Study: Plant-Based Diets Can Slash Greenhouse Gases by Up to 61 Percent
The year 2021 was the worst for weather in our country's history, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with 20 climate-related deadly disasters – including wildfires, tornados, floods, hurricanes, and mudslides – leaving devastation that cost $145 billion in property damages and a tragic loss of 688 lives in the US alone. This dire evidence of climate change has consumers wondering how we can possibly help fix things, or at least contribute to our own planet's long-term survival.
For concerned individuals the world over, the solution could be as easy as eating more plant-based foods. Through a multinational research effort, experts published a new study that proposes that a plant-based diet could provide wealthy countries with a “double climate dividend”– reversing some dangerous consequences of animal agriculture.
The researchers published the new study entitled “Dietary change in high-income nations alone can lead to substantial double climate dividend” in Nature Food. The experts explain that a plant-based diet could cut greenhouse gases by 61 percent while also maximizing carbon sequestration. The process would virtually reverse dangerous emissions that can be attributed to the animal agriculture industries globally.
When discussing plant-based diets, the study addresses both individual action and governmental action, highlighting how the two need to corroborate for this to be effective. The introduction of a plant-based food system would also free land to be rewilded, cutting the dangerous impacts of deforestation.
The responsibility falls on wealthier nations, noting that the governments have the power to significantly undercut dangerous greenhouse emissions. The study also explains how the possible carbon sequestration could match 14 years of current global agricultural emission, substantially helping curb the harmful byproducts of industries like meat and dairy production.
The study bases its research on the EAT-Lancet system – a diet that makes plant-based food the priority while recognizing some room for animal-based foods. The diet emphasizes that whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and legumes should comprise a greater proportion of foods consumed. The plant-based diet would significantly decrease the excessive waste that comes from the meat and dairy industries. The study claims that if 54 of the highest income countries would adopt this diet, people could help save the planet.
“A dietary shift from animal-based foods to plant-based foods in high-income nations could reduce greenhouse gas emissions from direct agricultural production and increase carbon sequestration if resulting spared land was restored to its antecedent natural vegetation,” the report reads. “We estimate this double effect by simulating the adoption of the EAT-Lancet planetary health diet by 54 high-income nations representing 68 percent of global gross domestic product and 17 percent of the population.”
Several other studies have placed the responsibility to stop the climate crisis on animal agriculture. Beyond the UN’s “code red” warning last year, another Nature Food study found that meat farming is responsible for 57 percent of greenhouse gases attributed to food production. The alarming figure can be decreased with government action from the high-income countries worldwide. Currently, 20 livestock companies produce more emissions than full countries including Germany and France.
A team of researchers from the University of Oxford recently found that a vegan diet can potentially reduce a single person’s carbon footprint by 73 percent. The study makes it clear that without dietary change or new food production industries, it will be impossible to stop global warming from hitting the dangerous 1.5 or even 2°C limits.
While it is a massive task to promote plant-based systems worldwide, several campaigns including the Plant Based Treaty have launched initiatives. In direct response to the UN’s warning last year, the Plant-Based Treaty adopt the Paris Agreement to prioritize plant-based innovations at a government level. The campaign promoted a sustainable diet, claiming it could be the key to successfully slowing down rising carbon levels and global temperatures.
“As a companion to the UNFCCC/Paris Agreement, The Plant Based Treaty initiative is a grassroots campaign designed to put food systems at the forefront of combating the climate crisis. Modeled on the popular Fossil Fuel Treaty, the Plant-Based Treaty aims to halt the widespread degradation of critical ecosystems caused by animal agriculture and to promote a shift to healthier, sustainable plant-based diets,” the campaign’s website states. “We are urging scientists, individuals, groups, businesses, and cities to endorse this call to action and put pressure on national governments to negotiate an international Plant Based Treaty.”