The year is 2051. Given the realities of climate change and regulations on carbon emissions, beef and pork–protiens with high carbon footprints–have become too expensive for all but the most special of occasions. Luckily, scientists have developed an environmentally-friendly meat solution. Sitting down for dinner, you grab your fork and look down at a delicious plate of….mealworms. That, anyway, is one possibility for sustainable meat examined by Dennis Oonincx and Imke de Boer, a pair of scientists from the University of Wageningen in the Netherlands, in a study published today in the online journal PLOS ONE. In their analysis, cultivating beetle larvae (also known as mealworms) for food allowed the production of much more sustainable protein, using less land and less energy per unit of protein than conventional meats, such as pork or beef. In a 2010 study, they found that five different insect species were also much more climate-friendly than conventional meats—a pound of mealworm protein, in particular, had a greenhouse gas footprint 1% as large as a pound of beef. “Since the population of our planet keeps growing, and the amount of land on this earth is limited, a more efficient, and more sustainable system of food production is needed,” Oonincx said in a statement. “Now, for the first time it has been shown that mealworms, and possibly other edible insects, can aid in achieving such a system.”
This prospect might seem absurd—and, for some, revolting—but the problem of greenhouse gas emissions resulting from meat production is quite serious. The UN estimates that livestock production accounts for roughly 18% of all emissions worldwide, caused by everything from the fuel burned to grow and truck animal feed to the methane emitted by ruminants such as cows as they digest grass. Of most concern, since world populations are increasing and growing more wealthy, is that the demand for animal protein is expected to grow by 70-80% by 2050.