More of Us Need to Become “Weekday Vegetarians”

Written by Katherine Martinko

If a trio of Scandinavian researchers has its way, much of the world’s population will soon become vegetarian, or at least flexitarian — like it or not. According to a new study published in Climate Change, eliminating energy and transportation emissions isn’t enough to get the rising global temperature under control. People really need to stop eating so much meat and dairy.

At the Cancun Climate Change Conference in 2010, almost 200 governments agreed “to commit to a maximum temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, and to consider lowering that maximum to 1.5 degrees in the near future” (United Nations, Framework Convention on Climate Change). The 2-degree increase was selected as the uppermost limit before wreaking significant environmental havoc, although since then another study has shown that even 2 degrees will be disastrous.

Fredrik Hedenus, the study’s lead scientist, explains why the agricultural sector must be adjusted: “Fuels are the main emissions source. That has to be reduced first. But what we show is, even if you remove all those in the energy and transport sector, and don’t do anything about the food system, the food system itself may be an obstacle to meet this two-degree target.”

© Hedenus, Wirsenius, and Johansson

The graph above shows five different climate change scenarios. Blue is the baseline, where consumption habits continue as usual. Yellow shows increased productivity, where consumption habits continue as usual with more efficient production methods. Orange shows a scenario with technical mitigation, in which we’d have a better system for dealing with the methane gas produced by manure.

According to Co.Exist: “Even if productive and technological fixes (yellow and orange bars) bring down those emissions, the agricultural sector alone would still be producing more than half of the global greenhouse gases for which we’d have wiggle room. Those emissions don’t even take into account the energy, industry, or transportation sectors, which together make up to 58% of greenhouse gas emissions today.”

That leaves us with the red and green bars – climate carnivore and flexitarian, respectively.

Replacing 75 percent of beef and lamb with chicken and pork could reduce emissions to five gigatons a year. Better yet, if we replaced the ruminant meat with grains and cereals, emissions could be reduced to three gigatons.

The good news is that eating to protect the planet isn’t entirely black and white. You don’t have to become a full-blown vegetarian in order to make a big difference. Rather, you can adopt what the study suggests – “flexitarianism” – which is a semi-vegetarian diet with the occasional inclusion of meat. Food writer Mark Bittman advocates a “Vegan before 6″ diet, which is fairly self-explanatory — eat like a vegan all day, but meat’s allowed for dinner. For the less disciplined, even adopting a Meatless Monday policy can help.

TreeHugger founder Graham Hill is a proponent of “weekday vegetarianism” and gave a TED talk on why he thinks everyone should give it a try. You can view it or read the transcript here. TreeHugger has hundreds of weekday vegetarian recipes, if you need some culinary inspiration; and here is also a reference list of books, documentaries, talks, websites and apps to get you started.

Unless a large number of people make serious adjustments to their diet, Hedenus thinks that governments will have to toughen their climate change policies in such a way that people’s cultural perception of meat changes. What form would that take? Perhaps a meat tax would be the easiest way.

This post originally appeared on TreeHugger

Photo Credit: David Gleason via Flickr


Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

Aaaah, Mark D. has resurrected himself again, after a 2-month absence and is having "a go" at Dale, whose comment made what, 2 months ago (or was it 3?) seems to have attracted his attention. Well, "earth to Mark", unless you show by example how to end humanity, I do think we'll be here (as a species) in 100 years. I'm sure things will have changed, and hopefully, factory farms and CAFO's will no longer exist because technology will have made them obsolete. I do hope it doesn't end up with people having to all live in TACO BELL's or by merely swallowing pills, though.

Mark Donners
Mark Donner3 years ago

Dale O. Do you honestly believe that in 100 years, humans will still exist? All your smug blathering about "it will never happen" (meaning the horrific human atrocities will never end) is wrong. The human atrocities will end, in a spectacular extinction caused by guess who? The humans, who are not as important as your bloated self image conjures up. Only when the human nightmare ends, will life on Earth have a chance

Kamia T.
Kamia T3 years ago

Going vegan, or some flexible diet, might make an impact IF you were growing your own veggies on your own plot of land and/or purchasing from a small local farmer using fair wages, humane and organic practices. But as ANYONE knows who's traveled the California or Florida farm areas, or watching whole forests and tribes being decimated in South America, producing fruits and veggies other than locally is just as polluting, energy consumptive and destructive as any other activity.

