A Radical Plan to Slow Climate Change: Eat Less Meat

(Bloomberg) -- If you want to save the planet, put down your burger. Or rather, finish it, savoring every single bite, and mentally prepare yourself not to have another until at least next week.

Raising animals for food is a major contributor to climate change, responsible for an estimated 14.5 percent of all global emissions. Following last week’s UN report on the dire prospects for the future of the planet, the Climate, Land, Ambition & Rights Alliance has presented its own self-described “radical” plan to keep global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit). The report rejects many of the UN's technologically-driven mitigation solutions, such as carbon capture and geoengineering, in favor of a simple approach.

The bottom line: Eat less meat—a lot, lot less. 

By limiting individual meat consumption to about two five-ounce servings per week, the group argues it can solve more than just climate change. CLARA envisions change on a “truly massive scale” that would fundamentally alter the way food is produced in the U.S. and the rest of the world. The personal sacrifice would help tackle biodiversity loss, violations of indigenous rights, and food insecurity, the group contends.  

The authors call for a move away from the monoculture of the modern food system, for reforestation and farming systems that require more labor and fewer inputs, shorter supply chains and less waste. Instead of growing feed for livestock, the report says, cattle should be grazed on a rotational system that has the potential to make pastures both more productive and able to sequester carbon. Livestock should be fed “ecological leftovers,” or the scraps humans leave behind—food waste and crop stubble—instead of what has been specifically grown for them. 

Humans don’t just need to eat less meat and dairy. We need to eat less. “Unnecessarily high-calorie diets also contribute significantly to GHG [greenhouse-gas] emissions,” the report notes.

Mitigation plans that focus more on lifestyle change than bioenergy with carbon capture and storage "don't violate the laws of physics,"  says Zeke Hausfather, U.S. analyst at Carbon Brief. "But convincing the vast majority of the world's population to change their behavior without fairly heavy-handed government intervention sounds quite difficult."

Natural solutions to climate change, like reforestation are "the most efficient, economical and effective way to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere,” said William H. Schlesinger, dean emeritus at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment, even if they are not enough on their own. As for rejecting the technological solutions espoused by the UN, he said, they are “largely unproven.”

While the report envisions a totally transformed global food system, it does not lay out plans to enact one.

“It will take a lot of political will,” said author Doreen Stabinsky, a global environmental politics professor at College of the Atlantic. “But we’re being forced into making it politically possible.”

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.