A new scientific report co-authored by a professor at the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor has a stark warning for humanity: Eat less meat or face catastrophic climate change.

The report, published by the Climate Land Ambition and Rights Alliance, comes hot on the heels of two other dire climate warnings. The most recent was issued by the federal government and reports climate change is already impacting the country and the effects on our health and economy will only intensify if we do nothing. That scientific dispatch from the United States was preceded by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that emphasizes the severity of the risk and the need for individual actions, including reducing meat consumption.

All three reports follow decades of scientific research elucidating the outsized role of animal agriculture in generating greenhouse gases and altering the climate.

“Our approach is to summarize the scientific literature,” said Doreen Stabinsky, Ph.D., who is a professor of global environmental politics at the College of the Atlantic and who co-authored the “Missing Pathways to 1.5°C” report with Kate Dooley from the Climate and Energy College at the University of Melbourne in Australia. “It is so blatantly obvious the climate contribution of ruminants in particular.”

Stabinsky is currently leading a group of COA students at the United Nations Katowice Climate Change Conference in Poland, which runs until Dec. 14. The gathering is the 24th annual Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

I spoke to Stabinsky before she left for Poland, and she told me that, among scientists, the meat-climate connection is well known. However, she said, just as climate deniers have muddied the wider public policy debate, the general public is not well informed about the oversized climate footprint of meat, dairy and eggs.

I asked her if this frustrated scientists.

“Frustration is not the word I’d use to describe climate scientists,” Stabinsky said. “They’re really freaked out. The data’s not good and the climate impacts are coming more quickly. We’re heading full speed at a brick wall that’s 10 or 20 years off.”

And then what?

“Climate impacts are not compatible with organized civilization on the planet,” Stabinsky said.

The report asserts that, in order to avert extreme climate change, humans need to eat 50 percent fewer animals and animal-based foods than we do today. In real terms, this means eating no more than two, 5-ounce pieces of meat, two glasses of milk and two 4-ounce pieces of cheese per person, per week. That’s it.

If humanity could achieve such a reduction by 2050, projected emissions increases from agriculture would be cut by 64 percent, according to the report.

Meat-based diets aren’t the only targets of the report. The authors write that stopping “overconsumption of food could reduce global (greenhouse gas) emissions by 11 percent.” The report argues against using prime farm land to raise livestock and promotes an “ecological leftovers” approach to agriculture, where food waste rather than human-grade food is fed to animals raised for meat and dairy.

This form of husbandry, the report states, “significantly reduces the amount of meat produced globally and therefore also requires a transformation in consumption practices.”

The report notes the current inequity in the way humans distribute food, which “leaves 821 million people hungry (FAO et al., 2018) and two billion people suffering from the health impacts of overconsumption.”

“In developed countries, we eat more meat than in the undeveloped word,” Stabinsky said. “The responsibility is first on those of us who have really excessive meat consumption.”

The report itself is a broad rebuke to climate mitigation strategies that involve removing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere rather than stopping their generation. It finds that this removal approach “drives large-scale land-use change and decreases food production, driving food prices upwards.”

Meanwhile, the data continues to mount. In June, the magazine Science reported the results of a detailed analysis by researchers from the United Kingdom and Switzerland who analyzed the environmental footprint of different foods. The researchers found the “impacts of the lowest-impact animal products typically exceed those of vegetable substitutes, providing new evidence for the importance of dietary change.”

Later in the summer, Science published a literature review on the subject of rising meat consumption, its health/climate effects and how to reduce consumption.

The review by researchers at the University of Oxford concludes that “social norms can and do change, and this process can be aided by the coordinated efforts of civil society, health organizations, and government.”

I agree it’s doable. Just think what we’ve achieved with cigarette smoking. But to get there, many, many members of civil society, health organizations and government need to first accept animal agriculture’s role in changing the climate. Instead, these important members of society are still serving hamburgers to heart attack patients, requiring cow’s milk be served with every school lunch and publishing recipes that claim red meat is a climate-friendly choice.

Maybe 2019 will bring the meat-climate connection into the spotlight? I sure hope it does. Once that happens, we can start sharply reducing rates of meat eating as the scientists have been telling us to do for decades.

Avery Yale Kamila is a food writer who lives in Portland. She can be reached at

[email protected]

Twitter: AveryYaleKamila

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