Going Vegan Has Half Climate Change Impact of One Transatlantic Flight

Frank M. Mitloehner Beef Impact on Climate Change
While a new IPPC report on climate change focused on land use and land use change, it didn’t tell consumers to eat less meat.  ( Farm Journal )

Media reports sent a flurry of headlines Thursday suggesting consumers should eat less meat. These reports claimed a study from the United Nations suggested consumers should eat less meat in order to curb climate change. The report–from the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPPC)– looked into ways to reduce the impact on climate change.

Frank Mitloehner with University of California-Davis is frustrated with the media coverage so far, which he said started with news outlets in the United Kington. He said while the IPPC report focused on land use and land use change, it didn’t tell consumers to eat less meat. 

“The IPCC said that we do need to visit our agricultural practices, we need to be more sustainable overall globally in how we grow food, and I totally agree with that,” Mitloehner says. “There are certain land use practices that are not sustainable. So, we have to think about how we do a better job. Where I differ in the reporting in them saying, ‘we need to change what we eat in order to curb climate change,’ they are putting us on the wrong path for solutions.”

He says by focusing on eating less meat, consumers are being misled on what’s really attributing to greenhouse gas emissions.

“If you were to switch from an omnivore diet to a vegan diet for one year, that would be half the impact of one flight from the United States to Europe with respect to carbon emissions,” he says. “Going vegan for one year is half the impact of one transatlantic flight. So, what I'm saying here is not there's no impact, there certainly is an impact, but it is other day to day life choices that we make that are way more environmentally harmful.”

He thinks by the media focus on eating fewer burgers or eating less meat as a whole, it’s giving the other factors a “get out of jail free card” when it comes to lowering the impact on climate change.

“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, in the United States, of all greenhouse gases, the livestock sector emits a little bit less than 4%,” he says. “Contrast that to the 80% of those industries that consume very heavily fossil fuels: that's transportation, power production that you use, and industries such as the cement industry. “

Mitloehner says what confuses people are when global numbers are used versus statistics from the U.S. He says those figures can be misleading. While the U.S. livestock industry emits less than 4%, globally livestock produces 14.5% of greenhouse gases. He says those claiming livestock is what’s causing climate change uses the international number, because it sounds more extreme or scary.

As media continue to report that IPCC wants consumers to eat less meat, he says agriculture has to play more offense on the issue. For example, instead of agriculture being the problem, those in agriculture should point out agriculture is actually the solution.

“Agriculture doesn’t just produce all the food we eat, they also are one of the two sectors of society that actually can sequester carbon, or that can reduce greenhouse gases,” he says. “Forestry and agriculture are the only two sectors that can reduce greenhouse gases, store these greenhouse gases in soils and or plants. In the United States, agriculture and forestry store more carbon than they release.”

He cites that’s a fact documented by EPA, proving the U.S is a leader worldwide when it comes to agriculture’s impact on climate change. While he thinks globally agriculture can do a better job of eliminating its impact on greenhouse gas emissions, other countries should use the U.S. as an example of how to do so.