What would happen if the world Suddenly went vegetarian?

People become vegetarians for a variety of reasons. Some do it to alleviate animal suffering, others because they want to pursue a healthier lifestyle. Still others are fans of sustainability or wish to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

No matter how much their carnivorous friends might deny it, vegetarians have a point: cutting out meat delivers multiple benefits. And the more who make the switch, the more those perks would manifest on a global scale.

But if everyone became a committed vegetarian, there would be serious drawbacks for millions, if not billions, of people.

“It’s a tale of two worlds, really,” says Andrew Jarvis of Colombia’s International Centre for Tropical Agriculture. “In developed countries, vegetarianism would bring all sorts of environmental and health benefits. But in developing countries there would be negative effects in terms of poverty.”

Jarvis and other experts at the centre hypothesised what might happen if meat dropped off the planet’s menu overnight.

First, they examined climate change. Food production accounts for one-quarter to one-third of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and the brunt of responsibility for those numbers falls to the livestock industry. Despite this, how our dietary choices affect climate change is often underestimated. In the US, for example, an average family of four emits more greenhouse gases because of the meat they eat than from driving two cars – but it is cars, not steaks, that regularly come up in discussions about global warming.

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