51% of greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to animal husbandry. Here is the original paper (http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf) and an update (http://www.chompingclimatechange.org/uploads/8/0/6/9/8069267/a_fresh_look_at_livestock_ghg_emissions_published.pdf). Even if the guys are a bit off, it’s a very big number.
Climate policy people talk a lot about coal-fired power stations, cars, big oil companies, aeroplanes, windmills, solar power; and they talk about deforestation. But they don’t talk half so much about eating meat and dairy. In fact you don’t even need to talk about it. You just have to do it. Or rather, not eat the stuff.
There is a big difference between cutting emissions through changing the world’s energy infrastructure and through changing diet. The first one costs billions of dollars every year. The second one costs … er .. nothing.
Moreover, cutting meat and dairy from our diets has some other dividends. It’s healthier so it cuts healthcare costs. It cuts water pollution. It saves on water usage. So it doesn’t just cost nothing. It gives back. And it means less cruelty.
Some economists and policy-thinkers know this well – Lord Stern, for example, has spoken of the importance of vegetarianism (http://www.gridovate.com/lord-stern-joins-the-carnivore-veggie-fray-meat-is-wasteful_12338.html); academics have written on the topic (http://steadystate.org/food-and-agriculture-in-a-steady-state-economy/; http://www.un.org/esa/dsd/dsd_sd21st/21_pdf/A_Sustainable_and_Desirable_Economy_DRAFT.pdf). But it would be an exaggeration to say that dietary-change as a low-cost route to cutting emissions is a mainstream issue. I have not heard it discussed in the dozens of conferences on climate and emissions policy I have attended in Europe over the last few years.
The funny thing is that the fossil fuel companies have not picked up on this. If they led global campaigns to feed the world with fabulous, tasty, nourishing vegan food, then they could win a whole lot of wiggle room for themselves.
Could Exxon become the cow’s best friend?