Meat is Heat!

A counter-intuitive approach to stopping global warning.

About three weeks ago, the 22nd November to be precise, I published a post under the title of Our Beautiful Planet. It included the reply to an email that I had sent to Prof. Bill Ripple or, to give him his full nomenclature, William J. Ripple, Distinguished Professor of Ecology, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon.

I reached out to the good Professor because I wanted to share with you what he thought were the top priorities in terms of how each and every one of us should change our lifestyle. You may well recall his reply (my emphasis):

Paul, Consider suggesting that if people want to help, they could have fewer children, reduce energy consumption such as driving autos and flying, avoid meat and eat mostly plant-based foods and avoid wasting food. Below are quotes from our paper. Bill

“It is also time to re-examine and change our individual behaviors, including limiting our own reproduction (ideally to replacement level at most) and drastically diminishing our per capita consumption of fossil fuels, meat, and other resources ….

… reducing food waste through education and better infrastructure; promoting dietary shifts towards mostly plant-based foods

Last Tuesday week, on the 5th December, there was an item published by NutritionFacts.org. It was called Meat is Heat: The Effects of Diet on Global Warming.

I am keeping my fingers crossed that Dr. Michael Greger is happy for me to republish this article in full. For it so underlines what Professor Ripple is promoting. (Indeed, further browsing on the NutritionFacts website showed that articles are published under the Creative Commons License arrangement.)

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Image Credit: Andrew Walton / Unsplash. This image has been modified.

Meat is Heat: The Effects of Diet on Global Warming

One of the most prestigious medical journals in the world editorialized that climate change represents “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century.” Currently, chronic diseases are by far the leading cause of death. Might there be a way to combat both at the same time? For example, riding our bikes instead of driving is a win-win-win for the people, planet, and pocketbook. Are there similar win-win situations when it comes to diet?

As I discuss in my video Diet and Climate Change: Cooking Up a Storm, the foods that createthe most greenhouse gases appear to be the same foods that are contributing to many of our chronic diseases. Researchers found that meat (including fish), eggs, and dairy had the greatest negative environmental impact, whereas grains, beans, fruits, and vegetables had the least impact. And not only did the foods with the heaviest environmental impact tend to have lower nutritional quality, but they also had a higher price per pound. So, avoiding them gives us that triple win scenario.

The European Commission, the governing body of the European Union, commissioned a study on what individuals can do to help the climate. For example, if Europeans started driving electric cars, it could prevent as much as 174 million tonnes of carbon from getting released. We could also turn down the thermostat a bit and put on a sweater. But the most powerful action people could take is shift to a meat-free diet.

What we eat may have more of an impact on global warming than what we drive.

Just cutting out animal protein intake one day of the week could have a powerful effect. Meatless Mondays alone could beat out a whole week of working from home and not commuting.

A strictly plant-based diet may be better still: It’s responsible for only about half the greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have suggested that “moderate diet changes are not enough to reduce impacts from food consumption drastically.” Without significant reduction in meat and dairy, changes to healthier diets may only result in rather minor reductions of environmental impacts. This is because studies have shown that the average fossil energy input for animal protein production systems is 25 calories of fossil energy input for every 1 calorie produced—more than 11 times greater than that for grain protein production, for example, which is around 2 to 1.

Researchers in Italy compared seven different diets to see which one was environmentally friendliest. They compared a conventional omnivorous diet adhering to dietary guidelines; an organic omnivorous diet; a conventional vegetarian diet; an organic vegetarian diet; a conventional vegan diet; an organic vegan diet; and a diet the average person actually eats. For each dietary pattern, the researchers looked at carcinogens, air pollution, climate change, effects on the ozone layer, the ecosystem, acid rain, and land, mineral, and fossil fuel use. You can see in the video how many resources it took to feed people on their current diets, all the negative effects the diet is having on the ecosystem, and the adverse effects on human health. If people were eating a healthier diet by conforming to the dietary recommendations, the environmental impact would be significantly less. An organic omnivorous diet would be better still, similar to a vegetarian diet of conventional foods. Those are topped by an organic vegetarian diet, followed by a conventional vegan diet. The best, however, was an organic vegan diet.

