Avoiding meat and dairy products is the single biggest way to reduce your environmental impact on the planet, according to the scientists behind the most comprehensive analysis to date of the damage farming does to the planet.
The new research shows that without meat and dairy consumption, global farmland use could be reduced by more than 75% – an area equivalent to the US, China, European Union and Australia combined – and still feed the world. Loss of wild areas to agriculture is the leading cause of the current mass extinction of wildlife.
The new analysis shows that while meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, it uses the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and produces 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions. Other recent research shows 86% of all land mammals are now livestock or humans. The scientists also found that even the very lowest impact meat and dairy products still cause much more environmental harm than the least sustainable vegetable and cereal growing.
I've written about this topic before. But I think it's important to reiterate. The truth is that we're desperately losing the battle against climate change. Even if we miraculously went down to zero emissions as a planet, the temperature is still going to rise. But it isn't hopeless yet as people like Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein have written. And the one thing that all of us can do to help prevent disastrous climate change is to stop eating meat and dairy as much as possible.
That seems like an impossible, unreasonable thing to ask most people. But almost ever big social change has felt impossible. Does that mean we shouldn't try?