Going Veggie Would Cut Global Food Emissions by Two Thirds and Save Millions of Lives - New Study
Going Veggie Would Cut Global Food Emissions by Two Thirds and Save Millions of Lives - New Study
By Marco Springmann / theconversation.com

Eating more fruit and vegetables and cutting back on red and processed meat will make you healthier. That’s obvious enough. But as chickens and cows themselves eat food and burn off their own energy, meat is a also major driver of climate change. Going veggie can drastically reduce your carbon footprint.

This is all at a personal level. What about when you multiply such changes by 7 billion people, and factor in a growing population?

In our latest research, colleagues and I estimate that changes towards more plant-based diets in line with the WHO’s global dietary guidelines could avert 5m-8m deaths per year by 2050. This represents a 6-10% reduction in global mortality.

Food-related greenhouse gas emissions would also be cut by more than two thirds. In all, these dietary changes would have a value to society of more than US$1 trillion – even as much as US$30 trillion. That’s up to a tenth of the likely global GDP in 2050. Our results are published in the journal PNAS.

Future projections of diets paint a grim picture. Fruit and vegetable consumption is expected to increase, but so is red meat consumption and the amount of calories eaten in general. Of the 105 world regions included in our study, fewer than a third are on course to meet dietary recommendations.

A bigger population, eating a worse diet, means that by 2050 food-related GHG emissions will take up half of the “emissions budget” the world has for limiting global warming to less than 2℃.

To see how dietary changes could avert such a doom and gloom scenario, we constructed four alternative diets and analysed their health and environmental impacts: one reference scenario based on projections of diets in 2050; a scenario based on global dietary guidelines which includes minimum amounts of fruits and vegetables, and limits to the amount of red meat, sugar, and total calories; and two vegetarian scenarios, one including eggs and dairy (lacto-ovo vegetarian), and the other completely plant-based (vegan).

Millions of avoidable deaths

We found that adoption of global dietary guidelines could result in 5.1m avoided deaths per year in 2050. Vegetarian and vegan diets could result in 7.3m and 8.1m avoided deaths respectively. About half of this is thanks to eating less red meat. The other half comes thanks to eating more fruit and veg, along with a reduction in total energy intake (and the associated decreases in obesity).

There are huge regional variations. About two thirds of the health benefits of dietary change are projected to occur in developing countries, in particular in East Asia and South Asia. But high-income countries closely follow, and the per-person benefits in developed countries could actually be twice as large as those in developing countries, as their relatively more imbalanced diets leave greater room for improvement.

Room for improvement. Lightspring / shutterstock

China would see the largest health benefits, with around 1.4m to 1.7m averted deaths per year. Cutting red meat and reducing general overconsumption would be the most important factor there and in other big beneficiaries such as the EU and the US. In India, however, up to a million deaths per year would be avoided largely thanks to eating more fruit and vegetables.

Russia and other Eastern European countries would see huge benefits per-person, in particular due to less red meat consumption. People in small island nations such as Mauritius and Trinidad and Tobago would benefit due to reduced obesity.

Vegans vs climate change?

We estimated that adopting global dietary guidelines would cut food-related emissions by 29%. But even this still wouldn’t be enough to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions in line with the overall cutbacks necessary to keep global temperature increases below 2°C.

India could cut its emissions and save lives – at the same time. Christopher FynnCC BY

To seriously fight climate change, more plant-based diets will be needed. Our analysis shows if the world went vegetarian that cut in food-related emissions would rise to 63%. And if everyone turned vegan? A huge 70%.

What’s it worth?

Dietary changes would have huge economic benefits, leading to savings of US$700-1,000 billion per year globally in healthcare, unpaid informal care and lost working days. The value that society places on the reduced risk of dying could even be as high as 9-13% of global GDP, or US$20-$30 trillion. Avoided climate change damages from reduced food-related greenhouse gas emissions could be as much as US$570 billion.

Putting a dollar value on good health and the environment is a sensitive issue. However, our results indicate that dietary changes could have large benefits to society, and the value of those benefits makes a strong case for healthier and more environmentally sustainable diets.

