How Replacing Animal Agriculture Can Help Climate Change

Sep 14, 2021
How Replacing Animal Agriculture Can Help Climate Change

Climate change action becomes more important every year. Today, many experts recommend replacing or limiting animal agriculture to help with climate change.

It’s no secret that eating less meat can help with climate change. However, replacing animal agriculture could transform the planet in a positive way.

Keep reading to discover some of the ways replacing animal agriculture could help with climate change.

The United Nations Special Report on Climate Change Recommends Drastic Changes in Global Land Use and Agriculture

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a high-level special report in 2021. That report discusses the impact of climate change on land degradation, food security, greenhouse gas emissions, and agriculture – including strategies to reverse climate change through sustainable land management.

Instead of telling people what to eat, the IPCC discussed the pros and cons of different types of land management. The report explains that people in rich countries can consume less meat, for example, to help with deforestation and other climate change concerns.

Land management is particularly important in the Amazon, which is experiencing rapid deforestation. Deforestation, if not stopped, could turn much of the remaining Amazon forests into a desert. This would release more than 50 billion tonnes of carbon into the atmosphere over the next 30 to 50 years while also depriving the world of valuable, oxygen-producing rainforests.

Ranchers in the Amazon, meanwhile, continue to clear land to address demand. As long as demand remains unchanged, the deforestation of the Amazon will continue.

Cows, Methane, and Climate Change

Cows produce large amounts of methane as they digest their food. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. As ranching activity increases, it increases the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Ranchers need to clear woodland, jungles, and forests to create pastures. Meanwhile, those pastures are used to raise cattle. The cattle produce methane as they digest their food, creating a feedback loop that intensifies the effects of climate change.

According to the IPCC report, this practice needs to change if the world wants to meet the goal of the international Paris climate agreement from 2015, where countries around the world agreed to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. If land usage doesn’t change, then that target may be a lost cause.

Eating Less Meat is a Proven Way to Reduce the Effects of Climate Change

As part of the IPCC report, researchers published specific findings on what would happen if people ate less meat.

According to the IPCC, a diet with moderate meat consumption but rich in vegetables would mitigate the equivalent of 3 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year. A diet with limited meat and dairy, meanwhile, would mitigate 5 gigatonnes.

If we got rid of all animal-source food, meanwhile, we would mitigate more than 8 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide per year – similar to the amount of emissions we avoided through the use of nuclear power in all of 2018.

It’s not practical to switch the entire world to a plant-based diet. However, if even a small fraction of the world adopted a plant-based diet, it could transform the planet’s future.

Replacing Animal Agriculture Could Ease Water Shortages

Water could become scarce over the next century. Parts of northern Eurasia, North America, central Asia, and tropical Africa are already seeing the effects of water shortages.

Switching away from animal agriculture could ease water shortages in multiple ways.

First, clearing vegetation seems to increase water stress. Areas that have been deforested seem to be more likely to experience water stress than areas that have forest. By clearing ranches and creating new forests – both of which are recommended to mitigate global warming – we could ease water shortages.

Removing Animals Would Increase Total Food Production by 23%

Removing animals from agriculture would increase total food production by 23% while also lowering greenhouse gases substantially.

According to a 2017 report, the United States agriculture system could produce 23% more food and release 28% less greenhouse gas by avoiding animal agriculture.

On the flip side, researchers also found that a typical plant-based diet would lead to greater nutritional deficiencies and more excess energy, which could make health and obesity problems worse across the country.

Final Word

Replacing animal agriculture around the world will not occur overnight.

However, by replacing a small portion of animal agriculture land every year, we could transform the future of the planet.