The impact of greenhouse gas emissions on our rapidly warming planet is a fact that has been well documented and proven time and again. Numerous UN IPCC reports urge world governments to take aggressive action to end dependence on fossil fuels and act on strategies to limit greenhouse gas emissions from all economic sectors as soon as possible.
Despite decades of warnings around the urgency of this matter, a recent ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States dealt a blow to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from the energy sector here in the U.S.
On June 30, 2022, in a 6-3 decision, the Supreme Court delivered its ruling in the case of West Virginia v. EPA, stating that the EPA would need to take direction on emission caps and other initiatives from Congress rather than having the authority to do so independently. To read more about the impact of this decision on climate change and the EPA, check out this resource from the University of Colorado Boulder.
PBFA firmly believes that the decision to set climate-related regulations should live in the hands of experts, like the scientists and specialists in the EPA. While this decision does limit the EPA’s ability to enforce one aspect of the Clean Air Act, there is still ample reason for hope. Among strategies to combat climate change, shifting to food systems that encourage growing sustainable and nutritious plant-based foods and promoting plant-based diets presents a significant opportunity.
Promoting a Plant-Based Food System to Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Industrial animal agriculture is one of the main causes of environmental degradation worldwide and here in the U.S., responsible for 16.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions and the leading cause of deforestation worldwide. From clearing and converting wild lands, like wetlands, grasslands, forests, and prairies in order to make space for cattle ranching, factory farms, and growing crops for livestock feed, industrial animal agriculture has fundamentally shaped the U.S. landscape. Converting lands that naturally sequester carbon – and promote strong biodiversity to protect against pests, disease, and extreme weather – to monoculture row crops, like corn and soy for livestock, not only releases an enormous amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere but also diminishes the land’s ability to absorb future carbon emissions.
According to the EPA, agriculture was responsible for 11% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. Management of agricultural soils (i.e. synthetic fertilizer use, irrigation practices, etc), accounts for just over half of these greenhouse gas emissions. Methane emissions from cow’s digestive process as well as manure management make up around 40 percent of agricultural emissions.
Understanding the current impact of a food system that is built around producing animal-based foods on an industrial scale, PBFA and the Institute are working to conduct research to further identify the economic, environmental, and social benefits of transitioning U.S. agricultural land to regenerative plant-based systems. One example of this is our Domestic Sourcing Initiative (DSI) which seeks to create partnerships between plant-based food companies and American farmers. While plant-based foods contribute around half the greenhouse gas emissions that animal-based foods do, there is significant opportunity to further optimize the production of plant-based foods to increase their planetary benefit. Domestic sourcing can enable plant-based food companies who may currently source ingredients internationally to reduce their carbon footprints through shorter supply chains (incidentally becoming more resilient in the face of supply network disruptions), and it also opens the door to encourage climate-smart farming practices that promote biodiversity and soil health. In addition, the DSI seeks to direct actionable business opportunities toward small-to-mid-sized growers and processors of diverse and systematically-disadvantaged backgrounds.
Leveraging Political Opportunity to Advocate for Positive Change
As an organization, PBFA and the Institute are dedicated to working with policymakers to inform them of the environmental benefits of promoting plant-based foods and diets. In addition to the DSI, we are actively engaged in discussions around the inclusion of sustainability in the formation of the 2025 U.S. Dietary Guidelines, recently contributed recommendations around key strategies to inform the White House Conference on Nutrition, Health, and Hunger, and are continuously dedicated to championing and strengthening the plant-based foods industry and ensuring a fair marketplace.
While it can be difficult to keep a positive attitude amidst challenging news like the myriad of recent SCOTUS rulings, it is more important than ever to remember that there is so much we can do on an individual and collective level to effect positive change. Our vision is to foster a world where values and business interests harmonize to create a plant-based food system that respects the dignity and health of all living beings and the planet – and we remain dedicated to being adaptive, strategic, and bold when it comes to ensuring this vision comes to pass. This work cannot be done alone and we encourage you to join us and follow along with our latest work and updates.
To stay up to date with our latest policy initiatives, be sure to follow us on social media @GrowPlantBased. To learn more about our Domestic Sourcing Initiative, click here.