COVID-19 Meat Shortages Could Last for Months. Here’s What to Know Before Your Next Grocery Shopping Trip

Wearing a mask, an employee stocks the meat section at Greenland Market on April 23, 2020 in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

Wearing a mask, an employee stocks the meat section at Greenland Market on April 23, 2020 in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.
Elaine Cromie — Getty Images)

This was supposed to be a big year for America’s meat industry. As recently as late February, a USDA livestock analyst predicted record-setting red meat and poultry production as economic growth and low unemployment boosted demand for animal protein.

Then came COVID-19. By the end of April, the pandemic changed the economic and agricultural landscape so drastically that Tyson Foods, one of America’s biggest meat producers, warned in a full-page New York Times ad that the “food supply chain is breaking.”

America’s farms are still packed with animals raised for meat production. The problem is that the virus has made it increasingly hard to turn those animals into store-ready packs of pork chops or ground beef. That’s because Tyson and many other meat processing companies across the country have paused operations at a number of plants where workers have tested positive for COVID-19. According to the USDA’s weekly report from April 27, beef production was down nearly 25% year-over-year, while and pork production was down 15%.

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In an effort to curb the problem, President Donald Trump signed an executive order on April 28 aiming to keep meat processing plants in operation. But many say Trump’s order will be unlikely to eliminate the threat that COVID-19 poses to American meat processors, and, by extension, the food supply. It’s hard, after all, to protect workers from a highly contagious virus in the frequently tight quarters of a processing plant. At least 20 meatpackers have already died from COVID-19, and more than 5,000 have been hospitalized or are showing symptoms, according to labor union United Food and Commercial Workers.

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Still, experts warn that shoppers should prepare for meat to be more expensive, less varied and harder to find over the coming weeks and even months. Here’s what you need to know before your next trip to the grocery store.

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Are there meat shortages? How long will the shortages last?

In the coming weeks, grocery stores may have a smaller variety of meat, and less meat overall.

Glynn Tonsor, a professor at Kansas State University’s department of agricultural economics, says that whether or not you find meat on your next shopping trip could come down to timing — whether “you come in five minutes after the truck was unloaded, so to speak, verses 12 hours after it was unloaded,” he says.

Tonsor thinks the problem will start to improve by June as meat processing plants find ways to operate in a COVID-19 world.

But some meat supply issues could linger for a year or more, warns David Anderson, professor and extension economist in the Department of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University. That’s because meat processing facilities could struggle to keep production lines moving as workers get sick.

“I think the average purchaser’s going to notice it,” says Anderson. “I suspect that consumers will note that in the meat case in their store, there won’t be as much as normal, or as they used to see. You’ll see parts of the meat case where there’s less there, you’ll see parts of the meat case, probably, where they spread out the product — so it looks full.”

Could meat products become more expensive?

Most likely. We could see higher meat prices for at least the rest of the year, Anderson says.

“In terms of the animals produced, we’ve got ample supplies, huge supplies,” he says. “The bottleneck is in packing and processing. What that means is higher prices for consumers.”

Tonsor says some customers may find themselves spending more of their grocery budget than usual on meat, or they may find it too expensive altogether.

But some stores, he says, may choose not to pass on the higher costs to consumers, in order to incentivize them to come and spend money on other goods. They could also phase-in price increases to soften the blow over time.

Still, some consumers will likely be forced into exploring alternative cheaper protein sources, like beans or tofu, especially as millions of Americans find themselves out of work amid the wider economic slowdown.

Which meat products might be affected?

The most popular meat products, like ground beef and bacon, are especially likely to rise in price, says Tonsor. But the price of less popular items, like tongue, may not rise as much.

Items that go through special steps (like flavoring) or products that are handled in dedicated facilities (like organic or grass-fed meats) may be more vulnerable to price hikes as well, he says.

Some meats may increase in price more quickly than others. Pigs are bred more quickly than cattle, for instance, making it easier to adjust their production levels.

Also: get your own spices and rubs ready. “I expect flavored wings to be harder to get your hands on regularly than plain, boneless chicken breast,” Tonsor says.

Could President Trump’s executive order improve the situation?

While President Trump’s executive order is aimed at motivating meat processing plants to stay in operation, whether or not that’s actually possible will come down to workers, not management. If workers fall ill or are concerned enough for their own safety that they choose not to return, it won’t matter if plants re-open or not.

“These are skilled jobs,” says Tonsor. “You can’t just overnight replace worker A with worker B.”

That workers could be eligible for the enhanced unemployment insurance passed amid the COVID-19 crisis could also factor into their thinking, says Dermot Hayes, pioneer chair in agribusiness at Iowa State University.

“Nobody knows how the workers are going to respond to a request to come back to work. Until somebody tries to reopen a plant and get that to happen, we really can’t say,” says Hayes. “There will be a tension between the owners of the plants who want to operate, and the workers who want to be on redundancy.”

Why has this order been put in place?

Trump’s executive order shows just how economically and politically important meat is in America.

“I think this announcement just reaffirms how important a well-functioning, flowing meat and livestock system is in America,” says Tonsor. He points out that meat helps fuel the market for feed crops, bolsters rural banks, and, through property taxes, funds programs like K-through-12 education.

Meat also has major symbolic value with many Americans, says Joshua Specht, the author of Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America and a visiting assistant professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. Its rarity or absence, he says, would send yet another signal that COVID-19 is upending life as we have known it.

“If things that we rely on as staples — even if they’re not strictly necessary for survival, like meat — if we don’t have access to that, people will be very upset,” says Specht. “If there are shortages, they’ll resonate. In terms of the executive order, what that’s basically a recognition of is that this is the kind of thing that could have serious political consequences. And if you want to convince the public that the pandemic is under control, you don’t want them having some sort of thing they experience very directly.”

Specht says that he’s concerned to see mounting political pressure to reopen meat processing plants alongside reports of workers falling sick and dying. Such workers often have little political power, limited access to health care and similar services, and often need to keep working to stay afloat financially, he says. But he adds that there could be reasonably safe ways to keep virus-stricken plants in at least partial operation.

“If we spread [workers] out more, your options are lower line speed — and that means lower production — or pushing the workers that remain harder and harder,” he says. “And so that’s another way that there aren’t easy answers here. Something is going to have to give in that system.”

Could What You Choose to Eat Prevent the Next Pandemic?

'Amirali Mirhashemian on Unsplash'
Source: ‘Amirali Mirhashemian on Unsplash’

When the history of COVID-19 is written, will we list our obsession with eating animals as a major cause that led to a catastrophe of such profound consequence?

Will we have learned from the lesson of the Wuhan “wet market”—where COVID-19 is theorized to have originated—that cramming wild animals into meat markets can be dangerous? Will we have added to that lesson the one about the H1N1 swine flu of 2009 that originated in an intensive pig confinement operation in North Carolina? Will we have also added both these lessons to the H5N1 bird flu lesson of 1997, in which yet another deadly disease evidently originated in animal farms? Will we have factored in the tens of millions of illnesses each year that come from bacteria-contaminated meat? And will we have finally concluded that confining billions of animals annually into potentially lethal pandemic- and bacteria-breeding grounds can have severe consequences?

When we have carefully compared the number of people who died in the U.S. in April 2020, not only from COVID-19 but also from heart disease, will we notice that the numbers were similar, but that one disease led us to shutter our economy and spend trillions of tax dollars to prevent more deaths, while the other—heart disease, which so much data reveal is largely preventable through reducing or eliminating excessive consumption of meat and dairy—had been exacerbated through tax-subsidized animal agribusiness?

