A study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan and Tulane University has shown that we could prevent 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 if Americans cut half the meat out of their diet.
"While a diet shift isn't a silver bullet, it could play an important role in curbing climate change," Martin Heller, lead author of the study and a research specialist at University of Michigan's Center for Sustainable Systems at the School for Environment and Sustainability, said in a statement. "This research shows that replacing only half of our animal-based food consumption with plant-based alternatives could account for nearly a quarter of the reductions necessary for the U.S. to meet a Paris Agreement target," Heller said.
Stockyards are a notorious source of carbon admissions, with methane from the cows damaging our air and the runoff affecting the nearby water supply. Many activists are switching to a plant based diet or at least taking part of Meatless Monday and other steps into changing their diets. If everyone cut all animal based foods, including beef, eggs, and dairy, for plant based products could result in a decrease in U.S. diet-related emissions by an estimated 35%. This would come to a decline of 224 million metric tons of emissions per year in 2030, equal to the annual emissions of 47.5 million passenger vehicles.
As of right now, the emission cost to produce the average American diet is somewhere around 5.0 kg CO2 eq. per person per day. Whereas red meat (beef, pork, lamb) represents 9% of the calories available from this diet, it contributes 47% of the GHGE. All animal-based foods combined (red meat, poultry, fish/seafood, eggs, dairy, and animal based fats) represent 82% of the baseline diet greenhouse gas emissions (GHGE.)
Stephanie Feldstein, population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, said the study provided clear steps for how to rein in planet-heating emissions.
"Moving the American appetite from our burger-heavy diet to plant-based eating is a powerful and necessary part of curbing the climate crisis," she said. "The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the meat supply chain's vulnerabilities, but our food system faces even greater long-term threats from climate change. We desperately need policymakers to support sustainable diets and a resilient food system."
To that end, the Center for Biological Diversity has released a guideline for how to make plant based foods more available and acceptable.
"By bringing together food policy and climate policy," says the guide, "governments can provide a foundation for a healthy, climate-friendly food system."