UN's Top Climate Scientist Urges People to Combat Climate Change by Eating Less Meat

This is a guest post by Meg Hamill who works at LandPaths, in Partnership with The Open Space District of Sonoma County, California

Monday evening, the UN’s top Climate Scientist, Rajendra Pachuari, will speak in London at a meeting organized by Compassion in World Farming (CIWF), urging people to fight global warming by taking meat off their menu.

Dr. Pachuari has recently been re-appointed to his second, six-year term as chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC collects and evaluates climate data for governments around the world, and was the recipient of the Nobel Prize in 2007, along with Al Gore. Dr. Pachuari told the BBC: “I want to highlight the fact that among options for mitigating climate change, changing diets is something one should consider.”

[social_buttons] UN data says that meat production accounts for about 18% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions, topping even transportation, which accounts for 13% of worldwide emissions. The UN included all aspects of meat production, when arriving at the 18% figure: clearing land, creation and transportation of fertilizers, burning fuels in farm vehicles, and the emissions coming directly from cows and sheep.

There are three main greenhouse gases involved in meat production: methane, nitrous oxide and carbon dioxide. People have begun to think about ways of farming meat that produce less emissions. One possibility to is genetically engineer cattle that produce less methane. The biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions from meat production, however, is land clearance, which will likely continue as long as the demand for meat continues to rise.

CIWF’s ambassador Joyce D’Silva told the BBC: “Surveys show people are anxious about their personal carbon footprints and cutting back on car journeys and so on; but they may not realize that changing what’s on their plate could have an even bigger effect.”

Image Credit: Photo from Freefoto under a Creative Commons License

34 thoughts on “UN's Top Climate Scientist Urges People to Combat Climate Change by Eating Less Meat”

  1. I eat meat, plain and simple. No I will not be giving that up any time soon.

    *IF* Global Climate Change has any man made component, it’s purely and simply because there are far too many of us. Nothing more, nothing less. If you want to combat that, get off your high carbon horse, and stop f*ck*ng around – literally.

  2. 7 lbs of corn to get 1 lb of beef.
    65 lbs of beef a year (average) = 455 lbs of corn.
    455 lbs of corn that is genetically modified
    455 lbs of corn that is chemically treated
    chemicals leach into rivers, killing water echo system
    corn makes cows sick
    cows are given antibiotics to keep them alive.
    antibiotic laced beef leads to early puberty
    Farmers grow more corn because people want more beef
    Worldwide prices of corn goes up.
    More farmers grow corn instead of other food
    Other countries grow our food
    Transportation to ship food from other countries results in pollution and global warming.

    Enjoy you’re big mac.


  3. Meg,

    Thanks for this thoughtful article.

    A lot of us eat meat for health reasons – a high protein, low carb diet is important to stay healthy, and avoid obesity and diabetes. Even vegetarians can do it. But shouldn’t there also be some focus on helping the newly affluent developing countries spend their “calories” more wisely? That would mean still eat meat, but eat less rice, since protein is needed for health, and wet rice is a huge methane source.

    I’ve put a little mini blog up on this question and I’ll try to keep it updated as this issue gets talked through. Please feel free to leave a comment!



  4. Wow, so many of you are just willing to let the world go to hell without a second thought. At least Chris Jones here is just plain daft. He has an excuse, albeit an unfortunate one. Some others of you acknowledge that there is likely (or at least possibly) a serious problem, but are unwilling to care because it might inconvenience you. How ridiculous humanity has become. Too caught up in your own little personal world to give a damn about the real one.

  5. (I’m french sorry for the mistakes)

    Another fact that have not been mentioned is that to produce a kilogram of meat requires 13 000 liters of water while a kilogram of wheat or other cereals require around 100 liters to produce.

    Plus, I don’t have the exact numbers but for every kg of meat to be produced, it takes MANY kg of cereals to raise a single animal.

    Productivity per hectare for several types of food:
    cherry: 1000kg per hectare
    apple: 4000kg per hectare
    carot: 6000kg per hectare
    beef meat: 50kg per hectare

  6. Mankind did not claw his way up to the top of the food chain just to go back to eating grass and leaves.

    Why eat like a rabbit when you can eat the rabbit?

  7. well, i don’t think it should be too difficult for the world to eat less meat..! Cant u even do such a little bit, to help the planet, which has already been screwed up enough…!

    And also going vegetarian is healthier and much more humane way of existence…

  8. Hey — I disagree with that last comment. It seems from most places I’ve been in my life, (India, Japan, America) that many or most humans are hard wired to be altruistic, and in fact, that’s a necessary fact of their lives. You can even depend on it.