Will we wonder why meat sales surged during the pandemic? Will we have mourned the employees in slaughterhouses who died after hundreds were infected in crowded, dangerous conditions that left no room for safe distancing? Will we have mourned those who died after being exposed to these infected individuals? Will we have also mourned the pigs themselves (or lambs, cows, calves, chickens, and turkeys), the abuse of whom was so cruel that anyone treating a dog or cat the same way would have been guilty of a crime?

When we remember the 50th anniversary of Earth Day that occurred during the pandemic, will we notice how little mention was made of our animal-based diets, which were responsible for so much rainforest destruction, water pollution, and aquifer depletion, as well as being a large contributor to climate change? Will we still disdain vegans, who are now so often disliked in our society?

Perhaps something different will have transpired by the time the pandemic history is written. Maybe we will have finally decided to change our food systems and dietary habits in order to protect ourselves from some future pandemics and other preventable diseases, as well as to reduce the speed of global warming. Maybe we will have resolved to put an end to the animal cruelty that will likely appall future generations.

When our children ask us, “How could you have done such things?” perhaps we’ll admit that for too long we prioritized our tastebuds over the terrible consequences of animal agribusiness. Maybe we’ll be able to add that when we finally decided to change our systems, it turned out not to be so hard. We’ll describe how even the biggest meat companies began producing plant-based proteins that tasted virtually identical to animal flesh, while other companies produced lab-grown meat by growing animal cells, obviating the slaughter of animals and the use of antibiotics in farming, which had contributed to antibiotic resistance that gravely threatened human health.

We’ll tell them that we finally transformed the political systems that had enabled animal agribusiness to influence legislation for so long, and put an end to subsidizing foods that harmed us and the planet.

We’ll point to the sustainable food systems we created that nourished billions of people safely, and simultaneously helped protect other species’ habitats, stem the rate of extinction, and slow the warming of the planet.

We’ll remind them of what, by then, they would already know well—that our educational system (the system underlying all others) had shifted to ensure that they learned how to be solutionaries who could bring their good minds and big hearts to bear on solving real-world problems in ways that enabled all life to thrive.

We’ll be able to tell our children that COVID-19 made us finally change what we put in our mouths to nourish ourselves, and our children will thank us.

PLANT-BASED CHEESE IS HERE TO STAY, AND YOUR GUT WILL THANK YOU


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To your friend who says she can’t go vegan because she would miss cheese too much (or if you are that friend) she’s in luck. “Vegan cheese has come a long way over the years,” says Lauren McNeill, RD, Toronto-based registered dietitian. Alts to dairy cheese are on the up and up, putting slander against vegan varieties—is this shredded plastic or fake mozz?—to rest.

What is plant-based cheese?

Whether you ditch the dairy stuff for ethical reasons or because your digestive system flat out refuses lactose, help is here to satisfy all of your cheesy cravings. Considering cheese is a broad foodstuff, plant-based options are made with ingredients (sans any animal products) that vary based on the brand or recipe. “Some rely mostly on nuts like cashews, while others use soy, tapioca starch, potato starches, or coconut oil,” says McNeill. Homemade varieties often call for a base of potatoes, carrots, nutritional yeast, nuts, or seeds.

Think of the cheese usually stacked on your charcuterie boards—it probably has a vegan dupe by now. The cheese experience depends on its melt, texture, stretch, and packs a range of flavors from subtle creaminess to a pungent tang depending on what kind you reach for. That variety is one reason cheese is tricky to successfully veganize, especially compared to other plant-based alternatives (I’m looking at you, oat milk).

How is vegan cheese made?

While the science of transforming animal proteins to cheese is unique, vegan fromagers have learned a thing or two from the traditional process. Kite Hill, the brand behind popular dairy-free yogurts and cheeses, says taste and quality took the reins during product development.

“To make cheese, one of the first things we needed to tackle was to form a curd,” says Tal Ronnen, co-founder and culinary chef at Kite Hill. They settled on creating curd from almond milk made of locally-sourced nuts from California’s San Joaquin Valley. “Once the almond milk is made, we inoculate the recipe with proprietary enzymes and cultures,” Ronnen says. This classic technique helps the brand’s ricotta alternative mimic the taste and silky texture of the real thing.

Are there any advantages of eating plant-based cheeses?

Of course, the healthfulness of vegan cheese depends on its ingredient list and level of processing. McNeill says varieties made with a base of potatoes, carrots, nutritional yeast, nuts, or seeds might pack more nutrients than their dairy counterparts. This can include more fiber, vitamin C, B vitamins, and magnesium, she says. Certain brands also enrich products with nutrients you’d get from dairy cheese. Take Treeline’s cashew cream cheeses, which are fortified with probiotic-rich acidophilus. However, vegan cheese takes a couple of losses. “Most store bought cheeses are lower in protein than traditional dairy cheese, but also may be lower in fat than dairy cheese,” says McNeill.

So nut and soy-based cheeses might not elevate your diet to the next level of health, but it’s also likely you’re not digging into a cheese ball every night. “I view store bought vegan cheese as an ‘add-on’ or ‘occasional’ food, the same way I would view dairy cheese,” McNeill says. She suggests people find a brand they actually enjoy rather than avoiding certain ingredients.

Additionally, plant-based cheeses can be easier to digest, especially for 65 percent of the population that struggles with lactose, which makes dairy cheese a no-go. Bye bye, gas, bloating, and problematic trips to the restroom.

Buying and making plant-based cheese

Finally finding your favorite vegan cheese might take a little shopping around, and it also depends on what cheesy dream you’re chasing. Shreds? Blocks? Queso? Soft brie? Mozzarella balls? The options are becoming endless.

McNeill personally opts for Chao cheese by Field Roast for grilled cheese sandwiches, soft cheese and feta from Canadian shop Stokes, and shreds from Earth Island (aka Follow Your Heart in the States) to top pizza. Other prominent brands include Treeline’s soft French-style nut cheeses, Siete’s cashew queso, and Miyoko’s, which offer a variety of flavored cheese wheels.

So you’re trying to be a fromager? Your best bet to start is with vegan cheese sauces to douse over pasta, nachos, burrito bowls, and more. Hack a celebratory creamy cheese ball with Minimalist Baker’s version made with nutritional yeast and pimento peppers. Opt for a cashew and macadamia nut option from chef Lauren Montgomery for a tangy spread. Whip up a five-ingredient “goat” cheese in your food processor a la Fork and Beans. Or if you’re feeling ambitious, go full cheesehead and attempt Miyoko Schinner’s feta recipe that develops flavor over time. Voilà! Wine and cheese nights will never be the same.

Methane Levels Reach an All-Time High

New NOAA analysis highlights an alarming trend; experts call for curbing pollution from oil and gas wells

Methane Levels Reach an All-Time High
Credit: Richard Hamilton Smith Getty Images

preliminary estimate from NOAA finds that levels of atmospheric methane, a potent heat-trapping gas, have hit an all-time high.

Methane is roughly 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide, and while it stays in the atmosphere for only around a decade, as opposed to centuries, like CO2, its continued rise poses a major challenge to international climate goals.

