across the OECD countries. The removal of these subsides would reveal the market price for meat as compared to other alternatives.
It is also necessary to mention the incredible misery that animals endure for human consumption:
“With billions of animals currently raised on factory farms, reducing meat and dairy consumption reduces suffering that is well documented, often extreme, and commonly overlooked.”
The authors close with the following statement:
“Few climate solutions of this magnitude lie in the hands of individuals or are as close as the dinner plate.”
What you need to know
This article looked into plant-rich diets as a climate change solution. It was based on the analysis of Project Drawdown, which was a 2017 initiative that mapped the top 100 most effective climate change solutions.
It is clear that massive amounts of carbon emissions can be prevented by a transition to plant-rich diets and that the health impacts of this would save healthcare systems massive amounts of money.
I believe there are moral questions to be answered about our current system, which through perverse subsidies diverts large quantities of taxpayers money to wealthy farmers to raise animals, oftentimes in squalid conditions, when this whole process is known to be so damaging to both the environment and society.
Thank you for reading,
By Barnaby Nash
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