    On the other hand, Americans are hard-wired to become selfish (and fat!! hee hee). Why is that? Is there too much fluoride brain damage in the water? Is selfishness left over from the 1930’s? Was it actually evolution from the 1930’s?

  9. Domesticated animals in the developed world are better fed than lots of people in the third world. Doomed animals are competing (and winning) against a significant proportion of humanity.

    Meat increases the amount of area required for agriculture – to feed the animals. (If you were to feed people on a purely vegetarian diet instead of meat, you would need much, much less area to grow the crops). This added inefficiency is probably responsible for at least 10% of our CO2 emissions – if not 18% – I don’t know because I haven’t read the report.

    Add to this the ethical bankruptcy of slaughterhouses.

    Calling meat a bad idea is a no-brainer. And alas, a non-starter. Here’s why.

    I don’t blame the multitudes who consume whoppers (and the like). Humans are not hard wired to be altruistic. Evolution has hard-wired them to be selfish. To expect them to forgo their whoppers is expecting them to go against their fundamental human nature. That’s never going to work when one talks of humans as a whole.

    The sad issue with global warming is that one does not have simple tangible proof that it is happening. One can explain away any climatic oddity as a “fluctuation” – an inherent (tangible) characteristic of climatic systems.

    Of course, the proof is simple and intuitive to anyone with a scientific inclination. And 99% of the people don’t have it. Expecting people to believe in global warming is like expecting everyone to be familiar with the proof of E=mc^2. That’s not going to happen.

  10. @Adam: Thanks for sharing. I disagree, though, that the kind of approach represented in this article will do anything to change any minds. If someone snidely attacked your beliefs and values, would you be inclined to consider their point of view? I wouldn’t…

  11. No, Tyler, that fact is correct because the land that is being cleared to grow food for cows could be used to grow food for people. The excess land is taken up by the cows themselves.

  12. It seems to me that if we just started eating human meat it would actually reduce the carbon footprint.
    First we pull the GPS data and anyone who has an SUV that has not been off a road in a year gets eaten.
    If you want to “feel safe” try learning how to drive.
    Next we eat the vegans because grain fed just tastes better and they are kind of annoying and preachy.
    We could eat the politicians and improve the world but they are usually so full of crap they’d be a bitch to clean.

  13. The reality here is that the truth lies within the middle — of course eating less meat has its dietary benefits. However, I somehow don’t really buy the statement that meat production solely accounts for such a large proportion of emissions.

    In reality, a decreased demand in meat production would result in farmers collectively replacing lost business with other crops — which will create more emissions anyways.

    Let’s focus on emission reduction by making smart decisions when we purchase our vehicles, driving less in general, and convincing our government to offer incentives to companies that are advocates of alternate energy sources.

  14. Nice to see the overreactionary wing of the US still in full force. “What? Someone said that eating meat is bad? WELL SCREW YOU BUDDY! BECAUSE I’M FROM THE FREAKIN’ US-OF-A AND WE EAT MEAT! I DON’T CARE IF IT MAKES MY HEAD EXPLODE ON A REGULAR BASIS, IT’S MY RIGHT AND I’LL DO IT!”.

    It was just an advisory from a guy who knows what he’s talking about, so frickin’ relax.

  15. I believe the numbers go something like this:
    Cattle has a 54 to 1 energy ratio.
    Pigs has a 17 to 1 energy ratio.
    Lamb has a 50 to 1 energy ratio.
    Chicken has a 4 to 1 energy ratio.

    On average, animal protein production in the U.S. requires 28 kcal for every 1 kcal of protein produced for human consumption

    Now I am not trying to tell you to be a vegetarian… I am just saying instead of having a burger for lunch everyday, maybe once in awhile try the chicken sandwich.

  16. It’s worth noting that the more traditional and environmentally friendly method of farming, which organic farming was intended to revitalize, tends to require animals because animal waste is the main source of traditional fertilizer. The act of eliminating meat eating entirely would raise sustainability issues of its own.

    As a first step we might be better off figuring out how to use animal waste as fertilizer, rather than trying to eliminate it. Waste filling the Gulf of Mexico and other dead zones is troubling, and we could do a lot more good by making sure it’s used in agriculture in place of industrial fertilizer.