“Here we are. It’s 2020, and it’s not only not dropping. It’s not level. In fact, it’s one of the fastest growth rates we’ve seen in the last 20 years,” said Drew Shindell, a climate scientist at Duke University.

To gauge methane levels, scientists regularly gathered samples of air from dozens of sites around the world and analyzed them at NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. By comparing measurements, they were able to determine the global average. In 2019, the concentration of atmospheric methane reached nearly 1875 parts per billion, the highest level since record-keeping began in 1983.

Even more troubling, 2019 saw the second-largest single-year leap in two decades. However, this figure may change, as preliminary estimates have trended high, said Ed Dlugokencky, a research chemist at NOAA. The final numbers will likely be unveiled in November after a more detailed analysis.

“We’re still waiting to see what the final number is going to be, and it’s going to be many months before we know that,” Dlugokencky said. “But the fact that methane is increasing means it’s further contributing to climate change.”

Methane emissions primarily come from natural sources, like wetlands, and manmade sources, like farms and oil and gas wells. In wetlands, microbes excrete methane, an issue that humans can do little about. On farms, cows and sheep belch methane—a problem that people can address by raising fewer livestock.

“Eat less beef and less dairy. That’s the most straightforward thing,” Shindell said. “For the sake of our own health, we should be doing that anyway.”

Companies can install recovery equipment that allows them to collect the natural gas that would otherwise seep out. They can then sell this gas, helping to offset the cost of the equipment. By one estimate, oil and gas firms could cut methane pollution by 45 percent at no net cost.

Despite this, many companies are reluctant to pay for recovery equipment. Firms will instead spend their limited capital on a new drilling site, for instance, which will yield a greater return on investment, Shindell said, though practices vary.

Major players—including Chevron, Exxon Mobil, BP and Shell—are taking steps to cap methane pollution, in part, to shore up their public image. However, smaller firms operating on thinner profit margins have less incentive to invest in recovery equipment. And the coronavirus could make the problem worse, as companies facing declining revenues could pay less attention to leaks. For this reason, advocates have called for greater regulation of the oil and gas sector.

“I think that has taken on urgency because in recent years we have witnessed a surge in production of oil and natural gas,” said Devashree Saha, a policy analyst at the World Resources Institute. “Increasing the oversight and regulation of oil and gas production is the only way to go right now.”

“You see the benefits in the first decade or two that you make cuts. You see fewer people dying from heat waves. You see less powerful storms and all of the stuff that comes from climate change,” Shindell said. “As long as we’re still using fossil fuels, we should at least not be leaking out lots and lots of methane.”

9 Nutrition Tips for Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/how-to-reduce-carbon-footprint

Many people feel an urgent need to reduce their impact on the earth because of the catastrophic effects of climate change and resource extraction.

One strategy is to lower your carbon footprint, which is a measure of your total greenhouse gas emissions not just from driving vehicles or using electricity but also lifestyle choices, such as the clothes you wear and food you eat.

Although there are many ways to minimize your carbon footprint, making dietary changes is a good place to start.

In fact, some research shows that shifting the Western diet to more sustainable eating patterns could slash greenhouse gas emissions by 70% and water use by 50% (1Trusted Source).

Here are 9 simple ways to minimize your carbon footprint through dietary and lifestyle choices.

1. Stop wasting food

Food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. That’s because food that’s thrown away decomposes in landfills and emits methane, a particularly potent greenhouse gas (2Trusted Source34).

Over a 100-year period, methane is estimated to have 34 times the impact as carbon dioxide on global warming (56).

It’s currently estimated that each person on the planet wastes a staggering 428–858 pounds (194–389 kg) of food per year, on average (7Trusted Source).

Reducing food waste is one of the easiest ways to decrease your carbon footprint. Planning meals ahead of time, saving leftovers, and buying only what you need go a long way towards saving food.

2. Ditch the plastic

Using less plastic is an important part of transitioning to an environmentally friendly lifestyle.

Plastic wrapping, plastic bags, and plastic storage containers are commonly used by consumers and the food industry alike to pack, ship, store, and transport food.

Yet, single-use plastic is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions (8Trusted Source9).

Here are some tips to use less plastic:

  • Forego plastic bags and plastic wrap when purchasing fresh produce.
  • Bring your own grocery bags to the store.
  • Drink from reusable water bottles — and don’t buy bottled water.
  • Store food in glass containers.
  • Purchase less take-out food, as it’s often packed in Styrofoam or plastic.

Research shows that reducing your meat intake is one of the best ways to lower your carbon footprint (1Trusted Source10Trusted Source).

In a study in 16,800 Americans, diets that released the most greenhouse gasses were highest in meat from beef, veal, pork, and other ruminants. Meanwhile, the diets lowest in greenhouse gas emissions were also lowest in meat (10Trusted Source).

Studies from around the world support these findings (11Trusted Source12Trusted Source13Trusted Source).

This is because the emissions from livestock production — especially beef and dairy cattle — represent 14.5% of the globe’s human-induced greenhouse gas emissions (14).

You can try limiting your meat dishes to one meal per day, going meat-free one day per week, or testing out vegetarian or vegan lifestyles.

4. Try plant-based protein

Eating more plant-based protein can dramatically cut your greenhouse gas emissions.

In one study, people with the lowest greenhouse gas emissions had the highest intake of plant-based proteins, including legumes, nuts, and seeds — and the lowest intake of animal proteins (10Trusted Source).

Still, you don’t need to cut animal protein from your diet completely.

One study in 55,504 people found that people who ate medium amounts of meat per day — 1.8–3.5 ounces (50–100 grams) — had a significantly lower carbon footprint than those who ate more than 3.5 ounces (100 grams) per day (15Trusted Source).

For reference, a serving of meat is around 3 ounces (85 grams). If you regularly eat more than that each day, try swapping in more plant-based proteins, such as beans, tofu, nuts, and seeds.

5. Cut back on dairy

Cutting back on dairy products, including milk and cheese, is another way to reduce your carbon footprint.

One study in 2,101 Dutch adults revealed that dairy products were the second largest contributor to individual greenhouse gas emissions — behind only meat (16Trusted Source).

Other studies likewise conclude that dairy production is a major contributor to climate change. Dairy cattle and their manure emit greenhouse gasses like methane, carbon dioxide, nitric oxide, and ammonia (1Trusted Source10Trusted Source17Trusted Source18Trusted Source19Trusted Source).

In fact, because cheese takes so much milk to produce, it’s associated with greater greenhouse gas emissions than animal products like pork, eggs, and chicken (20Trusted Source).

To get started, try eating less cheese and replacing dairy milk with plant-based alternatives like almond or soy milk.

6. Eat more fiber-rich foods

Eating more fiber-rich foods not only improves your health but may also reduce your carbon footprint.

A study in 16,800 Americans found that the diets lowest in greenhouse gas emissions were high in fiber-rich plant foods and low in saturated fats and sodium (10Trusted Source).

These foods may help keep you full, naturally limiting your intake of items with a heavy carbon load.

Plus, adding more fiber to your diet may improve your digestive health, help balance your gut bacteria, promote weight loss, and protect against illnesses like heart disease, colorectal cancer, and diabetes (21Trusted Source22Trusted Source23Trusted Source24Trusted Source25Trusted Source).

7. Grow your own produce

Growing your own produce in a community garden or your backyard is associated with numerous benefits, including reduced stress, better diet quality, and improved emotional wellbeing (26Trusted Source).

