TOP FACTS - ENVIRONMENT & FOOD
Here is a list of what we consider the most credible figures and statistics to use based on the entire body of evidence in our database.
Think we should update this or have a different interpretation than us? Please contact us directly, we're always open to discussing the evidence:
The choice to adopt a vegan diet was the most underestimated environmental behaviour relative to how beneficial it actually is in reducing GHGs.
This poll had a base of over 23,000 adults across 31 countries aged 16-74. This study also systematically reviewed almost 7000 peer-reviewed studies, and it was cited in the latest IPCC reports, to conclude that:
The food system accounts for 25-42% of global greenhouse gas emissions.
32-40% of annual human-caused methane (CH4) emissions come from animal agriculture.
United Nations Environment Programme and Climate and Clean Air Coalition (2021). Global Methane Assessment: Benefits and Costs of Mitigating Methane Emissions. Nairobi: United Nations Environment Programme.
Meat and dairy provide just 18% of calories and 37% of protein, despite using the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and producing 60% of agriculture's direct greenhouse gas emissions. Half of the world’s ice-and-desert-free land is used for agriculture. Shifting away from animal agriculture completely would free up more than 3 billion hectares of land, equivalent to the size of Africa. Transport typically accounts for less than 1% of beef’s GHG emissions (less than 10% for most other foods): choosing to eat local food has very minimal effects on its total footprint.
“If the livestock sector were to continue with business as usual, this sector alone would account for 49% of the allowed emissions to keep warming to 1.5C by 2030.”
A study by Harvard researcher Helen Harwatt https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14693062.2018.1528965?journalCode=tcpo20
And covered by others in The Lancet https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(19)30245-1/fulltext
If cattle were able to form their own country, they would rank 3rd behind China and the United States among the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitters.
China (2019): 12.1 billion tonnes CO2e
United States (2019): 5.8 billion tonnes CO2e
Cattle (~2010): 5.0 billion tonnes CO2e
Sources: ClimateWatch (2022) https://www.climatewatchdata.org/ghg-emissions?end_year=2019&start_year=1990 FAO: https://www.fao.org/gleam/results/en/
The loss of forests and natural vegetation dating back to the Agricultural Revolution has released a lot of CO2 into the atmosphere. It's equivalent to ~1400 billion t of CO2. For scale, that’s 40 years’ worth of our current emissions from fossil fuels:
LAND USE & DEFORESTATION
Shifting away from animal agriculture completely would free up more than 3 billion hectares of land, equivalent to the size of Africa.
It’s been shown that extending the current diet of wealthy industrialized countries (OECD) to the current global population would require an additional 35 million km2 to support livestock production - an area roughly equal to the combined area of Africa and Australia
Nearly 60 percent of the world's agricultural land is used for beef production, yet beef accounts for less than two percent of the world's calories.
Significant shifts to plant-based diets by 2050 could lead to sequestration of 332–547 Gt CO2. That's equivalent to 9-16 years of global fossil fuel CO2 emissions! It's not an either/or situation, we need to do BOTH. But this solution can't be ignored.
The current contribution of agriculture to deforestation varies by region, with industrial agriculture being responsible for 30% of deforestation in Africa and Asia, but close to 70% in Latin America. The most significant agricultural drivers of deforestation include soy, palm oil, and cattle ranching (Yale School of the environment, 2020) According to the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, cattle ranching is the largest driver of deforestation in every Amazon country, accounting for 80% of current deforestation rates. (Jackson, 2019)
Animal agriculture is the most significant driver of habitat loss on the planet (Machovina, Feeley, & Ripple, 2015) and one of the biggest drivers of global biodiversity loss (FAO, Steinfeld et al., 2006).
94% of mammal biomass (excluding humans) is livestock. This means livestock outweigh wild mammals by a factor of 15-to-1. Of the 28,000 species evaluated to be threatened with extinction on the IUCN Red List, agriculture and aquaculture is listed as a threat for 24,000 of them
"Across all animals, livestock exclusion increased abundance and diversity"
Meta-analysis of 109 ind. studies on the response of animals or plants to livestock grazing vs. exclusion:
INEFFICIENCY & FEED CROPS
For every 100 calories of grain fed to farmed animals, you only get:
🥛 40 calories of milk
🥚 22 calories of eggs
🐔 12 calories of chicken
🐖 10 calories of pork
🐄 3 calories of beef
More than three-quarters (77%) of global soy is fed to livestock for meat and dairy production. Most of the rest is used for biofuels, industry or vegetable oils. Just 7% of soy is used directly for human food products such as tofu, soy milk, edamame beans, and tempeh.
REGENERATIVE AGRICULTURE MYTH
Agricultural soils contain 25-75% less soil organic carbon than their counterparts in undisturbed or natural ecosystems, so reducing global agricultural land use is key
Shifting to grass fed beef:
Methane would increase by 43% (per unit)
More land would be used (+25%)
Not scalable (27% of current US beef could be produced)
"Only under very specific conditions can [grazing] help sequester carbon. This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible and substantially outweighed by the GHG emissions these grazing animals generate."
The maximum global potential (of carbon sequestered in these soils), in the most optimistic conditions and using the most generous of assumptions, would offset only “20%-60% of emissions from grazing cows, 4%-11% of total livestock emissions, and 0.6%-1.6% of total annual greenhouse gas emissions.”
OCEANS & DEAD ZONES
66% of the marine environment is severely altered by human actions and 55% is covered by industrial fishing
IPBES - Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services https://ipbes.net/news/Media-Release-Global-Assessment
By the year 2100, without significant changes, more than half of the world’s marine species may be close to extinction.
Sharks are less than 10% of their original population
Most whales are less than 1% of original populations
Right now, 8 percent of the ocean is protected, and only 2.6 percent of those MPAs are considered strongly protected and fully off-limits to fishing.
78% of global ocean and freshwater eutrophication (the pollution of waterways with nutrient-rich pollutants) is caused by agriculture
More specific to the ocean at this report of the best science on the topic:
“Global food production is the single largest human pressure on Earth, threatening local ecosystems, driving a sixth mass extinction of species, and impacting the stability of the entire Earth system.”
Scientist and Project Drawdown’s leader Dr. Jonathan Foley states that “nothing else we do has come close to how food, agriculture, and land use are causing global environmental harm. Without major changes, our food system will continue to push Earth well beyond its planetary boundaries.”