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Worsening Climate Emergency And Record CO2 Emissions Demand Vegetarian Diet For All To Help Save Planet

By Dr Gideon Polya  

20 June, 2016

Annual global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions presently  total  64 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent with methanogenic livestock production contributing over 50%. With annual emissions of CO2 per se from industry at a record high,  and with Humanity and  the Biosphere existentially threatened by the Methane Bomb of the warming Arctic in coming decades, we must all urgently adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet to help save the Planet.

World Bank analysts have carefully re-evaluated the contribution of livestock production to world annual GHG pollution and found that the world's annual total rose from 41.76 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent (CO2-e) as estimated by the Food and Agricultural  Organisation  (FAO) to 63.80 billion tonnes CO2-e, with livestock production contributing  over 51% of the higher figure [1]. Support for the World Bank analysts'  upward revision of agricultural GHG pollution  paradoxically comes from a quarter that ostensibly denies it.  Thus the  Australian Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre reports that “Methane emissions from agriculture account for 11% of total national greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority coming from dairy, beef and sheep production systems” [2], noting that this is based on the official assumption by the Australian Department of the Environment (formerly the Department  of Climate Change and  Energy Efficiency ) that the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methane (CH4) relative to that of carbon dioxide (CO2) is 21 on a 100 year time frame. However  Dr Drew Shindell and colleagues have re-assessed the  Global Warming Potential (GWP) of methane at 105 on a 20 year time frame and considering aerosol impacts [3, 4]. Given  Australia's annual greenhouse  gas (GHG) pollution of 600 Mt CO2-e (600 million tonnes CO2-equivalent) , the non-methane  component is 600 Mt CO2-e minus 11% = 600 - 66  = 534 Mt CO2-e. However,  assuming a GWP for methane of 105 (5 times bigger than that officially  assumed in Australia),  the methane component is 66 x 5 = 330 Mt CO2-e, and the revised total GHG pollution = 534 + 330 =  864 Mt CO2-e, with the agricultural component representing  38% of the new total.

Taking an upwardly  revised estimate of land use (agriculture, deforestation, land-clearing)  into account, the revised annual per capita GHG pollution in tonnes per person per year is 8.9 for the world and as follows for the very worst polluters with annual per capita GHG pollution well above the world average:  Belize (366.9), Guyana (203.1), Malaysia (126.0), Papua New Guinea (114.7), Qatar (101.8), Zambia (97.5), Antigua & Barbuda (85.6), United Arab Emirates (82.4), Panama (68.0), Botswana (64.9), Liberia (55.0), Indonesia (53.6), New Zealand (53.2), Australia (52.9; 116 if including its huge GHG-generating  exports), Nicaragua (51.2), Canada (50.1), Equatorial Guinea (47.5), Venezuela (45.2), Brazil (43.4),  Myanmar (41.9), Ireland (41.4), United States (41.0), Cambodia (40.5), Kuwait (37.3), Paraguay (37.2), Central African Republic (35.7) [5].

