Study: Fix to food climate problem doesn’t require veganism

SETH BORENSTEIN

The Associated Press

The world likely can’t keep global warming to a relatively safe minimum unless we change how we grow, eat and throw away our food, but we don’t need to all go vegan, a new study says. 

Researchers looked at five types of broad fixes to the food system and calculated how much they fight warming. They found that sampling a buffet of partial fixes for all five, instead of just diving into the salad bar, can get the job done, according to a study published in Thursday’s journal Science. 

If the world food system keeps on current trajectories, it will produce near 1.5 trillion tons of greenhouse gases (almost 1.4 trillion metric tons) over the next 80 years, the study found. That’s coming from belching cows, fertilizer, mismanaged soil and food waste. That much emissions — even if the globe stops burning fossil fuels which produce twice as much carbon pollution as food — is enough to likely warm Earth by more than the goals set in the 2015 Paris climate accord. 

“The whole world doesn’t have to give up meat for us to meet our climate goals,” said study co-author Jason Hill, a biosystems engineering professor at the University of Minnesota. “We can eat better, healthier foods. We can improve how we grow foods. And we can waste less food.” 

The researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom found: 

— A nearly complete switch to a plant-rich diet around the world could slash almost 720 billion tons of greenhouse gases (650 billion metric tons).

— If almost everyone ate the right number of calories based on their age, around 2,100 calories a day for many adults, it would cut about 450 billion tons of greenhouse gases (410 billion metric tons). 

— If farming got more carbon efficient — by using less fertilizer, managing soil better and doing better crop rotation — it would slice nearly 600 billion tons of greenhouse gases (540 billion metric tons). 

— If farms could increase yield through genetics and other methods, it would trim almost 210 billion tons of greenhouse gases (190 billion metric tons). 

— If people waste less food either on their plates, in restaurants or by getting it to people in poorer countries, that would eliminate nearly 400 billion tons of greenhouse gases (360 billion metric tons). 

Or if the world does each of those five things but only half way, emissions would plummet by almost 940 billion tons (850 billion metric tons). And that, with fossil fuel emissions cuts, would give the world a fighting chance of preventing another 0.5 to 1.3 degrees (0.3 to 0.7 degrees Celsius) of warming, which the Paris accord aims to do, the study found. 

Hans-Otto Poertner, who leads the United Nations science panel looking at world climate change impacts, said the study makes sense in laying out the many paths to achieving the needed emission reductions.

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