Eating less meat could save the world, says report

“Eat less meat and recycle waste to rebalance the global carbon cycle” is the message from research carried out by the University of Exeter into tackling climate change.

Published yesterday (20 June) in the journal of Energy and Environmental Science, the research suggests that if today’s “meat-eating habits continue” then we will be facing ecological disaster soon.

Lead researcher at the University of Exeter Tom Powell said: “Our research clearly shows that recycling more and eating less meat could provide a key to rebalancing the global carbon cycle. Meat production involves significant energy losses: only around 4% of crops grown for livestock turn into meat.”

In order to feed a population of 9.3bn by 2050 the research suggests the efficiency of farming needs to be increased by producing less beef, recycling waste and wasting less food, which would reduce the amount of land needed for farming and leave sufficient space for bioenergy.

The research team generated dietary-based scenarios that tested agricultural efficiency up until 2050. The first scenario was “high-meat, low-efficiency,” which would raise the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 55 parts per million (ppm).

However, “low-meat, high-efficiency,” would reduce carbon dioxide levels by 25ppm – the level said to be safe by climate change experts. As a result of the research, beef came out as the most environmentally unfriendly meat, leaving pork as the best. 

The report also suggests that changes in lifestyle and farming could make space for growing crops for bioenergy and carbon storage if the focus on livestock were reduced.

Co-author Professor Tim Lenton, of the University of Exeter, said: “Bioenergy with carbon storage could play a major role in helping us reduce future levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide. However, we only stand a chance of realising that potential, both for energy and carbon capture, if we increase the efficiency of agriculture.

“With livestock production accounting for 78% of agricultural land use today, this is the area where change could have a significant impact.”

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