The Commission report described that the barriers to animal product reduction are largely lack of knowledge, ingrained habits, and culinary cultures. Proposed policy measures include meat or animal protein taxes, educational campaigns, and putting the greenhouse gas emissions information right on food labels.

Climate change mitigation is expensive. A global transition to even just a low-meat diet, as recommended for health reasons, could reduce these mitigation costs. A study determined that a healthier, low-meat diet would cut the cost of mitigating climate change from about 1% of GDP by more than half, a no-meat diet could cut two-thirds of the cost, and a diet free of animal products could cut 80% of the cost.

Many people aren’t aware of the “cow in the room.” It seems that very few people are aware that the livestock sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. But that’s changing.

The UK’s National Health Service is taking a leading role in reducing carbon emissions. Patients, visitors, and staff can look forward to healthy, low-carbon menus with much less meat, dairy, and eggs. “Evidence shows that as far as the climate is concerned, meat is heat.”

The Swedish government recently amended their dietary recommendations to encourage citizens to eat less meat. “If we seek only to achieve the conservative objective of avoiding further long-term increases in [greenhouse gas] emissions from livestock, we are still led to rather radical recommendations” such as cutting current consumption levels in half in affluent countries—“an unlikely outcome if there were no direct rewards to citizens for doing so. Fortunately, there are such rewards: important health benefits…” By helping the planet, we can help ourselves.

There are tons of articles on diet and sustainability. It’s such an important topic that I may review the new science once every year or two. When the U.S. Department of Agriculture entered these waters, the meat industry appeared to freak out, and the Dietary Guidelines debate continues.

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Just reflect on the key message from this article (my emphasis):

“A study determined that a healthier, low-meat diet would cut the cost of mitigating climate change from about 1% of GDP by more than half, a no-meat diet could cut two-thirds of the cost, and a diet free of animal products could cut 80% of the cost.”

In other words, the most cost-effective way of mitigating climate change is to change to a diet free of animal products. Plus, it’s a damn sight healthier for you and me!

 

29 thoughts on “Meat is Heat!

  1. Very interesting Paul, thank you for sharing this.

    I have been living vegetarian in several periods of my life. After my ICU stay in the Summer, the doctors told me not to go back to living vegetarian again, if I wished to get a good health. The reason for this is, that I’m allergic to soy and a healthy vegetarian diet is not possible without. So I’m looking much forward to, that the scientists find an alternative to soy, so I can live, as I wish to with food.

    1. Irene, I have been Vegan for two years and Vegetarian about 3 years beyond that. I do not eat very much soy and do not drink the stuff. I cannot use soy sauce because I am gluten intolerant and can’t eat wheat. I get my calcium from dark green veggies and protein comes from a variety of nuts (almond, walnuts, cashews, peanuts – really a legume) and legumes like split peas, chick peas (garbanzo beans), lentils and a whole variety of beans.
      I would advise looking at Dr Michael Greger’s site, and also look up Plant Based News too… lots of information on how to get your full quota of nutrients on Whole Food Plant Based diets.

      1. Thank you for your information, as I will check out. My problem is, that I was hospitalized for 2 months this summer and the first 35 days in ICU in coma a big part of the time. I had a bad infection, which almost closed down for all my inner organs. After this I needed to start from scratch to build up everything again. While staying in ICU, the body use all saved goods and left me without anything after. The many doctors there told me not to go vegetarian again, at least not for now, because my body was down in everything and needed much help to build up again, which it still does.
        I do eat meat now about every second day and lots of nuts, beans, lentils etc., which I also did before. Now I mostly eat some fish, a little bird and less meat to follow the rules. I got an illness by this infection, as I will have for the rest of my life and right now they test, if it will be chronic too, which is possible.
        Long story told short, but more to inform you, that I do know much about it, I just can’t go in full time right now.