Revised  annual per capita GHG pollution in tonnes per person per year is as follows for lesser polluting countries which nevertheless  have per capita pollution above the  world average: Peru (34.8), Mongolia (32.2), Singapore (31.2), Bahrain (30.5), Trinidad & Tobago (29.8), Cameroon (29.5), Congo, Democratic Republic (formerly Zaire) (29.3), Côte d'Ivoire (29.1), Denmark (27.8), Brunei (27.4), Bolivia (27.3), Guatemala (26.9), Belgium (26.3), Ecuador (26.2),  Estonia (25.4), Laos (25.3), Suriname (25.1), Netherlands (24.9), Libya (24.9), Nepal (24.6), Benin (24.5), Angola (23.8), Madagascar (23.7), Argentina (23.7), Uruguay (23.7)*, Luxembourg (23.6), Turkmenistan (23.5), Czech Republic (23.5), Zimbabwe (23.3), Gabon (23.1), Greece (21.9), United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (21.5), Cyprus (21.4), Congo, Republic (21.0), Spain (20.9), Finland (20.6), Israel (20.2), Norway (20.1), Colombia (19.8), Namibia (19.8), Mauritania (19.7), South Africa (19.4), Ukraine (19.1), Germany (18.6), France (17.7), Italy (17.6), Uzbekistan (17.5), Costa Rica (17.1), Sudan (16.8), Saudi Arabia (16.6), Slovenia (16.5), Azerbaijan (16.4), Russia (16.2), Sierra Leone (16.2), Slovakia (15.9), Honduras (15.8), Hungary (15.5), Kazakhstan (15.4), Portugal (15.0), Sweden (15.0), Iran (14.5), Iceland (14.2), Mexico (13.9), Oman (13.8), Malta (13.3), Austria (13.0), Poland (12.9), Jamaica (12.8), Palau (12.8), South Korea (12.7), Guinea (12.5), North Korea (12.1), Bahamas (12.1), Nigeria (11.7), Nauru (11.7), Malawi (11.7), Mali (11.6), Chad (11.6), Taiwan (11.6), Latvia (11.4), Vanuatu (11.1), Switzerland (11.0), Romania (10.9),  Togo (10.9), Japan (10.7), Serbia & Montenegro (10.4), Seychelles (10.2), Bulgaria (10.1), Lebanon (9.8), Syria (9.4), Tanzania (9.3), Turkey (9.2), Barbados (9.1), Jordan (9.1), Occupied State of Palestine (9.1)*, Philippines (9.0), Guinea-Bissau (9.0) (* indicates an estimate based on that for an immediately contiguous, ethnically-related country) [5].

In stark contrast to that of the worst polluting countries, the revised annual per capita GHG pollution in tonnes per person per year for the least polluting countries with annual per capita GHG pollution at or below the world average of 8.9 is as follows: Ghana (8.9), Thailand (8.7), Chile (8.7), Fiji (8.7), Belarus (8.6), Sri Lanka (8.5), Macedonia (8.5), Tonga (7.4), Croatia (7.4), China (7.4), Burkina Faso (7.3), Bosnia & Herzegovina (7.2), Kenya (7.1), Dominican Republic (7.1), Senegal (7.0), Tunisia (7.0), Algeria (6.6), Grenada (6.4), Samoa (6.2), Rwanda (6.1), El Salvador (6.0), Lithuania (5.9), Mozambique (5.8), Lesotho (5.7), Burundi (5.5), Iraq (5.5), Eritrea (5.3), St Kitts & Nevis (5.1), Uganda (5.1), Haiti (5.0), Mauritius (5.0), Albania (4.3), Dominica (4.2), Bhutan (4.1), Niger (4.1), Ethiopia (4.1), Moldova (4.0), Georgia (4.0), Yemen (3.7), Tajikistan (3.7), Afghanistan (3.6), Swaziland (3.6), Cuba (3.5),   Cape Verde (3.5), Kyrgyzstan (3.4), The Gambia (3.0), St Lucia (2.9), Bangladesh (2.7), Egypt (2.6), Niue (2.6), Pakistan (2.5), Morocco (2.5), Djibouti (2.4), St Vincent & Grenadines (2.4), Armenia (2.3), Maldives (2.1), India (2.1), Cook Islands (2.1), Vietnam (1.9), São Tomé and Príncipe (1.9), Comoros (1.6), Solomon Islands (1.4), Kiribati (1.2), Tuvalu (1.2)* (* indicates an estimate based on that for an immediately contiguous, ethnically-related country) [5].

The 2009 Report of the German Scientific Advisory Council on Global Change (WBGU, Wissenshaftlicher Beirat der Bundesregierung Globale Umweltveränderungen) entitled “Solving the climate dilemma: the budget approach” crucially stated: “The budget of CO2 emissions still available worldwide could be derived from the 2 degree C guard rail. By the middle of the 21st century a maximum of approximately 750 Gt CO2 (billion metric tons) may be released into the Earth's atmosphere if the guard rail is to be adhered to with a probability of 67%. If we raise the probability to 75%, the cumulative emissions within this period would even have to remain below 600 Gt CO2. In any case, only a small amount of CO2 may be emitted worldwide after 2050. Thus, the era of an economy driven by fossil fuels will definitely have to come to an end within the first half of this century” [6].

