Earlier this year the prestigious EAT-Lancet Commission called on the world to eat less meat to slow climate change. Three other reports in the last year echoed that message, including two published in Science and Nature, and one produced in partnership with two UN agencies and the World Bank. Even the normally cautious Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change noted in its October report the “increasing agreement that overall emissions from food systems could be reduced by targeting the demand for meat and other livestock products.” This marks a major change. The climate movement long ignored the inconvenient truth of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions — so much so that a hit documentary alleged a Cowspiracy between environmentalists and the meat industry. PETA activists grew so frustrated at Al Gore’s evasion of the issue that they trailed him in chicken costumes in a hummer, accusing him of being “too chicken to go vegetarian” (he later went vegan, though it’s unclear what role the chicken costumes played). A lot has changed since then. Major environmental groups, including Greenpeace, the Sierra Club, National Resources Defense Council, World Wildlife Fund UK, World Resources Institute, and Friends of the Earth, now encourage people to eat less meat. Even the UN’s Environment Program and the World Economic Forum have highlighted animal agriculture’s contribution to climate change, as did The New York Times in a major feature this week. This is welcome news for the climate. Animal agriculture contributes a substantial share of greenhouse gas emissions — though the best estimates peg it at 14.5%-16.5% globally, not 51%, as some activists claim based on one unpublished study. (The US percentage is lower, mainly because US total emissions are so large.) The Nature study’s authors warn that a global shift to a “flexitarian” diet is “essential” to keep temperature rises under the 2C cap by 2050. This also sounds like welcome news for animals. Some animal advocates now argue that the global attention on climate change offers the best hope to end factory farming. So could we help farm animals by focusing more on the climate?
Bollard, L., (2019). Animal Agriculture and Climate Change. Farm Animal Welfare Newsletter, 2 May https://www.openphilanthropy.org/farm-animal-welfare-newsletter-archive. Open Philanthropy, San Francisco, USA.