Written by Sophia Marchese.
A landmark United Nations report warns the world about the looming future of our planet if we don't make "unprecedented changes."
There are three main reasons that people decide to go plant-based. The first being health reasons (which is why I initially decided to take the plunge), the second is for the all-important animal rights, and the third is because of the detrimental effects animal agriculture has on the environment.
In light of a recent warning released by the United Nations, I want to talk about the third reason. The environment. Our one and only Earth.
According to UN chief António Guterres, the report released on Monday by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) should be heard around the world as an “ear-splitting wake-up call.”
In other words, this is no joke.
The special report, put together by the world’s leading climate scientists, highlights what could happen to the planet at different levels of global warming.
Based on our current levels of greenhouse gas emissions, our planet is on track to reach a threshold of 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit, above pre-industrial levels as soon as the year 2030.
“We are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Artic sea ice, among other changes,” Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of one of the IPCC Working Groups said.
The landmark report paints a grim picture of what only a half degree of warming could do to our planet and all of its population. And any warming above 1.5°C puts us at even higher risk of irreversible effects, such as the depletion of entire ecosystems like our precious coral reefs.
“It’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now.” - Debra Roberts
In a statement made to The Guardian earlier this year, climate scientist and Climate Analytics director Bill Hare said that “there are big differences between 1.5 and 2 degrees warming in both natural and human systems.” He went on to explain that two degrees warming above pre-industrial times gives tropical reefs virtually no chance of survival, while even 1.5 degrees will take their decline to about 70-90 percent.
Furthermore, plants and vital crop-pollinating insects are nearly twice as likely to lose up to half their habitat with just a half degree difference in temperature.
According to the report, in order to avoid increased risks along with risks of droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people, we need “urgent and unprecedented changes” that will keep warming below 1.5°C.
Time is ticking. Humans have just 12 years to prevent global warming from exceeding the threshold, while every fraction of surplus warming could change our world as we know it. At our current rate, the IPCC warns that the planet will be 3°C by the end of the century.
Debra Roberts, a co-chair of the working group on impacts said that “it’s a line in the sand and what it says to our species is that this is the moment and we must act now.” She described this as the “largest clarion bell from the science community” and hopes that it mobilizes people away from a mood of complacency.
Roberts is on to something here. It’s time to wake up and make some changes. But how?
Eat the change you wish to see in the world
Shortly after the report was released, Gutteres said that collective climate action is needed in “all aspects of society.” This includes an end to deforestation and investing in “climate-friendly sustainable agriculture.”
The landmark report also calls for Earth’s human population to adopt a plant-based diet in which meat consumption is greatly reduced. This suggestion aligns with the growing body of evidence that indicates a plant-based diet as one of the most crucial solutions to mitigating global warming.
As mentioned earlier, environmental impacts of animal-based foods and eating habits are often a leading reason why people choose to switch to a plant-based diet. Studies show the link between meat consumption and climate change and have shown the frightening impacts that factory farming has on the environment.
Even mainstream news sources like Huffington Post note the stark reality that animal agriculture is the number one cause of deforestation and is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all of transportation sector.
Yes, you read that correctly. That means all cars, buses, planes, trains and boats combined. Changing food habits may be even more revolutionary than carpooling, buying an electric car, or cutting down on air travel.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, livestock hold about 14.5 percent responsibility for global greenhouse gas emissions. And studies have shown that the meat industry alone has bigger environmental impact than the oil industry.
Researchers at the University of Oxford recently conducted the most comprehensive analyses into environmental effect of farming to date, finding meat and dairy production responsible for 60 percent of agriculture’s greenhouse gases, while the products themselves provide just 18 percent of calories and 37 percent of protein levels globally.
The study, published in the journal Science, found that eating a plant-based diet could be the “single best way” to reduce environmental impact. Cutting meat and dairy from the diet, as revealed in the study, could reduce our personal carbon footprint from food by up to 73 percent.
Further blowing my mind, if everyone stopped eating animal-based foods, global farmland use could be reduced by 75 percent—an area the size of the United States, China, Australia and the European Union combined.
“An important first step would be to align national food-based dietary guidelines with the present evidence on healthy eating and the environmental impacts of diets,” the IPCC report states.
Simply put, a plant-based diet could be the driving force behind a movement that wishes to change the current fate of our planet. It’s no longer about being “just one person.” If we all work together to make lifestyle changes, especially changes in our diet, the numbers will speak for themselves. The time is now. And a plate full of plants makes for a happy planet.
For more eye-opening information on the causes of animal agriculture, we suggest watching the documentary Cowspiracy: The Sustainable Secret. See below for the trailer.
The full report, called Global Warming of 1.5°C, an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty, can be read here.