The consequences of this declaration of less than 600 Gt CO2 (600 billion tonnes CO2) in emissions for a 75% chance of avoiding a catastrophic 2 degree C temperature rise are profound. Thus, one can well ask whether a sensible person  would board a plane if it had a 25% chance of crashing. Further, the average world population in the period 2010 - 2050 will be 8.321 billion . Accordingly,  the per capita share of this Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget is less than 600 billion tonnes CO2/8.321 billion people = less than 72.1 tonnes CO2 per person. Thus years left before the world uses up this budget =  72.1 tonnes CO2 per person/ 8.9 tonnes CO2-e per person per year = 8.1 years relative to 2010 and thus only about 2 years relative to 2016.

Using the above revised  data for the annual per capita greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that properly account for  land use and livestock impacts,  one can determine how many years left at current rates of GHG pollution (in units of CO2-e or CO2-equivalent i.e. taking other GHGs into account) before a given country uses up its “fair share” of the World's  Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget [7]. Thus, for example,  for Australia 72.1 tonnes CO2-e per person / 52.9 tonnes CO2-e  per person per year  = 1.4 years left relative to 2010,  noting that this analysis does not take into account historical pollution of the atmosphere. Thus Australia used up its “fair share” of the world's Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget in 2011 and since then has been stealing the entitlement of the 50% of other countries which have not yet used up their entitlement [7] – to be fair  to Australia, half of the world's nations have also exceeded their share of the world's Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget.  Yet in climate criminal Australia there is consensus between the 2 major parties – the Australian Labor Party (the ALP and currently  in Opposition) and the Liberal Party-National Party Coalition (aka the pro-coal COALition  or KOALition and currently in Government) – for  unlimited GHG exports via exports of coal, gas, iron ore and meat. Australia 's bipartisan, Lib-Lab (Coalition Government  and Labor Opposition)  policy of unlimited gas, coal and iron ore exports means that it is committed to polluting the atmosphere with over 3 times the whole world's total Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget [8], with this estimate ignoring Australia's huge meat exports.  Greedy, rich, neoliberal-dominated Australia is a world leader in deforestation [9], species extinction [9], per capita GHG pollution [5], income weighted per capita GHG pollution [10], fossil fuel exports [8, 11] and climate change inaction [10-15].

The world is badly running out of time to deal with the worsening climate emergency due to  man-made GHG pollution and consequent global warming and sea level rise. However while it is now too late to avoid a catastrophic plus 2 degrees Centigrade (plus 2C) temperature rise relative to 1900, we are all obliged to do everything  we can to  make the future “less bad” for our children  and future generations.  One way ordinary people (as opposed to climate criminal One Percenters)  can collectively have a massive impact on  global GHG pollution is to adopt a meat-free diet – if everyone adopted a  vegetarian  diet, global greenhouse gas  pollution would be halved [1]. In between the current profligacy and a universal vegan diet there is a middle way based on the notion that some meats have less environmental  and social impact  than others. Thus consider the following conversion efficiencies (kg grain to produce 1 kg gain in live weight): herbivorous farmed fish (e.g. carp, tilapia, catfish; less than 2), chicken (2), pork (4), and beef (7) [16].

