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Concept: Greenhouse gas


What we eat greatly influences our personal health and the environment we all share. Recent analyses have highlighted the likely dual health and environmental benefits of reducing the fraction of animal-sourced foods in our diets. Here, we couple for the first time, to our knowledge, a region-specific global health model based on dietary and weight-related risk factors with emissions accounting and economic valuation modules to quantify the linked health and environmental consequences of dietary changes. We find that the impacts of dietary changes toward less meat and more plant-based diets vary greatly among regions. The largest absolute environmental and health benefits result from diet shifts in developing countries whereas Western high-income and middle-income countries gain most in per capita terms. Transitioning toward more plant-based diets that are in line with standard dietary guidelines could reduce global mortality by 6-10% and food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 29-70% compared with a reference scenario in 2050. We find that the monetized value of the improvements in health would be comparable with, or exceed, the value of the environmental benefits although the exact valuation method used considerably affects the estimated amounts. Overall, we estimate the economic benefits of improving diets to be 1-31 trillion US dollars, which is equivalent to 0.4-13% of global gross domestic product (GDP) in 2050. However, significant changes in the global food system would be necessary for regional diets to match the dietary patterns studied here.

Concepts: Value added, Attribution of recent climate change, Carbon dioxide, Health care, Gross domestic product, Climate change, Nutrition, Greenhouse gas


We assess climate impacts of global warming using ongoing observations and paleoclimate data. We use Earth’s measured energy imbalance, paleoclimate data, and simple representations of the global carbon cycle and temperature to define emission reductions needed to stabilize climate and avoid potentially disastrous impacts on today’s young people, future generations, and nature. A cumulative industrial-era limit of ∼500 GtC fossil fuel emissions and 100 GtC storage in the biosphere and soil would keep climate close to the Holocene range to which humanity and other species are adapted. Cumulative emissions of ∼1000 GtC, sometimes associated with 2°C global warming, would spur “slow” feedbacks and eventual warming of 3-4°C with disastrous consequences. Rapid emissions reduction is required to restore Earth’s energy balance and avoid ocean heat uptake that would practically guarantee irreversible effects. Continuation of high fossil fuel emissions, given current knowledge of the consequences, would be an act of extraordinary witting intergenerational injustice. Responsible policymaking requires a rising price on carbon emissions that would preclude emissions from most remaining coal and unconventional fossil fuels and phase down emissions from conventional fossil fuels.

Concepts: Greenhouse gas, Methane, Climate change, Carbon, Fossil fuel, Coal, Carbon dioxide, Global warming


Organic agriculture is proposed as a promising approach to achieving sustainable food systems, but its feasibility is also contested. We use a food systems model that addresses agronomic characteristics of organic agriculture to analyze the role that organic agriculture could play in sustainable food systems. Here we show that a 100% conversion to organic agriculture needs more land than conventional agriculture but reduces N-surplus and pesticide use. However, in combination with reductions of food wastage and food-competing feed from arable land, with correspondingly reduced production and consumption of animal products, land use under organic agriculture remains below the reference scenario. Other indicators such as greenhouse gas emissions also improve, but adequate nitrogen supply is challenging. Besides focusing on production, sustainable food systems need to address waste, crop-grass-livestock interdependencies and human consumption. None of the corresponding strategies needs full implementation and their combined partial implementation delivers a more sustainable food future.

Concepts: Carbon dioxide, Agroecology, Permaculture, Natural gas, Organic farming, Sustainable agriculture, Greenhouse gas, Agriculture


Engineering estimates of methane emissions from natural gas production have led to varied projections of national emissions. This work reports direct measurements of methane emissions at 190 onshore natural gas sites in the United States (150 production sites, 27 well completion flowbacks, 9 well unloadings, and 4 workovers). For well completion flowbacks, which clear fractured wells of liquid to allow gas production, methane emissions ranged from 0.01 Mg to 17 Mg (mean = 1.7 Mg; 95% confidence bounds of 0.67-3.3 Mg), compared with an average of 81 Mg per event in the 2011 EPA national emission inventory from April 2013. Emission factors for pneumatic pumps and controllers as well as equipment leaks were both comparable to and higher than estimates in the national inventory. Overall, if emission factors from this work for completion flowbacks, equipment leaks, and pneumatic pumps and controllers are assumed to be representative of national populations and are used to estimate national emissions, total annual emissions from these source categories are calculated to be 957 Gg of methane (with sampling and measurement uncertainties estimated at ±200 Gg). The estimate for comparable source categories in the EPA national inventory is ∼1,200 Gg. Additional measurements of unloadings and workovers are needed to produce national emission estimates for these source categories. The 957 Gg in emissions for completion flowbacks, pneumatics, and equipment leaks, coupled with EPA national inventory estimates for other categories, leads to an estimated 2,300 Gg of methane emissions from natural gas production (0.42% of gross gas production).

