Earth Overshoot Day: Cut out 50% of meat to preserve planet resources

Humanity is using up biological resources earlier and earlier each year

Reducing the consumption of meat by 50% would significantly push back the day in the year humanity’s use of biological resources overshoots what planet earth can reproduce in 12 months.

This year Earth Overshoot Day occurs today, the 29 July. But according to the Worldwide Fund For Nature (WWF), a partner of the Earth Overshoot Day group, a global reduction in meat consumption would move the date 17 days earlier, including a 10-day boost through the reduction of methane emissions.

WWF also highlighted Earth Overshoot Day is occurring earlier in the calendar each year – for example, it was on 22 September in 2000 and last year it was on 22 August. The large difference between 2020 and 2021 has been skewed by lockdown measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Tim Bachmann (pictured), portfolio manager of the DWS Invest ESG Climate Tech Fund, said meat consumption does not look set to decline: “Due to a rising global population and increasing affluence, meat consumption is expected to increase by another 75% worldwide by 2050. If we take sustainability seriously, we must therefore counteract quickly and decisively with protein alternatives to poultry, pork and beef.”

Resource strain

Bachmann also explained why meat consumption is so resource-intensive: “For livestock farming, enormous quantities of soy and corn have to be shipped as feed from the cultivated areas, especially in Latin America, by sea freight to major buyers such as China and the US. The excessive use of fertilisers over-acidifies the soils at the feed producers, which reduces the availability of fertile land in the long term.”

Meat is inefficient in terms of the amount of food energy animals need to consume versus how much they produce – 3kg of feed are needed to produce 500g of beef. Other environmental issues include livestock accounting for about a quarter of all methane emissions and agriculture more broadly being one of the top five emitters of greenhouse gases.

This means it is time for a re-think, added Bachmann: “Against this backdrop, it is clear the increasing global demand for protein-rich foods cannot be met from animal sources in the long term. Rather, we need plant-based alternatives.”  

The portfolio manager cites the production of edible mushrooms as an attractive protein substitute as they are economical to grow and distribute; 100g of edible mushroom is 35 times more efficient, in terms of kilowatt hours of energy, to produce than 100g of meat.