To anyone who has embraced the 'Meatless Monday' concept, I say good for you. Huzzah, and all that. But from a climate perspective, I hope you're not planning on sticking to the one-day-a-week regiment.
Let's just consider one greenhouse gas: Nitrous oxide. A new study has found that to even have a chance at stopping it from increasing by 2030, those of us in the developed world who now eat meat every day will need to change to every other day, that is, only half the time.
Here's how the write-up in Discovery News summarizes the study:
Nitrous oxide is the biggest man-made contributor to stratospheric ozone destruction (the "ozone hole"), and the third most critical greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane.
About 80 percent of nitrous oxide emissions from human activity come from agriculture. Bacteria convert the nitrogen found in manure or excess fertilizer left in the soil into nitrous oxide gas.
Every pound of meat we eat requires multiple pounds of grain to produce, and the grain in turn requires the use of nitrogen-containing fertilizer, so the amount of nitrous oxide released per calorie of meat (and dairy) is much higher than that from eating crops directly.
Eric Davidson of the Woods Hole Research Center looked at several possible trajectories for future nitrous oxide emissions, including stabilizing atmospheric nitrous oxide levels this century. He considered what changes to emissions would be necessary to achieve this target.
Davidson's work showed that even if we can somehow manage nitrogen twice as eficiently in the future, it will still be necessary for Westerners to cut their meat consumption in half.
"If we want to get to the most aggressive reduction -- the one that actually stabilizes nitrous oxide -- we have to use all of the above, including dietary changes, to get there," Davidson said.
Oh, and if you're a longtime Earth to Philly reader, you may be asking yourself, "hey, didn't Earth to Philly make the point that reducing meat consumption would be necessary to mitigate nitrous oxide a few years ago when nobody else was talking about this?"