Cultivating a plot of land, no matter the size, can reduce your carbon footprint as well.

That’s because growing fruits and vegetables reduces your use of plastic packaging and your dependency on produce transported long distances (27Trusted Source).

Practicing organic farming methods, recycling rainwater, and composting may further reduce your environmental impact (28Trusted Source29Trusted Source30Trusted Source).

8. Don’t eat excess calories

Eating more calories than your body needs may promote weight gain and related illnesses. What’s more, it’s linked to higher greenhouse gas emissions (31Trusted Source).

A study in 3,818 Dutch people demonstrated that those with higher greenhouse gas emissions consumed more calories from food and beverages than those who had low greenhouse-gas-emitting diets (32Trusted Source).

Likewise, a study in 16,800 Americans noted that those with the highest greenhouse gas emissions consumed 2.5 times more calories than people with the lowest emissions (10Trusted Source).

Keep in mind that this only applies to people who are overeating, not to those who are eating enough calories to maintain a healthy body weight.

Your calorie needs depend on your height, age, and activity level. If you’re unsure whether you’re consuming too many calories, consult a dietitian or healthcare professional.

Some options to reduce your calorie intake include cutting out nutrient-poor, calorie-rich foods like candy, soda, fast food, and baked goods.

9.  Purchase local food

Supporting local farmers is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint. Buying locally lowers your dependence on food transported vast distances and may increase your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, helping offset your carbon emissions.

Eating seasonal foods and supporting organic growers are additional ways to minimize your footprint. That’s because food produced out of season is typically imported or takes more energy to grow due to the need for heated greenhouses (33Trusted Source).

Furthermore, switching to local, sustainably produced animal products like eggs, poultry, and dairy can slash your carbon footprint.

You may likewise gain a greater appreciation for the unique foods native to your region.

The bottom line

Revolutionizing your diet is an excellent way to reduce your carbon footprint that can boost your health as well.

By making simple changes like eating fewer animal products, using less plastic, eating more fresh produce, and decreasing your food waste, you can cut your personal greenhouse gas emissions significantly.

Keep in mind that efforts that seem small can make a big difference. You can even bring your neighbors and friends along for the ride.

Animal Agriculture is the Leading Cause of Climate Change – A White Paper

https://www.climatehealers.org/animal-agriculture-white-paper

To download a PDF version of this white paper, please right click here.

Abstract

In this paper, we present the results of a Global Sensitivity Analysis (GSA) proving that Animal Agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, responsible for 87% of human-made greenhouse gas emissions. The burning of fossil fuels is currently the leading source of human-made Carbon diOxide (CO2) emissions. However, climate change is caused by cumulative human-made greenhouse gas and aerosol emissions and not just current CO2 emissions alone. While humans have been burning fossil fuels for a little over 200 years, we have been burning down forests for Animal Agriculture for well over 8,000 years! For the GSA analysis, we use factual data from the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and other peer-reviewed scientific sources. We show that we need to transition to a global plant-based economy first and that blindly eliminating fossil fuel usage first will accelerate the warming of the planet. We show that the annual methane emissions from Animal Agriculture alone causes more incremental global warming than the annual CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources combined. We further show that the transition to a global plant-based economy has the potential to sequester over 2000 Giga tons (Gt) of CO2 in regenerating soils and vegetation, returning atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to the “safe zone” of under 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent, while restoring the biodiversity of the planet and healing its climate. This paper clearly illustrates why the scientific community, government institutions, corporations and news media, who vastly underestimate the role of Animal Agriculture and focus primarily on reducing fossil fuel use, need to urgently change their priorities in order to be effective.

  1. Introduction

The burning of fossil fuels is undoubtedly the leading source of human-made Carbon diOxide (CO2) emissions today. CO2 is the most powerful human-made greenhouse gas in terms of its radiative forcing, the average energy trapped by the greenhouse gas per unit time per unit area of the Earth’s surface, relative to the base year, 1750. In the absence of active reforestation efforts, CO2 is a long-lived greenhouse gas as it persists in the atmosphere for hundreds of years to even tens of thousands of years. The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates the mean radiative forcing of human-made CO2 to be 1.68 Watts/square meter (W/m2). The next most powerful human-made greenhouse gas, methane, with a mean radiative forcing of 0.97 W/m2, lingers in the atmosphere for an average of 10-12 years before it reacts with oxygen free radicals and also converts into CO2. As such, it is tempting to conclude that a single-minded focus on the reduction of fossil fuel burning to minimize future human-made CO2 emissions is the best strategy to address climate change. Indeed, the global scientific community, government institutions, corporations and news media have adopted this strategy without much questioning. They have also unquestioningly accepted the United Nations (UN) Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO)’s estimate that the lifecycle emissions of the Animal Agriculture industry sector is a mere 14.5% of global human-made greenhouse gas emissions, which justifies their urgency of reducing fossil fuel burning over dealing with the Animal Agriculture sector.

In this paper, we will show that this strategy of focusing exclusively on the reduction of fossil fuel burning will accelerate climate change, potentially to the point of no return. Using a Global Sensitivity Analysis (GSA) method, we will show that the UN FAO’s 14.5% estimate for the lifecycle emissions of Animal Agriculture is incorrect and that the correct estimate is at least 51% as calculated by Goodland and Anhang and likely around 87% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, Animal Agriculture is the leading cause of climate change. Furthermore, we will show that a global transition to a plant-based economy has the potential to sequester over 2000 Giga tons (Gt) of CO2 in regenerating soils and vegetation, returning atmospheric greenhouse gas levels to the “safe zone” of under 350 parts per million (ppm) of CO2 equivalent (CO2e), while restoring the biodiversity of the planet and healing its climate.

The organization of this paper is as follows:

In Section 2, we will examine how waste “exhaust” from human activities changes the earth’s climate. The exhaust can be classified as either greenhouse gases, which heat up the Earth’s atmosphere, or aerosols, which are atmospheric particles that generally cool the Earth’s atmosphere. The main human-made greenhouse gases are CO2 and methane, which are both carbon-based gases and the main human-made aerosols are sulphates, which are primarily produced when we burn coal and oil.

In Section 3, we will examine how the carbon cycle of the planet has been impacted by two main human activities over the past 8,000 years: land clearing or land use change, primarily for agriculture, and fossil fuel burning.

In Section 4, we will examine current agricultural land use and biomass flows to establish that Animal Agriculture is the primary sector necessitating land clearing, causing climate change. Next, we will compare Local Sensitivity Analysis (LSA) vs. Global Sensitivity Analysis (GSA) on the two main human activities causing climate change: Animal Agriculture and fossil fuel burning. While the LSA is useful for determining the impact of local variations in the current emissions scenario, it can lead to inaccurate results when extrapolated out on a global scale. In contrast, the GSA is based on analyzing a global change directly and will lead to more accurate results for that change. Using the GSA method, we will reveal the inaccuracies in the UN FAO’s 14.5% estimate on the greenhouse gas emissions contribution of the Animal Agriculture sector. Next, we will show that the Goodland-Anhang estimate of 51% is truly just a lower bound on the greenhouse gas emissions contribution of the Animal Agriculture sector. We will then tighten this lower bound using the Carbon Opportunity Cost (COC) estimates of Searchinger et. al. and show that the correct estimate for the greenhouse gas emissions contribution of Animal Agriculture is likely to be around 87%.