  2. Meat eating involves so much cruelty, that’s a given. As far as greenhouse gas emissions are concerned, it all comes back to human overpopulation. Meat eating in Palaeolithic and primitive societies wasn’t /isn’t a problem. It’s the sheer number of meat eaters on the planet today and this has been growing as Asian and other populations get a taste for larger quantities of meat, especially beef. Meat eating in our modern globalised world necessitates large scale removal of vegetation, contamination of waterways and the air, methane release as well as the large energy inputs that accompany the transportation, processing and packaging of meat. More people who eat meat means more environmental damage of every kind.
    I have cut down on my own meat consumption, albeit not probably enough. Realistically, given that so many people are relatively shortsighted, don’t want to hear bad news and are not into self sacrifice, I can’t see enough of them reducing or giving up what to them is a desirable component of their meals. It’s been suggested in the UK that a meat tax ( like a sugar tax) could be introduced. That might work in the progressive Scandinavian countries, but I doubt whether any British ( or Australian) Government members who advocate such a tax would be re-elected – at least without a very extensive education campaign. And in the US? Forget about it. A country that has so many supporters of the likes of Donald Trump, plus those of a Libertarian mentality…..there’d be Buckley’s chance.
    That doesn’t mean of course that concerned individuals shouldn’t try to do the right thing.

    1. So do I John. I think PETA are funding a lot of research into it. Come the day when people will look back on eating the dead flesh of another animal as dreadfully barbaric and uncivilised.

  3. Wow! My first instinct was to respond individually but in very real way you all had a fabulous group discussion. So I will just add my two-pennysworth. Jean read in a specialist Parkinson’s newsletter some time ago that consuming Soy was not good for PD sufferers. But she fervently believes that a full and healthy diet can be achieved under a vegan umbrella. Jean also reflected that one can read the advice from ten doctors and be presented with ten different recommendations!

    I’m not even sure how much of today’s post is based on hard, peer-reviewed science. Will need to look further into it.

    Returning to the theme of meat eating, over population and the future then you all offer a metaphorical cry of pain! Predicting even the next ten years, especially predicting a positive difference in humanity’s relationship with our planet, is nigh on impossible!

    Will the last person to leave please turn out the lights!

  4. Wagnificient post!
    HuMom has been a vegan most of her life; she does remember both her & her sister would do anything at the table so as to not eat animals. Both couldn’t stomach milk either😝
    Apparently they were clever children😉
    One of her favourite quotes, “I don’t need to take a life to sustain my life.”
    Another, “Go vegan & nobody gets hurt.”😉

    Nose nudges,
    CEO Olivia

  5. Yup. Been a vegetarian or vegan most of my life. Mostly for ethical reasons, but then again, my blood type does well with it. My husband, a Type O, needs meat or he turns gray and has no energy. He eats very little of it, all ethically raised and processed. It’s a hard choice for some, and what I’ve learned over a virtual lifetime of counseling people in a holistic way is that people do not want to be told what to put in their mouths. And they sure don’t want to be told not to have fewer children. So I’m afraid our species is driving itself into virtual extinction, if the planet is to survive. It’s a truth I’ve come to live with in peace. Aloha.

    1. Bela,

      I can hear the sadness in your words of wisdom; if I might be so bold to say. Indeed, I would expand what you wrote to say that most people do not want to be told what to do: period! One of the great gifts of counselling people, I’m sure (and you don’t need to reply!), is that so often you see that person when they truly understand that their life isn’t working. That there has to be a better way!

    2. My husband is a meat eater, but he has cut back considerably. I am a type O blood group and in the book ‘Eat Right for your Blood Type,’ it suggests that I am a meat eater, yet all my life I have (until recently) eaten animal protein on a small scale, and somewhat reluctantly. When I lived in Canada, I could never eat those huge Porterhouse steaks and in fact could only manage the smaller side of a T’bone. I am much happier and feel better on a vegan diet, so I’m not sure that blood group has much to do with it, although it is an interesting hypothesis.

      1. The blood type research is one of many tools in my 35 year history of health counseling. In this case with husband Chris, a little meat was what was needed due to extreme work as a builder – it has really made a big difference in his energy levels. Other than that, it’s loads of greens and veggies and good grains. Which work for me full-time, sans meat. We are all so different! Aloha.

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