Alexandra Rodda
Alexandra Rodda3 years ago

A lot of people have written comments that being a vegan or vegetarian had made them sick. I know that some people believe that a vegetarian diet consists of a lettuce leaf, a tomato and a potato. Vegetarians have to make sure that they are getting their good fats, A grade protein, carbohydrates as well as minerals and an adequate full complement of vitamins. Mostly they'd have more than enough of those as well as antioxidants.
A vegetarian diet is also much cheaper and if one has to save for any reason, it's the best way to go.
Greenhouse gases are real and we are producing them at an alarming rate which is increasing at an alarming exponential rate. We are already at over 400 ppm, which has not happened for the past 800,000 years. We are heading for really tough times. Animal husbandry in the world (mostly in the developed world) accounts for a large proportion of our GHG output. We don't have much time to do something about this, as we don't know when the next "tipping point" will be reached and there will be no return.
A majority of people choosing not to eat meat would be very helpful. Even to become a flexitarian could help the life on this planet to survive.

Pego R.
Pego R3 years ago

Oy Vey! Who associates Veganism with Judaism? Hehehe. Kashrut diets may be made simpler with ovo-lacto, but really, there are a lot of mitzvot on how to eat meat for any religion that you would call vegan. Personally I would have associated vegetarian diets with Hindus, Jains and Sikhs, even Mormons over your garden-variety Jewish community. Schmaltz would be more likely.

The breeds of beef raised in the US for CAFO meat are the most resource-consuming of cattle and cattle are the most resource-consuming of livestock animals, typically in ancient times, usually herded by migratory peoples or by farmers who doubled their utility by using them as the all-purpose farm machine. Something that sustainable farmers are returning to and which saves far more animal lives than those taken. Livestock driven farm equipage simply doesn't wreak the same accidental havoc amongst the wildlife that sprawl across farms that the combines do. The normal farm today is now considered a wildlife desert where nearly everything has been either accidentally or purposefully exterminated

Dale O.

Earth to Vasu M. So, slavery is totally abolished as you said, right? Feast those vegan eyes on conditions that can exist even within the U.S. (and no doubt some other nations) when it comes to that vegetarian agriculture that vegans also partake in:

"According to Estabrook, many of these workers come to the United States seeking temporary work to support sick family members or children back home, only to find themselves recruited by unscrupulous employers who force them to work long, dawn-to-dusk hours without breaks in the heat, without protective gear in fields frequently sprayed with herbicides and pesticides known to harm human health, for far less than minimum wage. In 2009 the average tomato farm worker in Florida was paid 45 cents for every 32 pound bucket of hand-picked tomatoes — just pennies per pound."

Dale O.

"But these overworked, poorly paid workers are the lucky ones. In Immokalee, some migrant farm workers face far harsher conditions as slaves. Not “virtual” wage slaves, but actual slaves – kidnapped or tricked into captivity by slave traders, sold to field bosses as property, and confined at night in locked trucks or sheds, threatened or beaten if they try to escape, and sometimes even chained. Their wages, paid by tomato farmers, are confiscated by the subcontractors who supervise slave workers and bring them to and from the fields."

No, Vasu M, slavery is still alive and well in humanland.

Dale O.

Very true, Shan D and Diane L and while there are many vegetarians that do not shun the eating of eggs (vegans shun eggs in their diet, except for a few that I have seen on Care2 who believe that since they treat their hens with great care, then it is okay to eat these eggs as vegans).

Diane L, Vasu M can already be seen in some of the abortion threads saying that the complex issue of abortion is based only on one thing alone, his bizzaro world 'fact' that all abortion is karma...for eating meat.

Diane L.
Diane L3 years ago

I agree with Dale O.,............Vasu? Please take your right-wing opinions about abortion and religion to appropriate discussions. This one is about being "vegetarian" during the week (with an obvious implication to eventually "go vegan") in an approach to addressing global warming. Being Jewish or not has absolutely nothing to do with the topic.