If we want to save the world, we have to eat less meat

If we want to save the world, we have to eat less meat
© Getty

The world population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion people by 2050, which will result in a projected 70 percent increase in demand for animal food products. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met in Geneva, Switzerland recently to discuss the future climate impact of the agriculture industry. It released their official report stating the dangers ahead for our planet unless there is a shift in how our world produces food. The bottom line? We have to eat less meat.

This is not the first time the IPCC has acknowledged the role of animal agriculture as a leading driver of climate change; in 2014, the IPCC wrote that reducing consumption of animal products is one of the highest-impact strategies for mitigating agriculture’s harmful effects on the climate.

Our appetite for beef, chicken, eggs, pork, and other animal products — and the industrial factory farming model through which we produce them — contributes heavily to climate change, deforestation, air and water pollution, as well as biodiversity loss. We are now using one-third of the planet’s land surface, one-third of all grain produced, and up to 16 percent of the Earth’s fresh water to raise and sustain livestock.


The terrors of climate change manifest in our communities at home and abroad. New York City is still recovering from Superstorm Sandy. Billions of tons of water were released from an ice sheet in Greenland following Europe’s heat wave last month, raising sea levels by half a millimeter. Bangladesh is grappling with millions of climate refugees.

There is no doubt that Congress must act quickly. With the Green New Deal under discussion, and a renewed attempt to reauthorize the Child Nutrition Act, which sets standards for important child feeding programs such as the National School Lunch Program, there is an opportunity in Washington to put a major dent in our climate emissions and improve the health of our nation at the same time.

Shifting to more plant-rich diets was a pillar of New York City’s recently released Green New Deal, and it should be a focus of Congress’ climate change policy as well. We pledged to phase out processed meats and cut red meat in half by 2030.

The EAT-Lancet report suggests that in countries like the United States, we must cut our meat consumption by 50 percent by 2050, so we need the rest of the country to join us in committing to play our part in addressing climate change.

Instead of an agriculture system that incentivizes pesticide-intensive agriculture and concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), our policies should encourage more production of fruits, vegetables, and plant-based sources of protein, such as beans and lentils. Restoring shrubs and grasses to 25 million acres of land currently used for livestock in the western United States could offset up to 23 percent of all US carbon emissions.


In the same way that we need a rapid transition away from fossil fuels to clean energy, we need a rapid transition away from the factory farming model to regenerative, organic agriculture growing mostly plants. And our diets must follow suit.

Some may argue that shifting diets on a large scale is impractical, or even impossible. But I know it is possible because we have been doing it here in America’s largest city and largest school system.

Just ask the hundreds of people waiting to join the Plant-Based Lifestyle Medicine Program at NYC Health + Hospitals/Bellevue, which was a result of advocacy from my office to the Mayor’s office, a clinic prescribing plant-based diets to prevent and in some cases reverse common chronic health problems such as heart disease and Type II diabetes. Or ask New York City’s public school students who now enjoy meatless meals every Monday at school, an effort piloted by my office in 15 Brooklyn schools that has now expanded citywide.

Our sea levels are rising. Our kids are getting sicker. Our fellow citizens are being displaced by climate catastrophes. Time is running out, and we need to act. That’s why New York City has prioritized policies encouraging healthy, climate-friendly diets through our Green New Deal, our nutrition standards, and our school lunch program. Congress should do the same.

Eric Adams is the borough president of Brooklyn, New York City.