With the ink drying on the Paris climate change agreement, the world now needs to figure out how to keep increases in the global average temperature under two degrees.
Doing so will mean significant cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, and one industry that’s coming under increasing scrutiny is the agriculture sector – particularly, meat production.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that emissions from farming, forestry and fisheries doubled in the last 50 years, and could go up by another 30% by 2050.
Kyle Aben, climate change and clean energy policy analyst with the David Suzuki foundation says those numbers should have people thinking about changing what they eat.
He says meat production alone accounts for about 15 percent of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions
That’s compared to about a quarter each for transportation and oil production.
And he says the trend is going in the wrong direction – as the world becomes wealthier, more people are adding meat to their diet.
“If they ate the same amount of meat we did, we would have severe problems.”
Aben admits giving up meat can be a challenge, but says the answer isn’t necessarily to go full vegetarian but rather to find ways to cut back.
But he says if we hope to meet the ambitious target set in Paris, something has to be done.
“We’re going to have to address our diet, but it is something that is personal and it’s going to be a slow change.”
Is it healthy?
But is it really a good idea to stop eating meat? Aren’t humans omnivores?
Registered dietitian Melissa Baker admits there can be some challenges, particularly if you’re trying to chop out dairy and eggs too.
She says if you plan on changing your diet that seriously you should think about talking to a dietitian, and consider a range of supplements including vitamins D and B12, calcium, iron, and omega 3.
But she says there’s nothing inherrently unhealthy about eating no, or less meat.
“Vegetarians generally have lower rates of obesiety, lower rates of heart disease, lower rates of type two diabetes. It’s a very healthful diet plan to follow, you just have to educate yourself a little bit.”
Baker says it’s a myth that you can’t get enough protein from plant based foods – you might just need to bump up your portions.
“You definitely do have to eat a bit more to get that protein, especially if you aren’t having the eggs and the dairy product, but you can do it. And generally the vegetarian diets are lower in calories and higher in fiber anyway.”
She recommends looking at alternatives like tofu, beans, or high protein grains like quinoa.
Baker agrees with Aben that going cold turkey might not be the best way to go.
Instead, she says someone looking to make a change could start slowly – becoming a weekday vegetarian, trying out meatless mondays, or even just reducing the portion sizes of meat they eat.