“It’s one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” That’s what a United Nations report concluded in 2006 when evaluating meat consumption worldwide.
In North America, we love our meat-whether it’s a lazy summer barbecue or a regular meat and potatoes meal. But if you’re looking for a high-impact green living idea, you should consider eating less meat since it can have a greater impact on your carbon footprint (for the good!) than switching from a gas-guzzler to a hybrid car.
As the greatest environmental threat of our time, climate change is one we can’t ignore, and your eating habits have an impact on this problem unrivaled by nearly all other sources of greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change, as you’ve likely heard, is a serious environmental problem with many repercussions, and humans are the ones causing the problem. If we don’t slow climate change, we could be facing devastating consequences:
- Air pollution, hotter than average weather and extreme weather events will negatively affect human health and could accelerate the spread of vector-borne diseases.
- An increase in droughts, floods, and severe storms will lead to crop failures and shortages in fresh water supplies.
- Glaciers will melt more rapidly, causing rising sea levels which will lead to land loss and the displacement of millions of people.
- Temperatures will increase more rapidly than plants and animals can adapt, causing numerous species to become extinct.
Those are the worst possible scenarios, but they are real, and your diet may be part of the problem.
How eating less meat will slow climate change
Of all of the green living changes you could make to your life, eating less meat (and dairy) may have the biggest bang for your buck-it’s more effective than buying food locally, eating organic, or driving a hybrid car. But why is this? Let me explain:
- Deforestation: Raising animals for meat results in the levelling of huge swaths of forests around the world. It is estimated that 55 acres of rainforest is required to produce one meal composed of meat protein (John Robbins, author of The Food Revolution). Trees are a major carbon sink (not to mention their many other environmental benefits), so cutting them down reduces the planet’s ability to absorb carbon dioxide.
- Agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: Eighty percent of all grain products grown in the US are used to feed livestock. Conventional farming methods involve large doses of petroleum-based chemicals (fertilizers and pesticides) as well as the operation of heavy machinery which burns a proportionately large amount of fuel, emitting a lot of carbon dioxide.
- Enteric fermentation: As ruminating animals (cows, sheep, goats, and buffalo) naturally digest their food, they produce a potent greenhouse gas: methane, which is more than 20 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. According to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, eating meat is responsible for 37% of methane, 9% of all carbon dioxide, and 65% of nitrous oxide-all of which are greenhouse gases.
Of course, we like hybrid cars and organic food and happily encourage them. But a cheaper and more effective way to live a green lifestyle and cut your greenhouse gas emissions is to simply cut meat out of your diet at least one day every week. This would be like driving your car 1,000 fewer miles every year. And remember: not only are vegetarian organic food recipes [http://www.organicauthority.com/organic-food-recipes/vegtables-side-dishes/] creative and delicious, they’re healthier than meat-based meals, too!