The only fast track to stop global warming

For those who have not yet been exposed to the report’s depressing message, it claims we have until 2040 to reverse our course towards global environmental breakdown. To drive the change, we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% and energy consumption by 15% before 2030 — targets that require political as well as consumer action to achieve.

The good news is; you and I can play a leading role in saving our planet, and we can start right this second. Frankly, it is important that we do. 2040 is not far away. We do not have the time for committee hearings and dragging legislation processes.

The latest UN Report shows that the only fast track to stop global warming is the dietary changes we can make today. We can choose to be heroes, but know that heroes need bravery as their guiding star, and bravery requires sacrifice. Are you brave enough to make the necessary sacrifices to save our planet? Great! Then read the following out loud, to yourself, the wall, your mom, colleagues or whomever is lucky enough to be around you this very second:

“15% of global greenhouse gas emissions stem from livestock. That’s more than the total global emissions from transportation. The car in my garage, and the bus I ride occasionally, may eventually run on 100% renewables, but the steak on my plate and the milk in my glass, will not. And while the car is a necessity to make my life work smoothly, the steak and milk are not. Therefore, I hereby pledge to cut out beef and cow milk from my diet. If all consumers made these small, dietary changes tomorrow; together, we can cut global greenhouse gas emissions a whole 10% by the end of this week”.

If you are one of the few readers that actually read the above out loud, you might feel a small sense of accomplishment right now. A loud voice with a sense of pride is the first step towards committing to change, for good. The next, and even more important step, is to realize the full impact of your pledge.

Can you believe that making these two teeny tiny changes to your diet can have such a positive impact on the world, and the future where you will raise your children?

If you can’t, I should add that this article includes links to official UN reports that back the numbers. If you are still not convinced about making a change to your dietary choices, I have two great arguments up my sleeve.

The first one is for those of you who doubt that livestock has a direct impact on climate change, no matter how many reports I throw at you. If you don’t want to believe in the reports, believe that cutting out dairy and beef will decrease your cholesterol. Worst case scenario, you’ll live a longer and healthier life.

The second argument is for those of you who find it a bit scary to give up beef and milk. For many of us, a big fat steak accompanied by a glass of red wine, is the dream. Now, try to really think of how many times a year you live this dream. Couldn’t you easily swap those 4 steaks out with chicken or a pork chop? Both of which have a 5x lower carbon intensity than beef, yet are still delicious, meaty and cheaper alternatives. When it comes to dairy, you are also in luck. There are so many delicious alternatives available on the market today, and you can even produce your own, cheap veggie based milk, cheese, butter and cream with very few ingredients.

One of the scariest things about the human race is the stark contrast between our perceived and actual ability to adapt. That is, when faced with a change, most of us respond in the same way: by fighting it with everything we got. It’s ironic that our species has only made it this far because of our strong ability to adapt to new circumstances, yet making a few minor lifestyle changes that could help save our planet seem more scary to us than going down with the ship.

Some might say that even if everyone were to cut beef and milk from their diet, we are still far from achieving the 40% reduction target, and they would be right. The largest source of emissions continues to be fossil fuels, but while there is little regulation in place to prevent our self-destructing meat feast, CO2 is now regulated through, for example, emissions trading systems in many regions in the EU, US and China, to mention a few. However, even if we manage to cut fossil fuel emissions, greenhouse gas emissions from livestock are a big threat that we need to address sooner rather than later. To put this into perspective, let’s draw a comparison between the two consumer goods that do the most damage to our environment: meat and electricity.

While meat is considered what economists would call ‘a normal good’, electricity is a ‘necessity’ to live modern life. Because of this correlation, energy utility companies have a lot of flexibility to increase prices if, say, they wanted to finance the investment in a new wind or solar farm, and scrap the old diesel generator. Consumers would be happy to pay a few more cents on their utility bill to maintain their power supply, but demand for electricity might not change dramatically. Even if your salary were to be magically doubled by tomorrow, your electricity needs would remain more or less the same. Unless you went out and bought a brand new Tesla, that is. The electricity supply and demand dynamic, along with emissions legislation, should be an economic incentive for energy producers and traders to make the responsible change to renewables.

Meat is a different animal. When salaries rise, so does demand for meat. There are many producers and sellers of meat, and so the competition is high, which drives down cost. This means, that as long as the population keeps growing, and more people move into the middle class, the demand for meat will keep growing.

Renewables now make up for 25% of global electricity generation and regulatory mechanisms such as emissions trading provide an incentive for this number to keep rising. Yet, consumers in developed countries are faced with little financial incentives to reduce their meat consumption, and so, the feast continues.

To put the production into perspective, 366 million tons of chicken, pig and cattle meat was produced globally in 2016. If this was distributed evenly among the world’s population, we could each have gotten 49 kg of meats that year.

Not surprisingly, China is the world’s number one producer of pig, chicken and cattle meat, followed by the US and Brazil. In 2016, China produced more than 75 million tons of meat, while the US produced 41 million tons, and Brazil 26 million tons. The price for highest consumption per capita goes to Australia, closely followed by the US, Argentina and Brazil.

As production is driven by consumption, it is vital that you and I become the change we wish to see. Cattle production alone makes up for more than 10% of the global greenhouse gas emissions, and has 5x higher carbon intensity than chicken and pig production. This is why the above-mentioned teeny tiny dietary changes can make the strongest impact. Be brave, make a small sacrifice and don’t fear change for the better. You will be used to it before you know it.