Annual per capita meat consumption (in kg per person per year) [17] very roughly correlates with annual per capita income (in USD per person per year) (UN, 2014) [18] as seen with the following extremes (note the exceptions of livestock-based but impoverished Mongolia and the fishing-rich but impoverished Island States of Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Samoa):

Countries above 80 kg meat per person per year (100 +/- 20): Antigua and Barbuda (84.3 kg per person per year, $13, 731 per person per year), Argentina (98.3, $12,645), Australia (111.5, $62,290), Austria (102, $51,296), Bahamas (109.5, $22, 217), Bermuda (101.7, $89,795), Brazil (85.3, $11,387), Canada (94.3, $50,169), Czech Republic (83.4, $19,470), Denmark (95.2, $61,294), French Polynesia (101.9, $20,009), Iceland (86.2, $52,048), Ireland (87.9, $53,648), Israel (96, $38,261), Italy (90.7, $35,812), Kuwait (119.2, $43,600), Luxembourg (107.9, $116, 560), Malta (84.5, $25,222), Mongolia (82.1, $4,147), Netherlands (85.5, $52,129), Netherlands Antilles (91, $18,360), New Caledonia (72.6, $39,392), New Zealand (106.4, $44,189), Portugal (93.4, $22,122), Saint Lucia (93.6, $7,655), Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (91.4, $6,669), Samoa (87.2, $4,294), Slovenia (88.3, $23,954), Spain (97, $29,861), Sweden (80.2, $58,856), United Kingdom (84.2, $46,461), United States of America  (120.2, $54,306) .

Countries below 20 kg meat per person per year (10 +/- 10): Algeria (19.5 kg per person per year, $5,484 per person per year), Bangladesh  (4, $1,088) , Burkina Faso (14.8, $725), Burundi (5.2, $279), Cambodia (16.6, $1,095), Cameroon (12.7, $1,407), Chad (13, $941), Comoros (13.4, $841), Congo (13.4, $480), Eritrea (7.7, $755), Ethiopia (8.5, $553) , Gambia (8.1, $441), Ghana (13.9, $1,388), Guinea (8.6, $536), India (4.4, $1,586), Indonesia (11.6, $3,492), Kenya (16.7, $1,358), Lesotho (18.3, $986), Liberia (10.4, $483), Madagascar (14.7, $453), Nigeria (8.8, $3,303), Malawi (8.3, $343), Mozambique (7.8, $628), Nepal (9.9, $692), North Korea (13.4, $696), Pakistan (14.7, $1,561), Rwanda (6.5, $697), Sao Tome and Principe (16.5, $1,811), Senegal (15.8, $1,067) Sierra Leone (7.3, $775), Solomon Islands (11.9, $1,927), Sri Lanka (6.3, $3,635), Sudan (19.1, $2,081), Tanzania (9.6, $952), Tajikistan (14.7, $1,114), Uganda (11, $727), Yemen (17.9, $1,418), Zambia (12.3, $1,715) [17, 18].

Tackling climate change -  by the numbers

For a safe and sustainable  environment for all people  and all species the atmospheric CO2 concentration must be reduced from the current dangerous and damaging 400 ppm CO2 to the pre-Industrial Revolution  level of  circa 300 ppm CO2 i.e. when (if) we  reach zero carbon emissions we will still need negative CO2 emissions to get back to 300 ppm CO2 through removal of about 350 Gt CO2-e (350 billion tonnes CO2-equivalent) from the atmosphere.  The maximum rate of removal of atmospheric CO2 by safely sequestering agricultural  or forestry  cellulosic  waste  (as waste per se or as biochar from anaerobic pyrolysis of cellulosic material) in combustion-free underground locations is 12 Gt C (44 Gt CO2-e) per year and using this mode of negative CO2 emissions it would take   about 30 years if zero emissions (zero GHG pollution) had already been achieved [19].

Rapid achievement of zero emissions will involve  a  rapid switch to the best non-carbon and renewable energy (solar, wind, geothermal, wave, tide and hydro) options that are currently roughly the same market price as coal burning-based power and 5 times cheaper if the human and environmental  cost is considered. Installation of 100% renewable energy is feasible and 100% renewable energy by 2020 is on already track for a number of  corporations,  towns, cities and countries [20].  Thus 100% renewable energy could be achieved for Australia in 10 years for a cost of A$350 billion  (US$263 billion) [11, 21]  whereas  the  damage –related Carbon Debt associated with Business As Usual (BAU) GHG pollution would be US$4,000 billion over 10 years [22].