Finally in Section 5, we will estimate the CO2 sequestration potential and the resultant climate mitigation that can occur with the global transition to a plant-based economy.

In what follows, for the sake of simplicity, we have used the specified statistical mean or the midpoint of uncertainty ranges in the data found in the IPCC reports and other peer-reviewed sources. Our conclusions do not change if we include the underlying uncertainty ranges and other nuances, but we will likely lose clarity in our presentation.

2. How Humans Change Climate

Almost everything humans do changes the Earth’s climate. The waste “exhaust” from human activities can either heat up the Earth or cool it. Therefore, the question is not whether humans change the Earth’s climate, but how much and in what direction. When billions of humans drive cars, burn coal and natural gas for electricity and consume animal products, the exhaust gases and particles from these activities heat or cool the Earth. Exhaust gases such as CO2, methane and Nitrous Oxide (N2O) heat the Earth. Exhaust particles such as sulphates and nitrates cool the Earth. Other exhaust particles, such as black carbon, heat the Earth.

The UN IPCC has quantified the impact of each of these exhaust gases and particles in terms of radiative forcing measured relative to their levels that existed in the year 1750 as the base year (see FIg. 2.1). CO2 is the main human-made exhaust gas that heats the Earth and it is estimated to provide an additional 1.68 W/m2 of heating power relative to its atmospheric concentration in 1750. In other words, the impact of the additional CO2 in the atmosphere since 1750 is like adding a 1.68 Watt continuous heater on every square meter of the Earth’s surface.

The next most significant human-made exhaust gas is methane, which has the chemical formula CH4. Methane is estimated to have a mean radiative forcing of 0.97 W/m2 and it lingers in the atmosphere for an average of 10-12 years before it reacts with oxygen free radicals and also converts into CO2. The number one cause of methane emissions is Animal Agriculture, which contributes 37% of it. Even though the radiative forcing of methane (0.97 W/m2) is less than that of CO2 (1.68 W/m2), the annual emissions of methane has a more significant impact on net radiative forcing than the annual emissions of CO2. For a first order approximation, imagine that all the excess methane in the atmosphere was emitted over the past 10 years. Then, the emissions each year is responsible for 0.097 W/m2 of radiative forcing. In contrast, the annual emissions of CO2 (39 Gt Co2) is about 4% of the excess CO2 in the atmosphere since 1750, and therefore responsible for an additional 1.68X0.04 = 0.07 W/m2 of radiative forcing. Since we expect just 45% of that emitted CO2 to stay in the atmosphere each year, the additional radiative forcing for the annual CO2 emissions is only 0.45X0.07 = 0.03 W/m2, about one-third the impact of annual methane emissions.

It is important to point out that the IPCC has consistently undercounted the impact of methane by averaging its impact over a 100 year period. Even as it warns humanity that catastrophic climate change is imminent within the next 11 years, not 100 years! In the latest report issued in August 2019, the IPCC is still using a Global Warming Potential (GWP) of 28 for converting methane emissions to a CO2 equivalent (CO2e), which corresponds to averaging its impact over 100 years, while excluding cloud effects. For a more appropriate 10-year averaging, including cloud effects, the GWP of methane would be 130. If we used GWP of 130 for methane, then the annual emissions of methane would be 10.1 X 130/28 = 46.9 Gt CO2e, which exceeds the annual emissions of CO2 (39 Gt CO2). Besides only about 45% of the annual CO2 emissions stays airborne each year and therefore, the comparison of methane (46.9 Gt CO2e) should be with respect to 0.45 X 39 = 18 Gt CO2, which is about one-third the impact of annual methane emissions, just as we calculated above. Indeed, the impact of methane from Animal Agriculture alone (46.9 X 0.37 = 17.3 Gt CO2e) exceeds the impact of all fossil fuel based CO2 emissions (18 X 0.85 = 15.3 Gt CO2). For reference, please see Table on Page 9 of the latest IPCC report.

The third most significant human-made exhaust particles are sulphate aerosols, created mainly during the burning of coal and oil. According to NASA, “the sulfate aerosols absorb no sunlight but they reflect it, thereby reducing the amount of sunlight reaching the Earth’s surface. Sulfate aerosols are believed to survive in the atmosphere for about 3-5 days.

The sulfate aerosols also enter clouds where they cause the number of cloud droplets to increase but make the droplet sizes smaller. The net effect is to make the clouds reflect more sunlight than they would without the presence of the sulfate aerosols. Pollution from the stacks of ships at sea has been seen to modify the low-lying clouds above them. These changes in the cloud droplets, due to the sulfate aerosols from the ships, have been seen in pictures from weather satellites as a track through a layer of clouds. In addition to making the clouds more reflective, it is also believed that the additional aerosols cause polluted clouds to last longer and reflect more sunlight than non-polluted clouds.”

The radiative cooling effect of human-made sulphate aerosols together with their cloud adjustments is estimated to be -0.95 W/m2.

The fourth most significant human-made exhaust are black carbon particles, which cause a radiative heating effect of 0.6 W/m2. These are formed due to the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, biofuels and biomass. The main emissions sources are diesel engines, wood burning cookstoves and forest fires that humans ignite to clear land for Animal Agriculture and other sundry purposes. Fig 2.2 shows a map of the world depicting forest fires seen from space by the NASA MODIS Satellite during a 10 day period in May of 2019! Such forest fires are a significant source of black carbon emissions.


Fig. 2.1. Anthropogenic Radiative Forcing from various greenhouse gases and aerosols, broken into three grouped segments: 1) CO2, 2) Cooling effects such as sulphate aerosols and changes in surface albedo and 3) Other Heating Effects such as methane, Black Carbon, Nitrous Oxide, Halocarbons, etc. Values sourced from  IPCC AR5 WG1 Chapter 8.

Fig. 2.1. Anthropogenic Radiative Forcing from various greenhouse gases and aerosols, broken into three grouped segments: 1) CO2, 2) Cooling effects such as sulphate aerosols and changes in surface albedo and 3) Other Heating Effects such as methane, Black Carbon, Nitrous Oxide, Halocarbons, etc. Values sourced from IPCC AR5 WG1 Chapter 8.

Fig 2.2 NASA MODIS Satellite map of fires that occurred in a 10-day period in May 2019. Most of the fires are human caused, primarily to clear land for Animal Agriculture.

Fig 2.2 NASA MODIS Satellite map of fires that occurred in a 10-day period in May 2019. Most of the fires are human caused, primarily to clear land for Animal Agriculture.


CO2 is absorbed by trees and plants during photosynthesis and it is stored away permanently in vegetation and soil in regenerating forests. However, in the absence of active reforestation efforts, CO2 is a long-lived greenhouse gas that lingers in the atmosphere for hundreds to even tens of thousands of years. At present, almost 85% of human-made CO2 emissions are from burning fossil fuels, i.e., coal, oil and natural gas. The remaining 15% is mainly from burning down forests to clear land, i.e., land-use changes.

