photo: Beatrice Murch/Creative Commons
The positive effect of vegetarian diets on the environment is pretty well documented at this point, but here's another new study detailing the high environmental costs of meat: It concludes that because of increases in population and per capita consumption we will have to cut back on meat between 19-42% by 2050 just to keep environmental damage at current levels. Reuters quotes the report authors, from Dalhousie University, as saying that "reining in growth in this sector should be prioritized."
Furthermore, there's "a profound disconnect between the anticipated scale of potential environmental impacts associated with projected livestock production levels and even the most optimistic mitigation strategies."
Published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the report Forecasting potential global environmental costs of livestock production 2000-2050 notes, "by 2050, the livestock sector alone may either occupy the majority of, or significantly overshoot, recently published estimates of humanity's "safe operating space"" when it comes to climate change, reactive nitrogen mobilization, and appropriation of plant biomass.
In really simple terms: More meat means more greenhouse gas emissions, more nitrogen runoff and pollution, and more land needed for grazing or to grow food for animals which humans will eat.
While the report does say that efficiency improvements in agriculture and livestock raising can help, "Across the board reductions in per capita consumption of livestock products should be a priority."
A close to home example in increases in meat consumption: Between 1970 and now per capita meat consumption in the United States has increased by 17 pounds per year. Similar increases have been seen in many European countries, and in some newly-industrialized countries the trend is solidly towards more meat-eating as well.
As for the climate change impact of cutting back on meat eating, a study released nearly 18 months ago calculated that the costs of climate change mitigation could be reduced by up to 70% if more people either adopted full vegetarian diets or (at minimum) reduced meat consumption to mid-20th century levels.
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More on Vegetarianism:
Vegetarian Diet Could Cut Climate Change Mitigation Costs by 70%
Try a Weekday Vegetarian Diet: Eat Green Food Without Taking the Plunge
Vegetarians Happier Than Meat-Eaters, New Study Finds