A Plant-Based Diet Could Help Reverse 16 Years’ Worth of CO2 Emissions. Time to Turn Vegan


A Plant-Based Diet Could Help Reverse 16 Years’ Worth of CO2 Emissions. Time to Turn Vegan

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

If there is one thing the coronavirus pandemic has taught us, it is that nature can start healing if we take the right steps. And a new study has discovered that switching to a vegan plant-based diet as opposed to a resources-hungry meat and dairy diet could help in eliminating 16 years worth of CO2 emissions across the world by 2050.

Researchers from New York University looked at areas of the globe where land currently used for animal-sourced food production has eliminated natural vegetation, like forests and farms. This enabled the team to understand what would happen if this land were to be restored to its natural ecosystem.

The researchers concluded that if more people went vegan, it would result in lower demand for meat production, which would help vegetation regrow in these areas, resulting in sequestering of 9 to 16 years’ worth of fossil fuel emissions by 2050.

According to New York University professor Matthew Hayek, “We only mapped areas where seeds could disperse naturally, growing and multiplying into dense, biodiverse forests and other ecosystems that work to remove carbon dioxide for us. Our results revealed over 7 million square kilometres where forests would be wet enough to regrow and thrive naturally, collectively an area the size of Russia.”

Hayek added, “We can think of shifting our eating habits toward land-friendly diets as a supplement to shifting energy, rather than a substitute. Restoring native forests could buy some much-needed time for countries to transition their energy grids to renewable, fossil-free infrastructure.” He pointed out that reducing meat consumption could get us a long way towards limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees celsius, if we get serious and phase out fossil fuels too.

“While the potential for restoring ecosystems is substantial, extensive animal agriculture is culturally and economically important in many regions around the world. Ultimately, our findings can help target places where restoring ecosystems and halting ongoing deforestation would have the largest carbon benefits,” said co-author and ecosystem scientist Nathan Mueller of the Colorado State University.

Researchers saw three possible scenarios for 2050: business-as-usual, where meat consumption remains on its current course of increase; a healthier diet with 70 per cent meat reduction; and a vegan diet. If meat consumption follows current economic trends, the business-as-usual diet would see further clearing of ecosystems to make more land space for animal agriculture.

Maybe it’s time to do away with the “chicken try kar na kuch nahi hoga” jibes, and incorporate a vegan diet, for the planet’s sake.