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December 14, 2012

Appetite for (Climate) Change

  • In the face of climate change, reducing the comsumption of animal products is good for animals, for people and for the planet. iStockphoto

The annual United Nations climate change talks ended last weekend without nearly enough ambition to stem the climate crisis. Countries also failed to specifically address agriculture, punting the issue to the next meeting.

This lack of progress is despite the World Bank’s report, issued just days before the conference, warning that we are barreling to a 4 degree (Celsius) warmer world with potentially devastating effects on human and animal communities worldwide. And the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) similarly just warned that the window to act is getting smaller and more expensive.

Humane Society International attended the UN conference to ensure that the welfare of animals is taken into account when designing programs to slow and adapt to climate change, and to raise awareness about the contribution of meat, egg, and milk production to climate change.

Animal agriculture and the climate crisis

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, animal agriculture is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” In fact, it accounts for nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions and is set to grow 39% by 2050 over year-2000 levels. The sector is also key contributor to deforestation, water pollution and water use.

It’s clear the global human appetite for animal products is growing at unsustainable rates. Farm animal populations have more than tripled over the past 40 years. In 2010, 70 billion land animals were raised for human consumption. Many of these animals are raised in intensive farm animal production systems, or “factory farms,” which are particularly harmful for animal welfare and have been shown to cause serious water pollution problems.

We can each make a difference

You can help animals and the environment every time you sit down to eat. A growing body of research suggests that meat reduction in one’s diet can have significant impacts on our carbon and water footprints. In the U.S., an average household shifting from a red meat and dairy to a vegetable-based diet just one day a week reduces greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to driving about one thousand miles less per year. And adopting a completely vegetarian diet can reduce your food-related water footprint by nearly one-third.

More and more schools and hospitals in the U.S. are embracing the Meatless Monday movement by encouraging people to eat meat-free at least once a week, as are people and institutions around the world. For example, the city of Ghent, Belgium, encourages going meat-free one day per week, and "Meatless Monday" has spread to Sao Paulo – the largest city in South America.

Check out Humane Society International’s Meat-Free Guide for great ideas to get you started, and share this award-winning video with your friends.

To learn more about the specific policies HSI advocates for at the climate change conferences, please see our COP18 Policy Recommendations.