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Willson: Eat less meat, save the planet

Editor’s Note: All opinion section content reflects the views of the individual author only and does not represent a stance taken by the Collegian or its editorial board.  

Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing humanity today. There is no doubt that our current way of living is worsening its rapid onset. More and more reports have been done detailing the dismal state of our planet due to unsustainable human practices; it might seem like there’s nothing we can do to reverse the environmental damage.


Fortunately, there is an easy and effective way to protect Mother Earth: eat less meat.

Climate change—commonly and somewhat incorrectly called, “global warming”—is caused primarily by the production of greenhouse gases (GHGs), heat trapping substances that cause the temperature of Earth’s atmosphere to rise. GHGs include compounds like methane, nitrous oxide, and carbon dioxide. It’s because of this last one that the popular term “carbon footprint” was coined.

Carbon footprint related to agriculture is a topic of interest at Colorado State and in Northern Colorado in general, as we have many farms and meat processing plants. CSU even plans to have a meatpacking facility on campus in the near future. 

In particular, products from cows and sheep (ruminants) are the least eco-friendly livestock. Cows, cheese, and sheep were responsible for emitting the most methane (CH4) according to the non-profit and non-partisan Environmental Working Group. This is because ruminant digestive processes—referred to as enteric fermentation—produce CH4, a GHG that traps heat 25 times more efficiently than carbon dioxide.

If we want to curb the production of greenhouse gases and slow the rise of global temperatures, it is essential that we curb the demand for meat and dairy.

If we want to curb the production of GHGs and slow the rise of global temperatures, it is essential that we curb the demand for meat and dairy.

The idea of giving up meat may be daunting for diehard carnivores or milkshake lovers, but there is no need to go completely vegan or vegetarian. There are quite a few ways to help the planet without sacrificing all of one’s favorite foods.

An infographic describe five climate-conscious diets: Mindful Meat-Eater, Flexitarian, Pescetarian, Vegetarian, and Vegan.
Agriculture accounts for 24% of all greenhouse gas emissions | UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The importance of reducing GHG emissions cannot be understated. The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change hopes to stall exhaustion of our “carbon budget” before 2050.

However, no matter how much we invest in renewable energy or recycle aluminum cans, unless meat consumption goes down, it is unlikely that this goal will be achieved. This is supported by numerous studies, including a recent Swedish publication by the Department of Energy and Environment at Chalmers University of Technology.

Climate change is a pressing issue with negative effects already being seen, according to accredited organizations like NASA and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).



Additionally, agriculture and the global food supply are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Higher temperatures mean dead crops, and flooding and freezing also spell disaster.

Drastic improvements in agricultural productivity are needed to mitigate these effects and secure food for ourselves and future generations. The IFPRI report argues that over $7 billion in research, innovation, and development is necessary to offset the negative impacts of climate change and sustain sufficient calorie sources.

It is true that environmental adaptation is essential for preserving our livelihood. However, the report fails to address the significant impact of certain products on greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the keyword “vegan” is mentioned nowhere on the IFPRI website, and “Vegetarian” is mentioned only once in the context of climate change.

The fact that an organization as large and well-funded as IFPRI—whose self-described mission is to “reduce poverty and end hunger and malnutrition in developing countries”—is not recognizing the link between meat consumption and climate change is unsettling.

More disturbingly, the current head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, is a known climate change denier and currently under investigation for questionable work behavior. Given the anti-environmental stance of the Trump administration, it is clear government alone cannot solve this problem. Citizens must take the lead, starting on a grassroots level.

The health of the planet is something that affects everyone, and something that we all must work together to preserve. This work can start in the kitchen, simply by changing the food on one’s plate.

Columnist Lauren Willson can be reached at letters@collegian and online at @LaurenKealani

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