Reducing cattle ranching and restoring native ecoystems is a simple, cost-effective and scientifically sound way to turn back the clock on global warming.

The world’s 1.7 billion cows are the dominant animal species on Earth, vastly outnumbering humans and all remaining wild terrestrial mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians combined. Over a third of the Earth’s land surface is used to feed livestock. This massive cattle industry is a major driver of global warming and biodiversity loss.

Peer-reviewed research has estimated the enormous climate impact of reduced emissions from livestock operations and the recovery of plant biomass on lands currently occupied by cattle. A global phaseout of animal agriculture over 15 years could unlock “negative emissions” sufficient to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions for 30 years – even if all other emissions continue on their current trajectory.

Such a phaseout would offset over two-thirds of all projected carbon dioxide emissions over the next 80 years and provide more than half of the emissions reductions required to keep global temperature rise below 2°C. Methane and nitrous oxide emissions, two potent greenhouse gases, would be slashed by one-third and two-thirds respectively.

But the biggest climate benefit would come from allowing photosynthesis, the most efficient, scalable, and proven carbon capture technology on Earth, to flourish as forests and native grasslands recover on land currently used for grazing cattle. This natural reforestation would absorb massive amounts of atmospheric carbon dioxide.

Reducing cattle populations is crucial not just for climate change, but for halting the catastrophic global collapse of biodiversity. Wild populations of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and even insects have plummeted, now averaging less than a third of their numbers from just 50 years ago. Habitat loss driven by expanding livestock production, especially cattle ranching, is the leading cause of this devastation. Restoring native ecosystems on former grazing lands would enable threatened species to recover and expand.

Cattle ranching itself is also becoming increasingly unviable due to climate change impacts like rising temperatures, changing weather patterns, and water shortages. Even in wealthy nations with high beef demand, most cattle farmers already operate at a loss without government subsidies.

The benefits of phasing out cattle far outweigh the costs. Estimates suggest an annual global investment of just 1% of GDP – around $1 trillion – paid to farmers who transition from cattle to stewarding reforestation and grassland restoration would rapidly reduce global warming while boosting rural economies. This is far less than the projected $3.5-9 trillion annual cost of renewable energy deployment needed for net zero, and minuscule compared to the potential $23 trillion annual cost of inaction.

Shifting agricultural policies to support this transition is an immense but critical challenge. Fierce opposition from powerful beef industry interests is inevitable, but our responsibility to prevent catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse demands we find the courage to realize this opportunity.

Plant-based proteins like soy already provide over twice as much high-quality protein as the global meat supply. As demand for beef declines further, cattle ranchers can choose to become heroes leading ecological restoration rather than victims of a changing world. All that is required is the recognition that responsible stewardship of natural carbon-capturing ecosystems is an essential agricultural service securing our future welfare and security.

Original source: https://www.theguardian.com

By eating meat you are contributing to deforestation