This may be the biggest diet-related environmental story of 2010: the United Nations released a report yesterday, Assessing the Environmental Impacts of Consumption and Production, which pretty much says that the world’s screwed unless we all move towards a vegan diet.
Unfortunately, nobody at the U.N. can write worth a damn, so what we get are key insights wrapped in some of the most leaden prose imaginable. Emphasis below is added by me:
Food production is the most significant influence on land use and therefore habitat change, water use, overexploitation of fisheries and pollution with nitrogen and phosphorus. In poorer countries, it is also the most important cause of emissions of greenhouse gases (CH4 and N2O). Both emissions and land use depend strongly on diets. Animal products, both meat and dairy, in general require more resources and cause higher emissions than plant-based alternatives.
Impacts from agriculture are expected to increase substantially due to population growth, increasing consumption of animal products. Unlike fossil fuels, it is difficult to look for alternatives: people have to eat. A substantial reduction of impacts would only be possible with a substantial worldwide diet change, away from animal products.
This is all incredibly important stuff, with some heavy-duty scholarship behind it. Sadly, the U.N. isn’t about to offer practical advice to people on what steps to take. The number of times this 112-page report uses the words vegan or vegetarian: zero.