However, since CO2 is a long-lived greenhouse gas, it is the cumulative emissions of CO2 over time that impacts its radiative forcing, not current emissions alone. In 1850, land use changes were the main source of human-made CO2 emissions, while at present, it is fossil fuels (see Fig. 2.3). Integrating the annual CO2 emissions components over time, we see in Fig. 2.4 that between 1850 and 2011, cumulative CO2 emissions due to land use changes is second only to that from coal burning. Besides, land use changes have been occurring for over 8,000 years, whereas fossil fuel burning only started in the industrial era, around 200 years ago. Since the long-range time constant of CO2 rock weathering sequestration is on the order of tens of thousands of years, it is relevant to consider the cumulative CO2 emissions from land use changes over the past 8000 years. Kaplan et al. has estimated the CO2 emissions due to land use changes in the pre-industrial era to be 1250 Gt CO2. This implies that if we integrate from 8000 years ago to 2011, CO2 emissions from land-use changes (1850 Gt CO2) exceeds the CO2 emissions from all fossil fuel sources combined (1200 Gt CO2). Therefore, land use changes are the leading cause of human-made CO2 emissions over the years and not fossil fuel burning.


Fig. 2.3. Annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions from Land Use Change + Coal + Oil + Gas + Cement production. Please note that the Land Use Change component dominated in 1850 while the fossil fuel components dominate at present

Fig. 2.3. Annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions from Land Use Change + Coal + Oil + Gas + Cement production. Please note that the Land Use Change component dominated in 1850 while the fossil fuel components dominate at present

Fig. 2.4. Cumulative CO2 emissions from Land Use Change, Coal, Oil, Gas and Cement production from 1850 onward.  Kaplan et. al.  estimate the Land Use Change contribution prior to 1850 to be 343GtC or 1260 Gt CO2.

Fig. 2.4. Cumulative CO2 emissions from Land Use Change, Coal, Oil, Gas and Cement production from 1850 onward. Kaplan et. al. estimate the Land Use Change contribution prior to 1850 to be 343GtC or 1260 Gt CO2.


In summary, of the four main human-made exhaust gases and particles impacting climate change,
1) Land use changes, primarily for Agriculture, is the leading cause of CO2 emissions, a global heating component with the largest radiative forcing;
2) Animal Agriculture is the leading cause of methane emissions, the global heating component contributing the most incremental heating on an annual basis;
3) Fossil fuel burning is the leading cause of sulphate emissions, a global cooling component; and
4) Animal Agriculture is a leading cause of black carbon emissions, a global heating component.

With the lone exception of sulphate aerosols, which are mainly a by-product of fossil fuel combustion, the other three main exhaust gases and particles causing climate change – CO2, methane and black carbon – are molecular forms of carbon. Therefore, let us now take a closer look at how humans have altered the carbon composition of the planet.

3. How Humans Changed Carbon

Carbon is stored on land in vegetation and soils. Roughly half the weight of a tree is carbon. Half the weight of a tree is below ground and half above ground and therefore, the above ground weight of a tree is a good measure of the amount of carbon stored by the tree. In general, soil contains three times as much carbon as the vegetation it holds.

Carbon is stored deep underground in the form of fossil fuels. It is also stored under permafrost land in the form of ancient vegetation that got frozen and preserved at the dawn of the ice ages 3 million years ago.

Carbon is stored in the ocean in surface, intermediate and deep sea sediments. It is also stored in the ocean as dissolved carbon. Finally, carbon is found in the atmosphere, primarily as CO2, methane, organic carbon and black carbon.


Fig. 3.1. Carbon storage in permafrost, land, ocean, fossil reserves and the atmosphere  in 1750  (in white) and the changes since then due to human activities.

Fig. 3.1. Carbon storage in permafrost, land, ocean, fossil reserves and the atmosphere in 1750 (in white) and the changes since then due to human activities.

Fig. 3.2. The distribution of carbon on land is highly uneven. The density of carbon is highest in forests and lowest in grazing lands and deserts.

Fig. 3.2. The distribution of carbon on land is highly uneven. The density of carbon is highest in forests and lowest in grazing lands and deserts.


For at least 8000 years, humans have been displacing carbon by clearing land for agriculture and by burning fossil fuels (see Fig. 3.1). Most of that displaced carbon has returned back to land, while some has dissolved into the ocean and 240 GtC of it has remained in the atmosphere in the form of greenhouse gases causing climate change. It is estimated that in the pre-industrial era, humans displaced around 300 GtC of carbon on land, but this barely made a dent in the atmospheric CO2 levels as most of it returned back to land in the form of peat moss. Since then, humans have combusted 365 GtC of carbon from the planet’s fossil reserves and displaced 164 GtC from vegetation and soil on land. Of that total of 529 GtC of carbon, 45% or 240 GtC has remained airborne in the form of CO2, methane, etc., in the atmosphere, while 155 GtC has dissolved into the ocean and 134 GtC has returned back to land.

Humans have cut down about 46% of the trees on land since the dawn of civilization. This corresponds to displacing an estimated 464 GtC from vegetation and soils and sending it up into the air. While the pre-industrial clearing of land was compensated by carbon storage in Arctic peat moss, the industrial-era clearing has been mostly compensated with additional storage in forests due to the so-called CO2 fertilization effect. Since the land clearing in the industrial era was accompanied by fossil fuel burning, it raised the atmospheric CO2 levels, which spurred plant-growth due to more efficient photosynthesis. Therefore, even though the cleared land is storing very little carbon as we shall see below, the remaining forests now have a greater density of carbon than in pre-industrial times, which partially offsets the carbon lost due to land clearing.

At present, 2470 GtC is stored in 130 Million square kilometers (MKm2) of the ice-free land area of the planet, for an average carbon storage density of 19,000 tons per sq. km (t/Km2). According to the IPCC Land Use Block diagram (see Fig. 11.9, page 836), 46 MKm2 or 35% of that land is used as grazing land for Animal Agriculture. The Integrated Science Assessment Model (ISAM) at the University of Illinois estimates that this grazing land is currently storing 53 GtC, for an average of 1,150 t/Km2, or just 6% of the global average. This is reflected in the global land carbon stock map of Fig 3.2, which shows vast swathes of the planet with low carbon density corresponding to where human and farmed animal population is dense.

4. Sensitivity Analysis for Human Activities Causing Climate Change

In the previous sections, we have established that land clearing, primarily for Agriculture, and fossil fuel burning are the two main human activities causing climate change. In this section, we will compare the climate change impact of eliminating fossil fuel burning with the impact of eliminating Animal Agriculture, a sub-sector of Agriculture.

At the dawn of the Agricultural revolution, 10,000 years ago, human biomass was negligible compared to the biomass of large wild animals (> 44kg in weight) and humans could afford to lead a predatory existence, cooking and eating animal foods (see Fig. 4.1). However, in the Industrial era, by 1970, human biomass alone was equal to the biomass of all large wild animals from 10,000 years ago. In addition, humans were now farming animals whose total biomass was roughly double that of humans, but who were consuming three times as much food as all humans. As far as the planet was concerned, our farmed animals were presenting the profile of a biomass that was triple the biomass of all the large wild animals from 10K years ago. Meanwhile, the biomass of large wild animals had declined by 60%.

Fast forward another 40 years and by 2010, human biomass had doubled from 1970 levels. Our farmed animals were now eating 4.5 times as much food as all humans thereby presenting the profile of a biomass that is NINE times the biomass of all large wild animals from 10,000 years ago. The biomass of wild animals had declined by 52% from 1970 levels and therefore down by 81% from 10K years ago. The decline in the biomass of wild animals was also accelerating exponentially to be 58% from 1970 levels by 2012 and 60% by 2014. The primary driver for this decline is human land clearing for agriculture, since 80% of mass extinction is due to habitat loss.

