In 2014, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claimed that even though the driving force of climate change is human activity, only a fourth of the greenhouse gas emissions are related to electricity and heat production. Another fourth of the total greenhouse gas emissions come from what the IPCC calls “agriculture, forestry and other land use” or AFOLU.
Deforestation, biomass burning and soil erosion have become major topics of discussion among climate scientists. University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa students Kayla Yamamoto and Kristyn Iwane joined this discussion with their own study by asking the question, “Can a vegan diet mitigate the effects of climate change?”
Health experts have previously explained the health consequences of red meat in a regular diet. This project takes a different approach by talking about the health consequences that meat consumption has on the environment and shows that cutting down on meat in your diet can go a long way.
Two scenarios, two results
“The idea for this project came from a documentary called Cowspiracy, which addresses the issue of climate change through the means of a vegan diet,” Yamamoto said. “It was definitely something I was curious to learn more about.”
By using historical data as a basis, Yamamoto and Iwane created two models that simulated future carbon dioxide emissions with two different scenarios. One model is based on the scenario where the world’s eating habits do not change, and the other is modified under the assumption that everyone in the world has turned into a vegan.
Despite some uncertainty, the results are very clear. In the former scenario, the carbon dioxide concentrations in the control skyrocket to over 900 parts per million (double the current concentration). For the latter, the scenario has a much slower increase of carbon dioxide, which levels off to just under 600 parts per million.
Changing a global habit
Could these results convince people to give up their steaks for a cleaner environment? The duo realized this study was not going to immediately change everyone’s mind on their eating habits. When they presented their findings last December, one student made a comment about being hungry for a cheeseburger. But they do recognize that cutting down on meatcan mitigate the effects of climate change.
“In addition when considering the global food production and life cycle, studies show that a typical meat-eating diet contributes more to GHG emissions than the transportation sector alone,” Yamamoto said. “If you could make a bigger difference by doing less, would you do it?”
One alternative is to not eat meat for one day each week. In fact, one organization called “Meatless Monday” aims to accomplish this by incorporating non-meat dishes in school cafeterias and restaurants. They also provide recipes that people can try out at home if they want to cut out meat for one day a week.