Concepts: Mathematics, United States, Greenhouse gas, Statistics, Air pollution, Methane, Carbon dioxide, Natural gas


Better stewardship of land is needed to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement goal of holding warming to below 2 °C; however, confusion persists about the specific set of land stewardship options available and their mitigation potential. To address this, we identify and quantify “natural climate solutions” (NCS): 20 conservation, restoration, and improved land management actions that increase carbon storage and/or avoid greenhouse gas emissions across global forests, wetlands, grasslands, and agricultural lands. We find that the maximum potential of NCS-when constrained by food security, fiber security, and biodiversity conservation-is 23.8 petagrams of CO2 equivalent (PgCO2e) y(-1) (95% CI 20.3-37.4). This is ≥30% higher than prior estimates, which did not include the full range of options and safeguards considered here. About half of this maximum (11.3 PgCO2e y(-1)) represents cost-effective climate mitigation, assuming the social cost of CO2 pollution is ≥100 USD MgCO2e(-1) by 2030. Natural climate solutions can provide 37% of cost-effective CO2 mitigation needed through 2030 for a >66% chance of holding warming to below 2 °C. One-third of this cost-effective NCS mitigation can be delivered at or below 10 USD MgCO2(-1) Most NCS actions-if effectively implemented-also offer water filtration, flood buffering, soil health, biodiversity habitat, and enhanced climate resilience. Work remains to better constrain uncertainty of NCS mitigation estimates. Nevertheless, existing knowledge reported here provides a robust basis for immediate global action to improve ecosystem stewardship as a major solution to climate change.

Concepts: Emission standard, Agriculture, Ecosystem, Global warming potential, Climate change, Global warming, Carbon dioxide, Greenhouse gas


The risk associated with any climate change impact reflects intensity of natural hazard and level of human vulnerability. Previous work has shown that a wet-bulb temperature of 35°C can be considered an upper limit on human survivability. On the basis of an ensemble of high-resolution climate change simulations, we project that extremes of wet-bulb temperature in South Asia are likely to approach and, in a few locations, exceed this critical threshold by the late 21st century under the business-as-usual scenario of future greenhouse gas emissions. The most intense hazard from extreme future heat waves is concentrated around densely populated agricultural regions of the Ganges and Indus river basins. Climate change, without mitigation, presents a serious and unique risk in South Asia, a region inhabited by about one-fifth of the global human population, due to an unprecedented combination of severe natural hazard and acute vulnerability.

Concepts: Population density, Earth, India, Climate change, Natural gas, Population, Greenhouse gas, World population


In the US, there are more than 163 million dogs and cats that consume, as a significant portion of their diet, animal products and therefore potentially constitute a considerable dietary footprint. Here, the energy and animal-derived product consumption of these pets in the US is evaluated for the first time, as are the environmental impacts from the animal products fed to them, including feces production. In the US, dogs and cats consume about 19% ± 2% of the amount of dietary energy that humans do (203 ± 15 PJ yr-1 vs. 1051 ± 9 PJ yr-1) and 33% ± 9% of the animal-derived energy (67 ± 17 PJ yr-1 vs. 206 ± 2 PJ yr-1). They produce about 30% ± 13%, by mass, as much feces as Americans (5.1 ± Tg yr-1 vs. 17.2 Tg yr-1), and through their diet, constitute about 25-30% of the environmental impacts from animal production in terms of the use of land, water, fossil fuel, phosphate, and biocides. Dog and cat animal product consumption is responsible for release of up to 64 ± 16 million tons CO2-equivalent methane and nitrous oxide, two powerful greenhouse gasses (GHGs). Americans are the largest pet owners in the world, but the tradition of pet ownership in the US has considerable costs. As pet ownership increases in some developing countries, especially China, and trends continue in pet food toward higher content and quality of meat, globally, pet ownership will compound the environmental impacts of human dietary choices. Reducing the rate of dog and cat ownership, perhaps in favor of other pets that offer similar health and emotional benefits would considerably reduce these impacts. Simultaneous industry-wide efforts to reduce overfeeding, reduce waste, and find alternative sources of protein will also reduce these impacts.

