Scientists have been warning us for decades that humanity as a whole must make major changes if we want to avoid the catastrophic consequences of the planet’s increasing temperature due to greenhouse gas emissions—and we must act quickly. Scientists from Stanford University and the University of California–Berkeley believe that our best hope to reverse the devastating effects of climate change lies in a global switch to vegan eating. They say that the benefits for the planet and its inhabitants will be “astoundingly large, and—equally important—fast.”
In an interview with Stanford News Service, study coauthor Patrick Brown said, “We wanted to answer a very simple question: ‘What would be the impact of a global phase-out of animal agriculture on atmospheric greenhouse gases and their global-heating impact?’” To find the answer, Brown, a professor emeritus in the Department of Biochemistry at Stanford University, and Michael Eisen, a professor of genetics and development at UC-Berkeley, developed a model to predict the effects on greenhouse gas emissions and global warming if, over a 15-year span, humans worldwide adopted a vegan diet and stopped raising animals for food.
According to an article published by the Stanford New Service, the study predicts that a worldwide shift to vegan eating would “halt the increase of atmospheric greenhouse gases for 30 years, and give humanity more time to end its reliance on fossil fuels.” The change would come from the decrease in emissions of methane and carbon dioxide—two potent greenhouse gases—and the “negative emissions” that would result if land used today for feed crops and grazing could revert back to grasslands, prairies, and forests. The recovered land would absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide, and together with the decrease in emissions from animals raised for food, it would offset more than two-thirds of the global warming effect of those emissions through the year 2100.
The authors are quick to note that a global shift to plant-based eating could disrupt certain societies and economies, and they believe that the change would require “substantial global investment” in order to support those who would need to switch careers as a result. But the scientists add that “these investments must be compared to the economic and humanitarian disruptions of significant global warming,” which would be devastating.
Human civilization has a history of making big changes when it needs to—and scientists believe that’s currently the case with respect to animal agriculture and climate change.