The scale of the task is clearly enormous. Fruit and vegetable production and consumption would need to more than double in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia just to meet global dietary recommendations, whereas red meat consumption would need to be halved globally, and cut by two thirds in richer countries. We’d also need to tackle the key problem of overconsumption. It’s a lot to chew on.

 is a Researcher at University of Oxford

4.3 ·
What's Next
Trending Today
Your Lifestyle Has Already Been Designed (The Real Reason For The Forty-Hour Workweek)
David Cain · 30,176 views today · Well I’m in the working world again. I’ve found myself a well-paying gig in the engineering industry, and life finally feels like it’s returning to normal after my nine months...
Dinosaur explains Trump policies better than Trump!
8 min · 24,481 views today · Donald Trump is actually the corporate triceratops, Mr. Richfield, from the 90's TV show sitcom, "Dinosaurs". 
Noam Chomsky Has 'Never Seen Anything Like This'
Chris Hedges · 9,048 views today · Noam Chomsky is America’s greatest intellectual. His massive body of work, which includes nearly 100 books, has for decades deflated and exposed the lies of the power elite...
Three Massive Mergers - Millions for One Bank and a Disaster for Food, Water, and Climate
Wenonah Hauter · 4,363 views today · In addition to advising on all three mega-mergers, Credit Suisse is playing a big role behind the scenes of the Dakota Access pipeline.
Heartbreaking Animation Reveals Plight of Animals Under Threat of Extinction
3 min · 3,273 views today · This stunning and heartbreaking animation gives voice to animals under threat from human activity. Made as part of the Wildlife Conservation Film Festival, it features a...
A Beautiful Reflection on What It Means to Be Human
8 min · 2,926 views today · Hello! We are Oh Wonder, a musical duo from London. We believe that everyone is equal. We are all human. We all deserve the world. And we can build that equality by sharing...
Today I Rise: This Beautiful Short Film Is Like a Love Poem For Your Heart and Soul
4 min · 2,864 views today · "The world is missing what I am ready to give: My Wisdom, My Sweetness, My Love and My hunger for Peace." "Where are you? Where are you, little girl with broken wings but full...
Why I Didn't Vote Trump or Hillary
Joe Brewer · 2,682 views today ·   This is my ballot. It arrived in the mail where I live in Washington state — and I’ve already sent it back to the elections committee. Note how I didn’t vote for either...
How Big Banks Launder Money and Get Away With It
9 min · 2,559 views today · 'I wrote about how money laundering was actually done... they spiked it.' Parliamentary Candidate David Malone was a popular second choice in the UK Green Party leadership...
And After the Election, The Reaction
Ret Marut · 2,077 views today · Could there be any better illustration of the shortcomings of representative democracy than this year’s Presidential campaign? For months upon tiresome months, the whole world...
What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic
Asam Ahmad · 1,680 views today · Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and...
'The Climate of Fear Is Unacceptable' - Ken Loach on I, Daniel Blake
6 min · 1,567 views today · Ken Loach’s Palme d’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake tells the story of a man who is denied disability benefit after a heart attack and who is then subsequently caught in a...
Speaking Out Against Australia's Unforgiving Refugee Policy
42 min · 1,397 views today · The Forgotten Children: More than a hundred child refugees are stuck in asylum limbo on the island of Nauru as a result of Australia's harsh and unsympathetic border policies...
Social Geographer Shows How Much of You is Determined by Where You're From
3 min · 1,211 views today · The Professor of Geography examines social inequality and the geodemographics of the UK, using maps created by Oliver O'Brien (UCL, CASA) in 2012 and updated in 2015. You can...
John Lennon's "Imagine," Made Into a Comic Strip
John Lennon. Art by Pablo Stanley · 902 views today · This is easily the best comic strip ever made.  Pabl
Schooling the World (2010)
66 min · 667 views today · If you wanted to change an ancient culture in a generation, how would you do it? You would change the way it educates its children. The U.S. Government knew this in the 19th...
10 Quotes From an Oglala Lakota Chief That Will Make You Question Everything About Our Society
Wisdom Pills · 654 views today · Luther Standing Bear was an Oglala Lakota Sioux Chief who, among a few rare others such as Charles Eastman, Black Elk and Gertrude Bonnin occupied the rift between the way of...
The White Man in That Photo
Riccardo Gazzaniga · 631 views today · Sometimes photographs deceive. Take this one, for example. It represents John Carlos and Tommie Smith’s rebellious gesture the day they won medals for the 200 meters at the...
HyperNormalisation (2016)
161 min · 607 views today · We live in a time of great uncertainty and confusion. Events keep happening that seem inexplicable and out of control. Donald Trump, Brexit, the War in Syria, the endless...
The Burden of the New Story
Adebayo Akomolafe · 601 views today · The 'new story' - that longed for milieu when all is right with the world and things are set straight - seems to be taking its sweet time coming. Why?
Load More
Like us on Facebook?
Going Veggie Would Cut Global Food Emissions by Two Thirds and Save Millions of Lives - New Study