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Cows on a dairy farm. U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Meat and Dairy Greenhouse Emissions 'Could Lead Us to a Point of No Return'

Three of the world's largest meat producers emitted more greenhouse gases in 2016 than France, putting them on par with oil companies such as ExxonMobil, BP and Shell, a recent study found.

GRAIN, a non-profit organization, collaborated with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and the Heinrich Böll Foundation to estimate the greenhouse emissions of meat and dairy corporations, a figure that few companies calculate or publish.


The study was published as meat and dairy industry representatives arrived in Bonn, Germany for the COP23 to emphasize their role in food security.

In stark terms the study warns that if unchecked, the world's top meat and dairy producers' greenhouse emissions "could lead us to a point of no return."

Projections showing business-as-usual meat and dairy greenhouse emissions.GRAIN

Through lobbying, major meat and dairy companies have promoted policies that have led to increased production and consumption around the world. Livestock production now contributes 15 percent of global greenhouse emissions, more than the transportation sector, according to the study.

If livestock production continues to grow at the rates estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, greenhouse emissions from the meat and dairy industries will undercut attempts to keep global average temperatures below 2°C.

The paper's authors warned that industry representatives will arrive at the COP23 in Bonn pushing their agenda—the expansion of livestock production—as a solution. This will amount to criticism of small-scale farmers, which is where the solution in cutting greenhouse emissions lies, according to the authors of the study.

Rather than continuing to subsidize factory farming and agribusiness that undercuts millions of small farmers, governments should redirect public money to support "small-scale agroecological" farms, the study suggests.

Graph showing the top 20 meat and dairy companies' greenhouse emissions.GRAIN

Three out the world's five biggest meat and dairy greenhouse gas emitters are U.S.-based companies.

A previous study showed beef, when compared to staples like potatoes, wheat and rice, has a per calorie impact that requires 160 times more land and produces 11 times more greenhouse gases.

Another study published in Environmental Research Letters calculated that a 50 percent reduction in mean per capita meat consumption in the developed world is needed by 2050 to meet global greenhouse gas emissions targets.

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Natural pine trees can liven up Christmas and the environment when they are replanted after. Cavan Images / Getty Images

5 Ways to Have a Green Christmas (and Help the Planet)

It's pretty common this time of year to hear the song White Christmas, but at EcoWatch we want folks to have a green Christmas. With a couple of tips, you can make sure your winter festivities have a smaller carbon footprint. Here are five ways you can have a more environmentally friendly holiday.

1. Give Green Gifts
Share your love of the planet by giving gifts that are good for the environment. Need ideas? The EcoWatch staff rounded up their favorite gifts, and USA Today highlights items such as iTunes gift cards, reusable straws, organic wine and non-toxic cosmetics in their story about purchasing green presents.

After you decide on the perfect gift, don't forget to also be mindful about the way it's wrapped. Not all wrapping paper can be recycled. In the U.S., you can recycle paper that does not have metallic, velvety or glittery elements, USA Today explains. Alternatives to conventional wrapping paper include recycling brown grocery bags, reusing old newspapers or wrapping gifts in reusable cloth (a 400-year-old Japanese practice called Furoshiki), Madeleine Somerville writes in The Guardian.

2. Dim the Lights
Christmas lights certainly make the season bright, but there's an ecological cost to all that electricity. The U.S. consumes 6.6 billion kilowatt hours of energy each year on seasonal light displays, The Center for Global Development reports citing a 2008 study from the U.S. Department of Energy. That's more energy than developing countries like El Salvador, Ethiopia, Cambodia or Nepal use in a year!

So what can you do if you think of lights as synonymous with Christmas? In The Guardian, Jessica Aldred suggests switching to LED, solar-powered or rechargeable-battery-powered lights. She also points out that "paraffin candles are made from petroleum residue ... Candles made from soy, beeswax or natural vegetable-based wax are more eco-friendly because they biodegrade and are smoke-free."

3. Choose the Right Tree
Christmas trees are so popular that 75 percent of Americans display a Christmas tree, with a majority of them choosing an artificial one, The New York Times reports, based on a data from the American Christmas Tree Association (ACTA). But is that the greenest option? While a new study by ACTA found that an artificial tree is more environmentally friendly than a real tree if you use the artificial tree for five years or more, others dispute that claim.

Bill Ulfelder, New York's Nature Conservancy executive director told The Times that "real trees were 'unquestionably' the better option." When bought locally, greenhouse gas emissions are reduced. Other ways to make your real tree purchase more environmentally friendly are to buy trees that can be replanted or find a local program that recycles trees and turns them into mulch.

4. Have a Glitter-Free Christmas
EcoWatch has written before about the dangers of glitter, which contributes to the microplastic pollution plaguing the oceans. Olga Pantos, a research scientist with New Zealand's Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), told Stuff that on a recent shopping trip that "it was almost impossible to find anything that didn't have glitter." So, choosing non-glittery decorations can help keep microplastics out of the oceans.

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Greenpeace UK is calling out supermarkets for their unnecessary plastic packaging of festive items, and they want you to join the fight. With the hashtag #PointlessPlastic, they are encouraging people to share photos of the worst offenses in supermarkets. Greenpeace will then ask the public to vote on the most egregious. "By exposing the worst festive plastic offenders, we'll be showing supermarkets that their use of plastic is unacceptable, and that their customers have had enough," Greenpeace states on it website.

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