Animal agriculture releases the potent pollutants methane and nitrous oxide, both of which are key culprits in Earth’s emissions problem. However, new research is claiming that the introduction of a plant-based diet and eradication of animal farming could see their concentrations in the atmosphere drop dramatically “within decades”.
Published in the journal PLoS Climate, the peer-reviewed paper used computer simulations and modeling to predict the outcome of a global vegan diet in combination with stopping animal agricultural practices across the planet. Their results showed that the combined effect could stabilize greenhouse gases for 30 years and offset 68 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions for the century.
The study was co-authored by Patrick Brown, a professor emeritus in the department of biochemistry at Stanford University and founder and CEO of Impossible Foods, and advisor to the company Michael Eisen, a professor of genetics and development at UC Berkeley (both of whom, it’s worth noting, have much to gain from the growing use of alternatives to animals in food production).
It used data from 2019 to run climate models, looking at four dietary scenarios: plant products replacing just beef immediately or across a 15-year transition period, and switching to entirely plant-only immediately or across 15 years. The models factored in issues such as livestock-linked emissions and biomass recovery by reclaiming farmland and mapped how these changes would influence atmospheric greenhouse gas levels and warming for the rest of the century.
“The combined effect is both astoundingly large, and – equally important – fast, with much of the benefit realized by 2050,” Brown said in a statement.
“If animal agriculture were phased out over 15 years and all other greenhouse-gas emissions were to continue unabated, the phase-out would create a 30-year pause in net greenhouse gas emissions and offset almost 70 percent of the heating effect of those emissions through the end of the century.”
It’s expected the changes would stem from existing greenhouse gases decaying and diminishing as methane and nitrous oxide from livestock ceases, and land-use changes. Previous research supports the key concepts, but details on exactly how such a 15-year plan could be implemented remain unclear and whether it is a practical and possible switch in parts of the world has not yet been addressed.
The researchers, however, feel the results point to a shift towards plant-based as a means of buying more time in the climate crisis.
“Reducing or eliminating animal agriculture should be at the top of the list of potential climate solutions,” Brown concluded. “I’m hoping that others, including entrepreneurs, scientists and global policymakers, will recognize that this is our best and most immediate chance to reverse the trajectory of climate change, and seize the opportunity.”