Achieving zero emissions would also  involve energy efficiency, public transport, needs-based production, and re-afforestation coupled with correspondingly rapid cessation of fossil fuel burning, deforestation, population growth and methanogenic livestock production, the latter alone saving about 32 Gt CO2-e of GHG emissions annually from the 64 Gt CO2-e generated presently each year [1]. With emissions of CO2 per se at  a record high of over 30 Gt CO2 annually, and the atmospheric  CO2 concentration of about 400 ppm CO2  increasing at a record rate of  3 ppm CO2 per year, something has to go and it surely cannot be Humanity or the Biosphere.

Decent people must demand cessation of meat eating – in the absence of requisite abolition of about 32 Gt CO2 annually of  industrial pollution (from carbon fuel burning and cement manufacture), a  vegetarian or vegan diet for all Humanity is urgently required now to help save the Planet.   And it must be done urgently,  NOW, because a  predicted release of an estimated 50 Gt methane (50 x 105 = 5,250 Gt CO2-e)  from the steadily warming East Siberian Arctic Shelf in coming decades would mean doom for Humanity and the Biosphere [23-25]. Decent people must (a) inform everyone they can about the worsening climate emergency, (b) urge a vegetarian diet for all Humanity,  and (c) urge and apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against all people, politicians, parties, companies, corporations  and countries disproportionately  involved in the  greenhouse gas pollution that so acutely threatens Humanity and the Biosphere.


[1]. Robert Goodland and Jeff Anfang. “Livestock and climate change. What if the key actors in climate change are … cows, pigs and chickens?”, World Watch, November/December 2009: http://www.worldwatch.org/files/pdf/Livestock%20and%20Climate%20Change.pdf .


[2]. “Reducing methane emissions from livestock”, Primary Industries Climate Challenges Centre: http://www.piccc.org.au/research/project/253 .

[3]. Drew T. Shindell , Greg Faluvegi, Dorothy M. Koch ,   Gavin A. Schmidt ,   Nadine Unger and Susanne E. Bauer , “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions”, Science, 30 October 2009:
Vol. 326 no. 5953 pp. 716-718: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716 .

[4].  Shindell et al (2009), Fig.2: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/326/5953/716.figures-only .

[5]. Gideon Polya, “ Revised Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution For All Countries – What Is Your Country Doing?”, Countercurrents, 6 January, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya060116.htm .

[6]. WBGU, “Solving the climate dilemma: the budget approach”, 2009:  http://www.wbgu.de/fileadmin/templates/dateien/veroeffentlichungen/sondergutachten/sn2009/wbgu_sn2009_en.pdf .

[7]. Gideon Polya, “Years Left For Zero Emissions By Country – Half Have Exceeded Their Share Of The World's Terminal Carbon Pollution Budget”, Countercurrents, 27 February, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya270216.htm .

[8].  Gideon Polya, “Australia 's Huge Coal, Gas & Iron Ore Exports Threaten Planet”, Countercurrents, 15 May 2012: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya150512.htm .

[9]. Frances Pike, “Australia: world leader in deforestation and species extinction”, Independent Australia, 3 June 2015: https://independentaustralia.net/environment/environment-display/australian-logging-and-the-end-of-species,7788  .

[10]. Gideon Polya, “Exposing And Thence Punishing Worst Polluter Nations Via Weighted Annual Per Capita Greenhouse Gas Pollution Scores”, Countercurrents, 19 March, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya190316.htm .

[11]. Gideon Polya, “2011 climate change course”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/2011-climate-change-course .

[12]. German Climate Watch Index 2015: https://germanwatch.org/en/download/10407.pdf .

[13]. Gideon Polya, “25 Ways World-Leading Climate Criminal Australia Threatens Planet And Invites Boycotts, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS)”, Countercurrents, 6 June, 2015: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya060615.htm .

