In 2009 researchers from the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency publishedtheir projections of the greenhouse gas consequences if humanity came to eat less meat, no meat, or no animal products at all.
The researchers predicted that universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050.
Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, 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.
The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.
A second major ramification of global vegetarianism would be expanses of new land available. Currently, grazing land for ruminants—cows and their kin—accounts for a staggering 26 percent 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.
A third major ramification of global vegetarianism would be that the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections would plummet.
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.”
The over-prescription of antibiotics for humans plays a big role in antibiotic resistance, but eradicating the factory farms from which many antibiotic-resistant bacteria emerge would make it more likely that we could continue to count on antibiotics to cure serious illnesses.
Let’s try a middle path. We’re not all going to become vegetarians, but most of us can stop giving our money to factory farms—the biggest and worst offenders, from a pollution and public health perspective.
We can eat less meat than we currently do, especially meat from methane-releasing ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.).