Food, Transport, People & Planet
We don’t want to sound alarmist, but we are living in a climate emergency. Everybody knows this to a certain extent. It’s tangible. We can see the smoke from the factories and the plastic in our oceans, we feel the emissions when we fly, like a jetlag of guilty conscience in our bones, and we breathe the exhaust from cars as we’re waiting to cross a street. For a lot of us, food has become the only guilt-free pleasure available and it’s hard to see how quenching your thirst with a delicious beverage could have any bad impact on the world. And yet, it can.
Emissions are higher from livestock than from transport
When reaching for a carton of cow’s milk, people may not consider that studies show livestock are responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all other food sources*. And that these emissions are caused by feed production, enteric fermentation, animal waste, land-use change, deforestation, livestock transport and processing. But most importantly, we don’t see the part our own daily choices play in this, not in the same way as we do when choosing how to travel.
So, to get the conversation started we made a verbal illustration and compared the lifecycle emissions of livestock to the much more known and tangible direct emissions of transport. And concluded that livestock creates more emissions than all cars, planes, trains and boats put together. We think this is a logical and illustrative comparison for bringing attention and context to the impact of our daily choices. There is a large public media and political discussion surrounding the climate impact of transport, whereas awareness of the significant impact our food choices have on the climate, is less known. By bringing this background to light, we are hoping to illuminate more ways for people to lower their carbon footprint through their eating and drinking habits.
Our choices CAN make a difference
Most people are climate heroes and planetary caretakers, but only if given a chance through awareness, and awareness will only come through having a lot of conversations about our daily choices and behaviours, no matter how difficult they may be. Scientists warn that to prevent the worst impacts of climate change we must hold global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees*. Currently, we’re nowhere near achieving that goal. And the daily choices we make, including what we eat and drink, contribute significantly to our individual carbon footprint. By acknowledging this we are giving ourselves a fair chance to make changes. The greenhouse gas references we have cited for livestock and transportation are supported by reputable sources, drawn from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and The Food and Agriculture Organization. Our references are to global data, because climate change knows no boundaries or geographical borders.
What does the data say?
According to the FAO report, Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock - A global assessment of emissions and mitigation opportunities** the global livestock supply chain emits about 7.1 gigatonnes of C02e/year, while the IPCC report, Mitigation of Climate Change, Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report*** estimates a figure of 7 gigatonnes CO2e/year for direct emissions from global transport.
Famers, the Champions of Change
Ultimately, we all have to be part of this solution. And farmers are extremely important in the global transition to a plant-based lifestyle – they are the champions of change. It’s not enough to make animal-based agriculture more sustainable. Research shows we need to move toward more plant-based consumption and production****. Governments help that transition by investing in sustainable plant-based agriculture. That’s why we’re currently working with farmers in both Sweden and the US (and have plans to do in other countries) to find ways to transition to more restorative agricultural systems. We want to work towards a transformation of the agricultural system for the sake of people and the planet.
*IPCC Special Report: Global Warming of 1.5 ºC, chapter 188.8.131.52, Systemic Changes for 1.5°C Consistent Pathways, Agriculture and food. de Coninck, H., A. Revi, M. Babiker, P. Bertoldi, M. Buckeridge, A. Cartwright, W. Dong, J. Ford, S. Fuss, J.-C. Hourcade, D. Ley, R. Mechler, P. Newman, A. Revokatova, S. Schultz, L. Steg, and T. Sugiyama, 2018: Strengthening and Implementing the Global Response. In: Global Warming of 1.5°C.
An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [Masson-Delmotte, V., P. Zhai, H.-O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P.R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J.B.R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M.I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, and T. Waterfield (eds.)]. https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/chapter/chapter-4/.
**Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock: A Global Assessment of Emissions and Mitigation Opportunities. P.J. Gerber, H. Steinfeld, B. Henderson, A. Mottet, C. Opio, J. Dijkman, A. Falcucci, G. Tempio, 2013. Estimated global direct and indirect emissions from the global livestock supply chain. FAO, Rome.
***Climate Change 2014: Mitigation of Climate Change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, E. Farahani, S. Kadner, K. Seyboth, A. Adler, I. Baum, S. Brunner, P. Eickemeier, B. Kriemann, J. Savolainen, S. Schlömer, C. von Stechow, T. Zwickel and J.C. Minx (eds.), 2014. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.
****Is Europe living within the limits of our planet? An assessment of Europe's environmental footprints in relation to planetary boundaries, Joint EEA/FOEN Report No 01/2020
Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers , Author: J. Poore and T. Nemecek, 2018
Solutions for a cultivated planet. Foley, Ramankutty, Brauman, Cassidy, Gerber, Johnston, Mueller, O'Connell, Ray, West, Balzer, Bennett, Carpenter, Hill, Monfreda, Polasky, Rockström, Sheehan, Siebert, & Tilman, 2011