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April 15, 2014

Scientists Confirm: We Can Help the Climate by Changing Our Diets

Humane Society International

  • A hog factory farm in North Carolina. Michelle Riley/The HSUS

  • Changing our diets can make a difference! Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Last fall, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report, finding among other things that major greenhouse gases have reached the highest levels in at least 800,000 years. And thanks to the second piece of the report, we know that these changes are having major impacts, including on crop yields, ecosystems, and freshwater resources.

Just this week, the IPCC published its third and final piece on mitigation. What does the summary say, other than that emissions have continued to grow and that we need to seriously address climate change soon? “Emissions can be substantially lowered through [among other things] dietary change…”

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We know that about 15 percent of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions are from raising the over 70 billion land animals globally each year. And it’s not just the climate that’s affected by farm animal production. Factory farms produce immense quantities of animal waste and byproducts, which threaten water and air quality. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has said that the farm animal sector is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale, from local to global.”

Around the world, a growing number of egg-laying hens, pregnant sows, and other farm animals are reared in small, barren, crowded cages and crates that severely impair the animals’ welfare, as they are unable to exercise, fully extend their limbs, or engage in many important natural behaviors. Industrial systems account for approximately two-thirds of egg and poultry meat production and over half of pig meat production.

But you can help. Recent studies indicate that decreases in animal source food consumption can reduce emissions from the farm animal sector more than supply-side solutions. Such reductions in meat, egg, and milk consumption can simultaneously improve food security and public health, as well as lessen pressure on natural resources.

Let’s take our cue from the IPCC and follow the Three R’s: reducing our consumption of animals; refining the way we treat farm animals to ensure high animal-welfare standards; and replacing animals in the diet with plant-based options. HSI supports the global Meatless Monday campaign—a delicious way to start. Check out our Meat-Free Guide and sign up to receive our free weekly recipes.

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