Replacing 50 percent of animal products in the U.S. diet with plant-based foods could prevent 1.6 billion tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) from entering the atmosphere by 2030.
A new report from the University of Michigan and Tulane University—named “Implications of Future U.S. Diet Scenarios on Greenhouse Gas Emissions”—discovered that replacing half of all animal products, including fish, eggs, meat, and dairy, would cause U.S. diet-related emissions to drop by 35 percent.
This would be a saving of around 224 million metric tons per year. However, researchers predict the 50 percent reduction of animal products would happen gradually over the next decade. This would result in an estimated total emissions drop of 1.6 billion metric tons.
With no change, population growth will cause diet-related emissions to rise, says the study. By 2030, emissions could increase by 9 percent.
Reducing beef consumption by 90 percent, as well as cutting all animal products by half, could save more emissions. With this change, 2.4 billion metric tons of GHGs could be prevented from entering the atmosphere.
“While a diet shift isn’t a silver bullet, it could play an important role in curbing climate change,” said lead author Martin Heller—a research specialist at the University of Michigan’s Center for Sustainable Systems—in a statement.
‘Burger-Heavy to Plant-Based Eating’
Non-profit conservation organization the Center for Biological Diversity, which commissioned the study, has now released a policy guide for decision-makers. The aim of the guide is to help advance the proposed dietary changes.
Stephanie Feldstein, the center’s population and sustainability director, said in a statement: “moving the American appetite from our burger-heavy diet to plant-based eating is a powerful and necessary part of curbing the climate crisis.”
She also referred to the ongoing problems in the meat industry amid the coronavirus pandemic. A number of processing plants have been forced to shut down due to outbreaks of the virus, causing subsequent meat shortages.
“The coronavirus pandemic has exposed the meat supply chain’s vulnerabilities, she added. “But our food system faces even greater long-term threats from climate change. We desperately need policymakers to support sustainable diets and a resilient food system.”
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