Meat-based Diets and Climate Change

Chris Mooney:

A striking new study — but one that is bound to prove controversial — has provided a calculation of both the health benefits and the reductions in planetary greenhouse gases that might be achieved if the world shifted away from meat-based diets.

The results, while theoretical in nature, certainly make a strong case for treating the food system, and animal agriculture in particular, as a key part of the climate change issue. Namely, the researchers find that shifting diets toward eating more plant-based foods on a global scale could reduce between 6 and 10 percent of mortality — saving millions of lives and billions of dollars — even as it also cuts out 29 to 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions linked to food by the year 2050.

“Dietary change could have large health and environmental benefits,” says Marco Springmann, the lead author of the new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and a sustainability researcher at Oxford University (all four researchers involved in the work were from Oxford). But the study itself acknowledges that the research in some ways represents an idealized experiment, and changing food systems as dramatically as envisioned in the study would be a momentous task.

The researchers say it is “the first time, to our knowledge,” that health models and emissions models have been joined together in this way.

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