  17. I have suspended myself and my spouse in stasis inside a rental unit near where our old, carbon wasting, house used to reside. We have internet access (which is powered by solar panels on the roof) and survive off of captured rain water. We wanted to minimize our carbon footprint, so we stopped driving, eating meat, verbally socializing, having children, and living in a space much larger than we needed. We occasionally view images of meat, and often vacation at various locations around Google Earth (side note: the images from that new satellite is really going enhance our marriage.) We’re heading over to the Greenpeace website later today if anyone wants to join us.

  18. Oh noes, the only thing many Americans consider to be food is actually bad for the environment!

    Think about it- cattle have to eat a ton of food to get as large as they do, which is an inefficient way of feeding people given that the grain fed to cows can be fed directly to people. Those cattle have to have a place to eat, too, which means land clearance- flash burning or cross cutting massive swatches of trees and grass land, which increases our atmospheric CO2 load due to burning and the elimination of trees (which breathe CO2 and exhale oxygen) so you can have a bunch of animals stand around all day and shit on it. Due to their intensive dietary needs, cow production also demands an incredible amount of water resources.

    Underlying the whole operation is fossil fuels, since you have to ship the tools and materials needed to clear out the new grazing land to the site, then ship in a bunch of cows, and constantly ship in huge amounts of food for the cows to eat. Using that land to farm plant proteins, such as soy, is obviously more efficient in terms of resources needed to produce a yield, since you don’t have to feed grain to soy plants- you just need to give them water, sunlight, and fertilizer. Therefore, all of that grain that you were previously feeding cows now goes to people, and all of the land the cows occupied is now being used to grow soy. This feeds MORE PEOPLE MORE EFFECTIVELY than the massive resource-drain cattle farming represents.

    But of course Americans ridicule anyone who questions their undying devotion to beef, simply because we’re uncomfortable with the idea of sacrificing creature comforts in the name of sustainability. Which means the meatheads inevitably turn these conversations to HURF DURF I’LL EAT MORE MEAT JUST BECAUSE YOU’RE NOT, in which case fine, I’ll happily enjoy a longer, healthier life than you and will probably come out ahead since I’ll be alive and still eating vegetables long after you’ve died of a coronary.

    I’m not saying you should completely give up beef and red meat, and neither is the gentleman who is the subject of the article. We’re simply saying that you should cut back on meat- for example, by eliminating meat entirely one day of the week. Is that going to kill you? I can attest that it won’t, since I haven’t eaten meat in over 6 years. So why don’t you give it a try? You think meat is the only thing delicious enough to be worth eating simply because you refuse to consider eating anything else as the staple of your diet.

  19. No Steve, he obviously hasn’t because that would be stupid, much like your comment. If the fact that things eat other things to live is too much for you to bear, maybe you shouldn’t be living.

    So basically they’ve taken all basic aspects of meat productionFarming, when arriving at the 18% figure: clearing land, creation and transportation of fertilizers, burning fuels in farm vehicles, and the emissions coming directly from cows and sheep. Are you kidding? The simple metabolic processes that sustain the lives of these creatures is being taken into account?!

    It starts with “Stop eating meat to prevent global warming” and eventually it becomes restrictions on how much we can drive, and then into keeping house pets and how the resources expended to sustain their existence is causing global warming, and well the simple fact that I’m alive is contributing to global warming. So I should live however they tell me to live because I should feel guilty for my own existence. Repent and obey!

    Suck it!

  20. Using all aspects of meat production as it says is an inaccurate way to come up with the 18%. If you think about it, clearing land, creation and transportation of fertilizers, and burning fuels in farm vehicles are all going to go into farming wether it is to raise cattle or to grow soy beans. So the only real variable is the product. Yes cattle will produce more greenhouse emissions than corn or soy beans, but not anywhere near 18% on it’s own. I truly hope that people out there are smart enough to smell the BS, no pun intended, and not give up on meat for such a bogus reason.

  21. The day I give up the whopper is the day the earth is engulfed by nuclear war and the only living thing left is the flour beetle. In fact, I’m going to eat even more whoppers now, to make up for anyone who listens to this guy.

  22. Ben: And you’ve obviously never tasted it while standing on a slaughterhouse floor with the smell of manure and death in the air.

  23. An Indian “climate scientist” urges us to not eat meat? How quaint.

    He’s obviously never tasted slow smoked brisket, or enjoyed a nice ribeye with a glass of cabernet sauvignon after his obviously stressful day at work.

  24. my West coast parental units have been complete vegetarians for 30 years. On the East coast, mom is pretty meat-free but my stepdad was born considerably before the curret dietary and environmentl considerations.

  25. While he is correct about the impact of eating meat, and while he is the head of the IPCC, Pachuari is himself not a climate scientist. He plays more of an administrative role.

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