It is estimated that the world’s population will reach 9.3 billion people by 2050, which raises significant questions as to how exactly we are going to feed such a massive number of people — and according to a new report from the University of Exeter, the answer is to eat less meat. The researchers also recommend that we recycle our waste and increase the efficiency of our farming processes, but to make a substantial enough difference the world needs to reduce its average global meat consumption from 16.6% to 15 % of average daily calorie intake. For much of the Western world, that translates into a 50 percent reduction in meat consumption.
The report is published in the journal Energy and Environmental Science and states that unless mankind changes the way it produces and consumes meat, we could cause an ecological disaster. In order to make an effective and lasting change, the team believe the answer may lie in bioenergy and carbon capture and storage.
Carbon storage and bioenergy have both received their share of controversy with the former now believed to cause earthquakes. Growing crops for energy does raise certain efficiency issues, especially if we are trying to prevent a global famine, but the Exeter team believe it could help. They state that by burning our waste from organic materials, such as food and manure, and any bioenergy crops we grow, capturing the carbon contained within them could prove to be a powerful way to reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide world wide.
The team also generated four future scenarios, all of which are dependent on the world’s dietary preferences and agricultural efficiency by 2050. They were ‘high-meat, low-efficiency’, ‘low-meat, low-efficiency’, ‘high-meat, high-efficiency’ and ‘low-meat, high-efficiency’.
The scenarios determined that out of all livestock, beef was the least energy-efficient, while pork ranked lowest in resource wastage. They also studied at how each animal was farmed and looked at ways to reduce food waste and make use for manure. Using these methods, they determined that a ‘high-meat, low-efficiency’ scenario would add 55 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2050, whereas a ‘low-meat, high-efficiency’ approach with carbon dioxide removal could remove 25 ppm. A 25 ppm reduction could mean we avoid exceeding the two-degree rise in global temperatures that is now widely accepted as a safe threshold.
Lead researcher Tom Powell of Geography at the University of Exeter said in a statement: “Our research clearly shows that recycling more and eating less meat could provide a key to re-balancing the global carbon cycle. Meat production involves significant energy losses: only around four per cent of crops grown for livestock turn into meat. By focusing on making agriculture more efficient and encouraging people to reduce the amount of meat they eat, we could keep global temperatures within the two degrees threshold.”