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Cutting Down Meat Production Can Make the Planet Healthier and Save Energy

According to environmental researcher Gidon Eshel, if the whole country stopped eating meat, it would be like taking 60 million cars off the streets. This number is outstanding, so it’s definitely worth crunching the numbers on this hypothetical.

The farming and meat industries are gargantuan. What many of us don't know is that these two industries combined are responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions produced by humans. Meanwhile, our food system as a whole is accountable for 37% of these greenhouse emissions.

This means that if we opted for a more plant-based diet, it would decrease meat production, which would mean less carbon dioxide emissions. It will also cut down the amount of land that’s currently being used for livestock farming, which is obviously substantially.

Many people decide to go on a 100% plant-based diet for many different reasons; one of them is that it greatly reduces your personal impact on the environment. According to the aforementioned research, if we replace animal protein with a vegetarian alternative, we could save about 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide per year.

What’s more, we could save about 30% of the world’s land, which is currently being deforested and abused by the livestock farming industry. Not to mention we could save water and reduce contamination linked to livestock farming. If the entire US switched to a plant-based diet, 72 million acres of crop land would be saved. Let that sink in…

Of course, crop farming would still take a toll, but it would be a much smaller one. For one, it takes a lot less land and a lot less fertilizer. It also emits 80% less carbon dioxide than meat production, so I’d say it’s a great trade-off.

Switching to a plant-based diet doesn’t only have benefits for the planet; it also has many benefits for our health as well. Plus, they’re coming up with more and more incredible synthetic alternatives for meat. Once the taste and flavor reach parity, we won’t miss it.

Take Impossible Foods, for example. They’re one of the leading producers of plant-based food, and their Impossible Burger patties are used in over 7,000 restaurants around the world. Even Burger King will start using their vegan patties, which look and taste delicious, according to a bevy of online food critics.

Other alternatives to meat are abundant, and they continue to be developed as people realize not only that a plant-based diet is better for the environment but also that you can actually live without meat. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger has made the switch.

You don’t have to abandon meat altogether if you don’t want to. But even having a meatless day or two each week is a helpful contribution to the environment and to the billions of animals that are sacrificed every day for our sustenance.

Realizing that your diet has such a huge impact on the environment may be a shock, I know. But the more you know, the better.  Knowledge is what allows you to make a difference—even if it’s just a bite-sized one!

Ben Schultz's picture

Thank Ben for the Post!

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Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 20, 2019 3:15 pm GMT

Ben, as each year passes, more and more manufactured 'facts' provided by self-appointed, untrained 'researchers' are innocently accepted as truth. For example:

"According to the aforementioned research, if we replace animal protein with a vegetarian alternative, we could save about 280 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year."

That's an achievement, given total global annual CO2 emissions are 37 billion metric tons per year.


Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Aug 20, 2019 10:08 pm GMT

You're certainly right to raise an eyebrow (or a billion) at this stat that was definitely in error-- but some Google Fu highlighted what it looks like this statistic was meant to say, just for transparency's sake:

The researchers calculated that if every American replaced all beef, chicken, and pork in their diet with a vegetarian option, that would save the equivalent of 280 billion kilograms (280 million metric tons) of carbon dioxide every year

So still a pretty hefty amount, and while it's one of the myriad of motivations for me to personally eat vegetarian, it's also worth noting that the environmental reasons to consider cutting down beef consumption (even if just the occasional meatless Monday!) aren't strictly tied to emissions. From the study cited in Terry's comment below:

Beef operations in the Northwest and Southern Plains had the highest total water use (60 percent combined) of the seven regions analyzed. Irrigating crops to produce feed for cattle accounted for 96 percent of total water use across all the regions

Two areas for potential improvement are water use and reactive nitrogen losses. Water use is increased in the West where U.S. beef cattle are concentrated. Reactive nitrogen losses (at 1.4 teragrams or 15 percent of the U.S. total) mainly in the form of ammonia can lead to smog, acid rain and algal blooms, for example, and potentially pose a public health concern

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 21, 2019 4:59 pm GMT

Matt, here I risk the appearance of defending meat consumption. I do eat some, but less and less.

My daughter is a vegan, and if I want to share dinner out with her a meat-free menu is a requirement. For me, it might be the best reason of all. 

Ben Schultz's picture
Ben Schultz on Aug 21, 2019 12:25 am GMT

This was an innocent error on my part; it has now been rectified. Please accept my apology.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Aug 21, 2019 4:50 pm GMT

Accepted Ben, and thanks for correction.

Terry Hendrick's picture
Terry Hendrick on Aug 20, 2019 6:51 pm GMT

Ben,  Your post is full of untruths...consider these established FACTS-Jan 2019

A fuller picture is emerging of the environmental footprint of beef in the United States. An Agricultural Research Service (ARS)-led team has completed a comprehensive life-cycle analysis quantifying the resource use and various environmental emissions of beef cattle production in the United States. Their aim was to establish baseline measures that the U.S. beef industry can use to explore ways of reducing its environmental footprint and improve sustainability. Led by ARS agricultural engineer Alan Rotz, the team's analysis encompassed an array of different types of cattle operations, reflecting a beef supply chain that's among the most complex food production systems in the world. Indeed, the scope of the analysis spanned five years, seven cattle-producing regions and used data from 2,270 survey responses and site visits nationwide. The team began its beef life-cycle analysis in 2013 and published the first of two sets of results in the January 2019 issue of the journal Agricultural Systems.

Among the results to emerge thus far:

The seven regions' combined beef cattle production accounted for 3.3 percent of all U.S. GHG emissions (By comparison, transportation and electricity generation together made up 56 percent of the total in 2016 and agriculture in general 9 percent).

Fossil energy (for example, fuel) use in cattle production accounted for less than 1 percent of the total consumed nationally.

Cattle only consumed 2.6 pounds of grain per pound of beef cut weight (or, butchered carcass weight), which was comparable to pork and poultry.

"We found that the greenhouse gas emissions in our analysis were not all that different from what other CREDIBLE studies had shown and were not a significant contributor to long-term global warming," Rotz said.



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