Can eating plant-based foods help our planet?

In 2010 the food system emitted approximately 5.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions in form of methane and nitrous oxide. Quality land is in short supply and global cropland use was 12.6 million km2. In addition, 104 teragrams of nitrogen and 18 teragrams of phosphorus were used in the form of fertilizers.  To give you the magnitude of that, one teragram is one trillion grams!
At the current rate, the year 2050 will see our global population increase from 6.9 billion to approximately 8.5-10 billion; Greenhouse gas emissions will increase by roughly 87%; Cropland usage will increase by 67%; Bluewater usage will increase by 67%; fertilizer usage will increase by over 50%.
When looking at the food causes for the dramatic increase in greenhouse gas emissions, the biggest contributor is animal products.  What is remarkable is that switching to a healthier, mostly-plant based eating plan can reduce greenhouse gas emission by 56% in 2050.
As we think about food sources, it’s important to note the impact of food production on our limited resources.  1 kilogram of protein produced from beans instead of beef requires 18 times less land, 10 times less water, 9 times less fuel, 12 times less fertilizer, and 10 times less pesticide.
The bottom line here is that eating a plant-based diet is not just healthy for you but also important to keep our planet healthy for generations to come.


Springmann et al. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature. 2018 Oct;562(7728):519-525. doi: 10.1038/s41586-018-0594-0. Epub 2018 Oct 10.

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Sean Hashmi MD
Articles: 56

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