In terms of dry matter biomass, our “livestock” or farmed animals consume more than 80% of the food that we extract from the planet in order to provide just 15% of the food (including “seafood”) that humans consume (see Fig. 4.2). That is, in terms of dry weight, 85% of the food that we consume today is already plant-based! Poore and Nemecek have calculated that 82% of the calories and 63% of the protein that we consume is already plant-based as well. Therefore, it is not too far-fetched to ask the question, how much can we mitigate climate change if we eliminated the Animal Agriculture sector altogether and relied entirely on plant-based foods and products? Indeed, this is a much more immediate, practical scenario than eliminating fossil fuel burning altogether. Of course, this would require us to not use animal products for any purpose whatsoever, i.e., to adopt a “Vegan” ethic, since at present, the Animal Agriculture industry is providing 190 million tons of “food” for human consumption along with 140 million tons of “other raw materials” such as skin, blood and bones. If we only change our diets, the industry is perfectly capable of raising animals just to produce the “other raw materials” and therefore, we may not be making much of a dent in its environmental impact.


Fig. 4.1. The biomass of wild animals, humans and farmed animals over time. Human biomass was negligible compared to that of wild animals 10K years ago. Today, this biomass ratio is inverted and biomass levels are unsustainable.

Fig. 4.1. The biomass of wild animals, humans and farmed animals over time. Human biomass was negligible compared to that of wild animals 10K years ago. Today, this biomass ratio is inverted and biomass levels are unsustainable.

Fig. 4.2. Biomass flows, in Gigatons of dry matter biomass per year, through the Animal Agriculture sector, showing how “Livestock” are consuming 4.5 times as much food as all humans. Source  IPCC AR5 WG3 Chapter 11, Fig 11.9, page 836 .

Fig. 4.2. Biomass flows, in Gigatons of dry matter biomass per year, through the Animal Agriculture sector, showing how “Livestock” are consuming 4.5 times as much food as all humans. Source IPCC AR5 WG3 Chapter 11, Fig 11.9, page 836.


In its Fifth Assessment Report, the UN IPCC had calculated that the “Agriculture, Forestry and Land Use” (AFOLU) sector was responsible for 12 Gt CO2e or 25% of the global greenhouse gas emissions by industry sector, including indirect emissions from the electricity and heat production sector (see Fig. 4.3). Since Animal Agriculture is a sub-sector under AFOLU, its contribution must be strictly less than 25%. In contrast, fossil fuel burning was calculated to produce 32 Gt of CO2 or 65% of the total greenhouse gas emissions (49 Gt CO2e) in 2010. Therefore it is tempting to conclude that eliminating fossil fuel burning is a more effective climate mitigation strategy than eliminating the Animal Agriculture sector.

However, this is like inferring the Earth is flat based on local, line-of-sight observations. Such “Local Sensitivity Analysis” can be notoriously misleading. Firstly, the above comparison is based on current emissions and not on cumulative emissions or radiative forcing, which are more appropriate for measuring climate change impact. Secondly, the IPCC is using a 100 year time frame for calculating the CO2 equivalence of methane, which undercounts its more relevant 10-year impact by nearly a factor of 5. Thirdly, it is not just greenhouse gas emissions, but also aerosol cooling effects that need to be taken into account for comparing climate change impact. Fourthly, the IPCC is allocating each molecule of emission to one sector alone. Therefore, if a truck is transporting agricultural products, its emissions is being assigned to the transportation sector and not to the AFOLU sector. Finally, the UN IPCC is relying on the UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) for its AFOLU data, while the FAO has publicly partnered with the International Meat Secretariat and the International Dairy Federation to promote intensive “livestock” farming. How reliable can the FAO’s analysis be, when it is wedded to industry interests? Indeed, here’s a timeline of events debunking the FAO’s reports:

2005 – Alan Calverd published an estimate of GHG emissions from “Livestock” breathing alone is 8.8 Gt CO2e or 21% of total. “Livestock” breathing is a proxy for the avoided carbon sequestration while consuming animal products.
2006 – FAO published Livestock’s Long Shadow (LLS) calculating lifecycle emissions from the “Livestock” sector to be 7.5 Gt CO2e or 18% of total, i.e., less than the breathing contribution alone!
2009 – Goodland and Anhang published WorldWatch report correcting errors in LLS and calculating lifecycle emissions of the “Livestock” sector to be 32.6 Gt CO2e or 51% of total. This 32.6 Gt CO2e can be split into actual emissions of 21.1 Gt CO2e plus avoided carbon sequestration of 11.5 Gt CO2e (see Fig. 4.4) on the land that would be freed up when Animal Agriculture is eliminated. The latter is their estimate of the “Carbon Opportunity Cost” of Animal Agriculture, to use the terminology of Searchinger et al. In the former, Goodland and Anhang used a 20-year timeframe for averaging the impact of methane instead of the 100 year timeframe used in the FAO’s analysis.
2011 – FAO scientists published critique of Goodland and Anhang’s estimate in Animal Feed Science and Technology (AFST) Journal.
2012 – Goodland and Anhang published refutation in AFST Journal and reiterated their estimate. FAO scientists declined to continue the debate despite AFST Editor’s invitation.
2013 – FAO publicly partnered with International Meat Secretariat and the International Dairy Federation and published revision to LLS, calculating lifecycle emissions of the “Livestock” sector to be 7.1 Gt CO2e or 14.5% of total, without addressing any of the egregious errors pointed out in Goodland and Anhang’s report or in the ensuing peer-reviewed debate.

Therefore, relying on the FAO’s analysis is like relying on a Philip Morris scientific paper that extols the cancer healing benefits of smoking Marlboro Lights. In its lifecycle analysis of Animal Agriculture, the FAO had calculated the Carbon Opportunity Cost of Animal Agriculture to be ZERO, which is blatantly incorrect. In addition, it appears that Goodland and Anhang may have also vastly undercounted the Carbon Opportunity Cost of Animal Agriculture since they only included CO2 stored in above ground vegetation and did not include CO2 stored in soil. Searchinger et al. calculate the Carbon Opportunity Cost to be an average of 5 tons of CO2 per person per year, which works out to a total of 34.5 Gt CO2 for a human population of 6.9 billion in 2010. Therefore, the true Lifecycle emissions of Animal Agriculture was closer to 55.6 Gt CO2e in 2010, i.e., 87% of the total.


Fig. 4.3. Global emissions by economic sector according to the UN IPCC AR5. Agriculture, forestry and land use (AFOLU) comprise just 25% of the total, including indirect emissions from the electricity and heat production sector.

Fig. 4.3. Global emissions by economic sector according to the UN IPCC AR5. Agriculture, forestry and land use (AFOLU) comprise just 25% of the total, including indirect emissions from the electricity and heat production sector.

Fig. 4.4. Lifecycle emissions of Animal Agriculture as measured by the UN FAO (two versions) and World Bank scientists, Goodland and Anhang, in comparison with the total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel sources.

Fig. 4.4. Lifecycle emissions of Animal Agriculture as measured by the UN FAO (two versions) and World Bank scientists, Goodland and Anhang, in comparison with the total CO2 emissions from fossil fuel sources.


In contrast to “Local Sensitivity Analysis,” a “Global Sensitivity Analysis” works by considering the thought experiment: how will the human-caused radiative forcing change in the two scenarios:
a) Clean Energy Economy: if we eliminate fossil fuel burning and replace it with clean energy sources, keeping all else the same vs.
b) Plant Based Economy: if we eliminate the Animal Agriculture sector and replace it with plant-based sources, keeping all else the same?

