Climate Change/Global Warming

Published on June 9th, 2010 | by Scott James

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The UN Urges a Vegan World

What will the projected 9.1 billion people on Earth by 2050 eat? Are animal products a generation or two away from a stigma like smoking cigarettes? Last year Lord Nicolas Stern, a former adviser to the British government on the economics of climate change, said the world would be better off if we all ate vegetarian. Now, a UN report on climate change says that agriculture is as much of a danger with the rising population as fossil fuel consumption. The report says a substantial shift away from animal products is critical to address world hunger and the worst of climate change. The recommendations will be tough to swallow in the West, where meat and dairy are prevalent- and unsustainable, according to the report.

Photo Credit: Paul-W Agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater use.

Agriculture accounts for 70% of global freshwater use.

The UN report from the International Panel of Sustainable Resource Management serves up a plate of reality that cuts to the bone:

“Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.”

The report is peppered with bitter-tasting statistics, asserting that agriculture, mainly meat and dairy, account for:

  • 70% of global freshwater consumption
  • 38% of global land use
  • 19% of global greenhouse gas emissions

And as countries develop and a population’s income rises, so does our environmental impact- around 80% with a doubling of income. The report says that energy and agriculture must be “decoupled” from economic growth.

“Animal products cause more damage than [producing] construction minerals such as sand or cement, plastics or metals. Biomass and crops for animals are as damaging as [burning] fossil fuels.” — Professor Edgar Hertwich, Lead Author

The report also says that any efficiency gains in agriculture will be gobbled up by the stress of new food requirements by population growth.

Professor Hertwich places the responsibility squarely in the hands of developed countries:

“Developing countries should not follow our model. But it’s up to us to develop the technologies in, say, renewable energy or irrigation methods.”

But will we have the stomach to change what we put on our plates?

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About the Author

Scott James lives and plays in San Francisco, enjoying good coffee, innovative minds and challenging conversation.



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