The meat industry is speculated to be one of the top contributors to climate change. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, it produces about 14.5% of the world’s anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions both directly and indirectly. And this is only going to increase with population soaring above 7 billion and the pace at which developing countries continue to grow into a sustainable economy is going to make it worse.

While baby steps are being taken to bring in more of meatless and dairyless products, there are only 2-3% of the entire world population that consumes vegetarian product. It’s now totally clear dreaming of a totally vegetarian world would be highly unrealistic, let’s just assume we achieve this rare target. Just assume we have convinced everyone to give up meat.

What would happen if we all went the vegetarian way?

Researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency published a Climate Change Journal in which they found that if everyone in the world switched to vegetarianism or veganism tomorrow, by 2050 carbon emissions related to the agriculture industry would have been reduced by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent. Greenhouse gas emissions would see similarly significant reductions.

What’s more fascinating is that the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. It also suggests that

Those emissions savings would be worth $234 billion US per year in the healthy diet scenario, $511 billion for the vegetarian diet, and $570 billion for the vegan diet.

The savings in health costs from these dietary changes are even greater: $735 billion US per year in the case of the healthy diet, $973 billion for the vegetarian diet, and just over $1 trillion for the vegan diet.

These savings come from lower rates of coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. In turn, those health improvements would result in 5.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide in the healthy diet, 7.3 million in the vegetarian, and 8.1 million in the vegan scenarios.

The health, economic and environmental benefits definitely look impressive here but this report has ignored possible socio-economic implications such as the effect of health changes on GDP and population numbers.

But there would be some red flags for the economy!

According to Livestock’s Long Shadow, the influential 2006 UN report about meat’s devastating environmental effects, livestock production accounts for 1.4 percent of the world’s total GDP. The production and sale of animal products account for 1.3 billion people’s jobs, and 987 million of those people are poor. If demand for meat were to disappear overnight, those people’s livelihoods would disappear, and they would have to find new ways of making money. 

Another major trouble with everyone going vegetarian would be the expenses of new land available. Currently, grazing lands for cattle account for around 26% of the world’s ice-free land surface. The Dutch scientists predict that 2.7 billion hectares (about 10.4 million square miles) of that grazing land would be freed up by global vegetarianism, along with 100 million hectares (about 386,000 square miles) of land that’s currently used to grow crops for livestock. Most of these land won’t be suitable for humans.

Another big setback with global vegetarianism is that the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections would take a dip. Currently, the routine use of antibiotics in animal farming to promote weight gain and prevent illness in unsanitary conditions is a major contributor to antibiotic resistance. Last year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that at least 2 million Americans fall ill from antibiotic-resistant pathogens every year and declared that “much of antibiotic use in animals is unnecessary and inappropriate and makes everyone less safe.” Eradication of poultry farms would mean we would continue to count on antibiotics to cure a serious illness.

So, the grass is not completely green on this side either. Mass unemployment and a major dip in the economy is not something we would like to see in near future. The result of a worldwide shift to a plant-based diet might do us some good but also has some poor consequences too.

But this was never going to happen anyway. There is a very low possibility of all of us turning vegetarian anyway. But climate change is one thing we should we worried about. Instead of each one of us turning into vegetarians, we can at least stop being selfish. Instead of promoting animal farms which are the biggest offenders to greenhouse emissions, We can look for alternate sources which have a comparatively lesser impact. With the world population speculated to grow to 9 billion by 2050, We need to start caring for the environment by switching to products that do not leave a bad impact.



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