Concepts: Human, Pet, Nitrous oxide, Animal product, Nutrition, Dog, Carbon dioxide, Greenhouse gas


Ongoing greenhouse gas emissions can modify climate processes and induce shifts in ocean temperature, pH, oxygen concentration, and productivity, which in turn could alter biological and social systems. Here, we provide a synoptic global assessment of the simultaneous changes in future ocean biogeochemical variables over marine biota and their broader implications for people. We analyzed modern Earth System Models forced by greenhouse gas concentration pathways until 2100 and showed that the entire world’s ocean surface will be simultaneously impacted by varying intensities of ocean warming, acidification, oxygen depletion, or shortfalls in productivity. In contrast, only a small fraction of the world’s ocean surface, mostly in polar regions, will experience increased oxygenation and productivity, while almost nowhere will there be ocean cooling or pH elevation. We compiled the global distribution of 32 marine habitats and biodiversity hotspots and found that they would all experience simultaneous exposure to changes in multiple biogeochemical variables. This superposition highlights the high risk for synergistic ecosystem responses, the suite of physiological adaptations needed to cope with future climate change, and the potential for reorganization of global biodiversity patterns. If co-occurring biogeochemical changes influence the delivery of ocean goods and services, then they could also have a considerable effect on human welfare. Approximately 470 to 870 million of the poorest people in the world rely heavily on the ocean for food, jobs, and revenues and live in countries that will be most affected by simultaneous changes in ocean biogeochemistry. These results highlight the high risk of degradation of marine ecosystems and associated human hardship expected in a future following current trends in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Concepts: Natural gas, Oceanography, Carbon dioxide, Earth, Ecosystem, Global warming, Climate change, Greenhouse gas


Among American Conservatives, but not Liberals, trust in science has been declining since the 1970’s. Climate science has become particularly polarized, with Conservatives being more likely than Liberals to reject the notion that greenhouse gas emissions are warming the globe. Conversely, opposition to genetically-modified (GM) foods and vaccinations is often ascribed to the political Left although reliable data are lacking. There are also growing indications that rejection of science is suffused by conspiracist ideation, that is the general tendency to endorse conspiracy theories including the specific beliefs that inconvenient scientific findings constitute a “hoax.”

Concepts: Democratic Party, Scientific method, Political spectrum, Greenhouse gas, Conspiracy theory


As a major contributor to agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it has been suggested that reducing animal agriculture or consumption of animal-derived foods may reduce GHGs and enhance food security. Because the total removal of animals provides the extreme boundary to potential mitigation options and requires the fewest assumptions to model, the yearly nutritional and GHG impacts of eliminating animals from US agriculture were quantified. Animal-derived foods currently provide energy (24% of total), protein (48%), essential fatty acids (23-100%), and essential amino acids (34-67%) available for human consumption in the United States. The US livestock industry employs 1.6 × 10(6) people and accounts for $31.8 billion in exports. Livestock recycle more than 43.2 × 10(9) kg of human-inedible food and fiber processing byproducts, converting them into human-edible food, pet food, industrial products, and 4 × 10(9) kg of N fertilizer. Although modeled plants-only agriculture produced 23% more food, it met fewer of the US population’s requirements for essential nutrients. When nutritional adequacy was evaluated by using least-cost diets produced from foods available, more nutrient deficiencies, a greater excess of energy, and a need to consume a greater amount of food solids were encountered in plants-only diets. In the simulated system with no animals, estimated agricultural GHG decreased (28%), but did not fully counterbalance the animal contribution of GHG (49% in this model). This assessment suggests that removing animals from US agriculture would reduce agricultural GHG emissions, but would also create a food supply incapable of supporting the US population’s nutritional requirements.

Concepts: Greenhouse gas, Essential fatty acid, Food security, Agriculture, Amino acid, Essential amino acid, Essential nutrient, Nutrition