A Vegan World Could Undo 16 Years Of Fossil Fuels
In a report just released by Nature Sustainability it is estimated that by switching from animal agriculture to plant-based agriculture worldwide, we could save up to 547GtCO2, equivalent to 163% of the CO2 emissions budget, which is consistent with a 66% chance of limiting warming to 1.5°C. In other words, undo the last 16 years of fossil fuel burning, something we need to be doing as soon as possible.
In New Zealand we are over represented in our per capita CO2 equivalent emissions thanks to our meat and dairy industries, which contribute up to 49% of our emissions. Whilst we may not contribute much to the global total, that does not mean we can ignore our contribution. Currently we are using less than a tenth of our arable land for growing plants, something that needs to be addressed. A lot of land was cleared in the early days of colonial settlement to make way for sheep and beef farms, if we returned much of this land to native bush, which sequesters more CO2 than non native forestry pines, we could likely be carbon neutral without doing anything else.
Currently some 13.7 million hectares is farming land in NZ, 1.6 million of which is in plantations of some kind but just 135,930 hectares are used for horticultural purposes. Sheep and beef farms currently contain 25% of NZ's total native bush, or 2.8 million hectares. Just 3% of the farmland is used for cropping, with another 2% in other horticultural farming. Now much of the land currently in use for animal agriculture is not suitable for growing plants, but we do not need as much land to grow plants to feed humans directly, compared to the wastefulness of growing plants to feed to animals to then feed to humans. This is simple physics.
By removing animals from our land, we would free up nearly 11.5 million hectares, a good amount of which could be put into horticulture, with the rest being given over to forestry and native bush. Our horticultural exports are at an all time high $6.2 billion and continue to expand every year. Given our Covid free status in the eyes of the world, that export dollar is set to increase, if we can grow more plants. Our local market is not too shabby either, creating $3.3 billion for the horticulture industry, all this without polluting the land, water or adding to climate change.
Our farmers need government support to help make that change, so they can diversify their outputs and transition towards a plant-based agriculture.