Meat Carbon Footprint


For today’s blog post, I want to give a practical approach to reducing the amount of meat you eat on a regular basis. And no, you don’t have to be vegan or even vegetarian to read on, so no need to worry! Before we dive in though, let’s start with a little bit of context regarding the importance of reducing meat consumption. For those of you podcast listeners, I touched on this in episode one, so just a head’s up! On October 8, 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published the Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5C (SR 15). The report included more than 6,000 scientific references and was developed by 91 authors  from 40 different countries. The goal of the report was to "deliver the authoritative, scientific guide for governments" to deal with climate change. Moreover, it served as a warning to policymakers around the world, because - as the report indicated - we have only twelve years left to limit global warming caused by greenhouse gas emissions to 1.5 degrees celsius. Anything above that would be detrimental to the world as we know it. If the planet warms even another 2C, virtually all of the world’s coral reefs will die and sea levels will rise between two and seven feet by the end of the century. This would require “rapid and far-reaching changes in all aspects of society.” And just to clarify, even with global warming of 1.5C, there will be greater risk to "health, livelihoods, food security, water supply, human security, and economic growth."


The report also details various pathways in its summary for policymakers. These pathways provide different scenarios or guidelines, rather that help assist countries with carbon dioxide mitigation options. And if we’re talking about food, that falls under the category of a pathway to “[limit] the demand for land. The report explains with high confidence that methods would “include sustainable intensification of land-use practices, ecosystem restoration, and changes towards less resource-intensive diets. The implementation of land-based mitigation options would require overcoming socio-economic, institutional, technological, financing and environmental barriers that differ across regions.” So what does that have to do with meat? Generally speaking, raising animals for food is a more resource-intensive practice, when compared to growing plants for food. According to research conducted in 2016 by the World Resources Institute, “beef production requires 20 times more land and emits 20 times more greenhouse gas emissions per unit of edible protein than common plant-based protein sources such as beans, peas and lentils. Chicken and pork are more resource-efficient than beef, but still require three times more land and emit three times more greenhouse gas emissions than beans. When it comes to resource use and environmental impacts, the type of food eaten matters as much, if not more, than how that food is produced. And “beef [in particular] is extremely inefficient to produce, as cattle consume a huge amount of calories and protein in order to produce a relatively small amount of calories and protein for human consumption (sheep and goat are similarly inefficient converters of feed to food, but are eaten on a much smaller scale globally). As a result, beef production requires large quantities of land and water per unit of protein or calorie consumed.”


In short, the environmental impact of eating meat is pretty damn significant. So the more you are able to avoid meat - and animal products in general, the better for you and the planet! So how can you make changes to your diet, now that you know animal foods, and meat in particular, leave a high carbon footprint? Have no fear, there are plenty of options! For all of  the  omnivorous readers out there, one way that you can make a difference in your food choices is to opt for meatless meals a few days out of the week. In fact, Meatless Monday was a campaign founded way back in 2003 and has been gaining traction lately! Fun fact: if every Meatless Monday follower swapped a 1/4 pound beef burger for a (soy-based) veggie burger every Monday for a year it would save the equivalent greenhouse gas emissions from 10 billion smartphones charged. That’s huge! So just imagine the impact you would have on multiple days of the week. And you don’t have to just limit yourself to veggie burgers. Whenever you decide to opt out of meat for the day, you can always switch to high fiber and protein options such as beans, lentils, hummus, nuts, and seeds that will not only help keep you full, but will also help with your digestion along the way! For more about the differences between plant-based and animal-based proteins, read this blog post. Another way to help reduce your carbon footprint - switch to non-dairy milk when you drink coffee or tea while out! It may not seem like a lot, but given the vast amounts of water it takes to tend to cows, it definitely helps! And If you have friends, family, or coworkers who are already plant-based, ask them for some recipes or check out some of our favorites! Honestly, there are plenty of ways to reduce your footprint - and while I do of course want to stress that the largest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions are not individuals but transnational corporations, you can still make a difference on many levels. What are your favorite ways to be sustainable? Let me know!