In the Clean Energy Economy scenario, we assume that all energy sources have been transitioned to clean, zero emissions sources, but we will be continuing to burn down forests to grow more animal foods as before. Therefore, land use change emissions would continue to add CO2 to the atmosphere. The CO2 component of the radiative forcing would continue to increase but at a slower pace than before. Since we are no longer burning coal and oil, sulphate aerosols would disappear within 3-5 days, which means that the net radiative forcing would increase by 0.95 W/m2 due to this component. Finally, Other Heating Effects would remain the same so that the net radiative forcing would increase to 3.24 W/m2 from the present 2.29 W/m2, exacerbating numerous catastrophic climate feedback loops.

In the Plant Based Economy scenario, we assume that all animal products have been replaced with plant-based equivalents and that Animal Agriculture has been eliminated, but we continue to burn fossil fuels as necessary. From Fig. 4.2, we see that we can now supply all the plant-based food and product requirements from the cropland output alone, freeing up the grazing land for reforestation and carbon sequestration. This grazing land will begin sequestering 34.5 Gt CO2 per year, reducing CO2 levels in the atmosphere. In addition, a good chunk of the fossil fuel burning would disappear as we reduce our need for transporting vast amounts of food to animals, killing them in industrial settings, refrigerating their carcasses, treating diseased people, etc. About 40% of the methane in the atmosphere would disappear in 10-12 years, reducing the radiative forcing by 0.4 W/m2. The Black Carbon component of 0.6 W/m2. would reduce as we stop burning forests to create grazing land for animals. Therefore, we can expect the net radiative forcing to decrease to 1.3-1.7 W/m2 from the current 2.29 W/m2. within 10-12 years. As the net radiative forcing decreases, we can start gradually switching out the fossil fuel infrastructure for clean energy sources without exacerbating catastrophic climate feedback loops.

The choice between these two scenarios should now be obvious. This shows that Animal Agriculture is indeed the leading cause of climate change.

5. CO2 Sequestration Potential in a Plant-Based Economy

At present, grazing lands store just 6% of the carbon per unit area when compared to the average for all land. In our Lifestyle Carbon Dividend poster paper presented at the AGU Fall Meeting in 2015, we reported that 41% of this grazing land used to be forests in 1800 and that if we can return the original forests on that land, the carbon storage on land would increase by 265 GtC from its present value. Our analysis was conducted using 2014 HYDE land use data, assuming that grazing land is reverted to native biomes that existed in 1800.


Fig. 5.1. The Lifestyle Carbon Dividend analysis showing that a global transition to a plant-based economy can sequester 265 GtC on just 41% of the grazing land.

Fig. 5.1. The Lifestyle Carbon Dividend analysis showing that a global transition to a plant-based economy can sequester 265 GtC on just 41% of the grazing land.


Here are the supporting calculations and extrapolations assuming that all grazing land can be regenerated to store the same carbon sequestration per unit area as the reverted lands:

Total area of grazing lands in 2014: 47.3 M Km2
Total carbon stored in that land (soil + vegetation): 52.8 GtC
Total area of grazing lands reverted to forests: 19.6 M Km2
Carbon sequestered in reverted lands at maturity: 292.7 GtC
Carbon sequestered per unit area at maturity: 14,930 t/Km2
Potential Carbon sequestration in all lands at maturity: 706.2 GtC
Net Carbon sequestration in all lands at maturity: 653.4 GtC
Net CO2 sequestration in all lands at maturity: 2396 Gt CO2

Please note that as CO2 sequestration occurs on such a massive scale, we can expect the ocean to release its dissolved CO2 and the CO2 fertilization effect to decrease on land. Then the potential CO2 sequestration will also decline proportionally, because we would be literally reducing the CO2 levels in the atmosphere, an outcome devoutly to be wished.

6. Conclusions

In this paper, we established that Animal Agriculture is the leading cause of climate change accounting for an estimated 87% of annual greenhouse gas emissions. We also illustrated the need to transition to a global plant-based economy first and that blindly eliminating fossil fuel usage first will accelerate the warming of the planet. The necessary global transition to a plant-based economy can be achieved through concerted, grassroots action, with or without the active cooperation of governments, scientific institutions, corporations and the news media.

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[14] Smith P., M. Bustamante, H. Ahammad, H. Clark, H. Dong, E.A. Elsiddig, H. Haberl, R. Harper, J. House, M. Jafari, O. Masera, C. Mbow, N.H. Ravindranath, C.W. Rice, C. Robledo Abad, A. Romanovskaya, F. Sperling, and F. Tubiello, 2014: Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU). In: Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.)], 2014, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

[15] Rao, S., Jain, A. K., Shu, S., The Lifestyle Carbon Dividend: Assessment of the Carbon Sequestration Potential of Grasslands and Pasturelands Reverted to Native Forests, AGU Fall Meeting 2015.

[16] Barnosky, A., Megafauna Biomass Tradeoff as a Driver of Quaternary and Future Extinctions, PNAS 105, Aug 2008, pp. 11543-11548.

[17] World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2014.

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[19] World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report 2018.

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Why Aren’t Youth Climate Leaders Addressing Meat Consumption?

OCTOBER 17, 2019 BY  — LEAVE A COMMENT

On September 21, youth climate leaders from around the world converged at the United Nations in New York to participate in the Youth Climate Summit. During the summit, TheirTurn asked them why the youth climate movement isn’t using its platform to encourage grass roots climate activists and the mainstream public to make lifestyle changes to reduce their own carbon emissions.

One day earlier, tens of thousands of New Yorkers, most of whom were students, took to the streets of downtown Manhattan to participate in a youth climate strike with Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. Neither their posters nor the information they distributed focused on what individuals can do to reduce their own carbon footprint. Frustrated by the fact that youth climate leaders are not proactively encouraging the public to take steps to reduce their own emissions, a contingent of several dozen adult activists joined the climate strike to promote plant-based diets.

Adult climate strikers promote plant-based diets as a strategy to reduce carbon and methane emissions

“Eating animals is the elephant in the room of the climate change movement,” said Nathan Semmel, an attorney and activist who participated in the climate strike. “How can youth climate leaders expect world leaders to take action on the climate crisis if they aren’t encouraging their own constituents to stop engaging in environmentally destructive activity that can be easily avoided?

Ranchers are deforesting the Amazon in order to graze their cattle and grow cattle feed (photo: National Geographic)

During the interviews with TheirTurn, every youth climate leader mentioned meat reduction or elimination when asked what steps individuals can take.  None of them, however, indicated that they are proactively conveying this message to their constituents. They are instead pressuring global leaders to make systemic change.

“It’s not an either/or,” said journalist and climate advocate Jane Velez-Mitchell of JaneUnChained. “Youth climate leaders can demand accountability from our leaders and ask their constituents to reduce their own carbon footprint by making the switch to a plant-based diet.”

Waste lagoon at a cattle ranch (taken from above)

Unlike youth climate leaders, who understand the impact of animal agriculture on the climate and are reducing or eliminating their own consumption of animal products, grass roots participants in the youth climate strike were largely unaware. When asked what steps they can take to reduce their own carbon emissions, most recommended reducing single-use plastic and recycling.

Youth climate leaders speak about their advocacy at the United Nations Youth Climate Summit