[14]. Gideon Polya, “Climate Criminal Coalition Government Lying Endangers Australia & Planet – Australians Must Vote 1 Green And Put The Coalition Last”, Countercurrents, 17 June, 2016: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya170616.htm .

[15]. Gideon Polya, “Coalition Climate Crimes & 200 Reasons Why Australia Must Dump Pro-coal, Pro-war Coalition PM Malcolm Turnbull”, Countercurrents, 1 November, 2015: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya011115.htm .

[16]. Gideon Polya, “Biofuel famine, biofuel genocide, meat & global food price crisis”, Global avoidable mortality: http://globalavoidablemortality.blogspot.com.au/2008/05/biofuel-famine-biofuel-genocide-meat.html .

[17].  Current worldwide annual meat consumption per capita”,  ChartsBin:  http://chartsbin.com/view/12730 .

[18]. “List of countries by GDP (nominal) per capita”, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_GDP_(nominal)_per_capita .

[19]. Gideon Polya, “Forest biomass-derived Biochar can profitably reduce global warming and bushfire risk”, Yarra Valley Climate Action Group: http://sites.google.com/site/yarravalleyclimateactiongroup/forest-biomass-derived-biochar-can-profitably-reduce-global-warming-and-bushfire-risk .

[20]. “100% renewable energy by 2020”: https://sites.google.com/site/100renewableenergyby2020/ .

[21]. Beyond Zero Emissions Zero (BZE), Zero Carbon Australia by 2020 Report (BZE ZCA2020 Report), 2010: http://www.beyondzeroemissions.org/about/bze-brand .

[22]. “Carbon Debt Carbon Credit”: https://sites.google.com/site/carbondebtcarboncredit/ .

[23]. “Methane Bomb Threat”: https://sites.google.com/site/methanebombthreat/.

[24]. "Too late to avoid global warming catastrophe": https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/too-late-to-avoid-global-warming .

[25]. “Are we doomed?”: https://sites.google.com/site/300orgsite/are-we-doomed .

Dr Gideon Polya taught science students at a major Australian university for 4 decades. He published some 130 works in a 5 decade scientific career, most recently a huge pharmacological reference text "Biochemical Targets of Plant Bioactive Compounds" (CRC Press/Taylor & Francis, New York & London , 2003). He has published “Body Count. Global avoidable mortality since 1950” (G.M. Polya, Melbourne, 2007: http://globalbodycount.blogspot.com/ ); see also his contributions “Australian complicity in Iraq mass mortality” in “Lies, Deep Fries & Statistics” (edited by Robyn Williams, ABC Books, Sydney, 2007: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/ockhamsrazor/australian-complicity-in-iraq-mass-mortality/3369002#transcript

) and “Ongoing Palestinian Genocide” in “The Plight of the Palestinians (edited by William Cook, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2010: http://mwcnews.net/focus/analysis/4047-the-plight-of-the-palestinians.html ). He has published a revised and updated 2008 version of his 1998 book “Jane Austen and the Black Hole of British History” (see: http://janeaustenand.blogspot.com/  ) as biofuel-, globalization- and climate-driven global food price increases threaten a greater famine catastrophe than the man-made famine in British-ruled India that killed 6-7 million Indians in the “forgotten” World War 2 Bengal Famine (see recent BBC broadcast involving Dr Polya, Economics Nobel Laureate Professor Amartya Sen and others: http://www.open.edu/openlearn/history-the-arts/history/social-economic-history/listen-the-bengal-famine  ;  Gideon Polya: https://sites.google.com/site/drgideonpolya/home  ; Gideon Polya Writing: https://sites.google.com/site/gideonpolyawriting/ ; “Gideon Polya”, Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gideon_Polya ) . When words fail one can say it in pictures - for images of Gideon Polya's huge paintings for the Planet, Peace, Mother and Child see: http://sites.google.com/site/artforpeaceplanetmotherchild/ and http://www.flickr.com/photos/gideonpolya/




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