If America Went Vegan, We’d Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions—But We’d Also Probably Starve

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Roughly three percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions come from cattle farts, according to the EPA. Of course, the federal administration puts it a little more tactfully, stating “cattle produce methane as part of their normal digestive processes.”

Still, that’s a rather large chunk of climate-change-inducing byproducts spewing from some gassy animals. This—along with general health—is one of the core arguments put forth by vegan evangelists. Stop consuming animal products, they say, and the environment will improve.

In a paper published this week from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers wanted to put this theory to the test. The authors created a formula to calculate what would happen if we, as a country, suddenly decided to go vegan.

The results are more complicated than plant-powered proponents would like to hear. Yes, greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector would be significantly decreased—as much as 28 percent, which would account for 2.6 percent of the country’s total emissions.

In addition, the authors note that a plant-only agriculture system could produce 23 percent more food than the system is capable of right now.

The problem? Meat and animal products are more efficient at providing key nutritional elements to our diet: protein being the largest. The researchers conclude that a vegan food supply would be “incapable of supporting the US population’s nutritional requirements.”

The study’s lead author, Robin White, told Science the typical foods vegetarians and vegans use to supplement for the key nutritional elements in meat (stuff like calcium and vitamin A) are not produced at a large enough scale to feed the entire population.

According to an article in Science, researchers concluded that wiping out animal agriculture would increase the need for artificial fertilizer, adding 23 million tons of carbon emissions per year.

America won’t be overrun by vegans just yet—an overnight conversion is too complicated and unsustainable. Which means your burger is safe for now. Maybe just put a thought in to how much that meat farted before it reached your taste buds.

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