What if America threw out its hot dogs and hamburgers in favor of vegan fare? You might say that would never happen, but two scientists – from Virginia Tech and the United States Department of Agriculture – decided to explore how such a choice would impact the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. Their study discovered that annual agricultural emissions would fall from 623 million tons to 446 million tons.
Eating vegan wouldn’t solve all of America’s greenhouse gas problems. But it would definitely make an impact. Animals currently comprise 49 percent of the US’ agricultural emissions. In a vegan America, agricultural emissions could drop by 28 percent. But total US emissions would only fall by 2.6 percent, according to the study.
The study authors also noted a plant-only system wouldn’t meet the American population’s dietary needs for calcium, a few fatty acids, and vitamins A and B. Lead author Robin White of Virginia Tech told Science Magazine, “With carefully balanced rations, you can meet all of your nutrient requirements with a vegetarian diet. But the types of foods that seem to do that, we don’t currently produce in sufficient quantities to make it a sustainable diet for the entire population.”
The study did find that without animals, total food production could increase by 23 percent – mostly in grains, according to Gizmodo.
Not every expert agrees with the study’s assumptions. Nutritionist Joan Sabate of Loma Linda University told Science Magazine, “[We] could yield a better nutrient profile if we do restructure the land use.” Agricultural researcher Mario Herrero of Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization said America going vegan could impact other countries as well – if the United States ceased importing so much meat, greenhouse gas emissions of other countries could fall too.
Even if going vegan doesn’t solve all of the US’ climate change woes, it is clear a diet with less meat and more plants could help the planet. Project Drawdown – a coalition of scientists, entrepreneurs, and advocates – ranked a plant-rich diet as the number four solution to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America published the study online yesterday.