Dealing with the dangers of nitrous oxide in the atmosphere means not only a 50 percent cut in emissions but a 50 percent cut in meat-eating too, say scientists.
A team at the Woods Hole Research Center (WHRC) says that the wporld will only meet the most aggressive targets from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) if meat consumption in the developed world is cut by half by 2050.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is the third highest contributor to climate change behind carbon dioxide and methane. It gets into the atmosphere mainly through the spreading of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers onto agricultural soils and the use and storage of livestock manure.
The nitrogen contained in fertilizers and manure is broken down by soil microbes and released into the atmosphere as N2O.
Dr Eric Davidson of WHRC based his conclusioins on data provided by the Food and Agricultural Organization, which assumes that the global population will increase to 8.9 billion by 2050 and the daily calorific intake per capita will increase to 3,130 kcal.
It also assumes that the average meat consumption of each person in the developed world will rise from 78 kg per year in 2002 to 89 kg per year in 2030 and from 28 kg per year in 2002 to 37 kg per year for each person in the developing world.
Davidson's hopeful that the world will heed the warning.
"If you had asked me 30 years ago if smoking would be banned in bars, I would have laughed and said that would be impossible in my lifetime, and yet it has come true," he says.
"Similarly, there would be beneficial health benefits for most Americans and western Europeans to stop ‘supersizing’ and rather to reduce portion sizes of red meat."