Meat and Greenhouse Gas on Earth Day

What has Earth Day got to do with eating meat?

Earth Day is a world-wide movement to protect our environment. The environment is now being badly affected by global warming from greenhouse gas build-up. And livestock farming produces 20% to 50% of man-made greenhouse gases.

Livestock and Greenhouse Gas

In 2006, the UN/FAO report Livestock’s Long Shadow found that about a fifth of all human-produced greenhouse gases came from meat, dairy and egg farming. The World Bank and IFC’s report Livestock and Climate Change checked their findings in 2009. They concluded the figure was nearer to a half of all emissions.

The UN report counted the greenhouse gas from land clearing, growing animal feed, farming livestock, food processing and transporting meat and dairy products.

The World Bank report adds these missing factors:

• Animal breathing produces carbon dioxide just like humans
• Livestock breathing makes up about 14% of greenhouse gases
• A quarter of land worldwide is used for livestock grazing
• A third of farm land is used to grow food for animals
• Nearly 40% of methane gas emissions comes from farm animals
• Methane is 70 times worse than carbon dioxide in global warming impact
• 50 billion animals are raised each year rather than the first estimate of 20 billion
• Further emissions from cooking, storage, waste disposal and packaging.

Medical treatments from dietary illnesses have a high carbon cost. A diet high in animal products is related to many diseases such as heart attacks, strokes, cancer and diabetes.

Since that report, many UN agencies use the higher figure of 50%.  The environmentalist Bill McKibben quotes this figure in his books and articles.

It is clear that animal farming is a very big factor in global warming.

Food’s Carbon Footprint

At least 20% of our carbon footprint comes from the food we eat every day. Every one of us can have a big impact by eating food that has a lower carbon footprint. Beef, pork, lamb and cheese have high carbon footprints. Fruit, vegetables, beans and grains have low carbon footprints.

• Eating one 8-oz steak produces as much greenhouse gas as driving 14 miles
• 70% of the clearing of the Amazon is for land to farm beef
• The world’s cows eat enough food to feed 9 billion people.

Get some tips on reducing your carbon footprint at Food’s Carbon Footprint.

Happy Earth DayEarth Day Every Day

Earth Day is trying to reach one billion acts of green. Yes, your act could be to switch off the lights, take a reusable bag to the shops or walk instead of drive.

Why not make your green act an Earth Day without meat? And make it Earth Day Every Day by eating an earth-friendly diet. That means switching to a diet low in meats and high in fruit, vegetables, grains, beans, nuts and seeds.

Find out more about a healthy, earth-friendly diet at Vegetarian Nutrition.

Look at Vegetarian Recipes for some great veggie meal ideas.

Author: Jane of Green Eatz

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  1. If animals really are the cause of global warming then the Earth would have melted away a long time ago. The human race has consumed meat for many years yet global warming is a more recent development. Now switching to a diet higher in plant produce would undoubtedly take some methane and carbon dioxide out.
    Yet these have been present from animals for centuries. The question is what has changed. The answer is, at least in part, mass production that leads to clearance of the good land which rejuvenates the atmosphere.

    Post a Reply
    • Thanks for the comment, Ian.
      Yes, animals have always been present on our planet, but not in the vast quantities of farmed animals as today. Traditional diets are low in meat or even vegetarian but the switch to a meat-centric Westernized diet is having a huge impact on our environment. And of course, the increasing population means we need more food than ever. The report suggests that animal farming contributes about half of all greenhouse gas emissions so this is huge factor in global warming.

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  2. “A 1% reduction in world-wide meat intake has the same benefit as a three trillion-dollar investment in solar energy.” ~ Chris Mentzel, CEO of Clean Energy

    “As environmental science has advanced, it has become apparent that the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future: deforestation, erosion, fresh water scarcity, air and water pollution, climate change, biodiversity loss, social injustice, the destabilization of communities, and the spread of disease.” ~ Worldwatch Institute, “Is Meat Sustainable?”

    “If every American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetables and grains… the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off of U.S. Roads.” ~ Environmental Defense Fund

    “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global. The findings of this report suggest that it should be a major policy focus when dealing with problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity… The impact is so significant that it needs to be addressed with urgency.” ~ United Nation Food and Agricultural Organization’s report “Livestock’s Long Shadow”

    “It’s not a requirement to eat animals, we just choose to do it, so it becomes a moral choice and one that is having a huge impact on the planet, using up resources and destroying the biosphere.” ~ James Cameron, movie director, environmentalist, new vegan

    VeganVideo.Org TryVeg.Org

    Post a Reply
    • Hi JC Thanks for the quotes and for signing up to our mailing list. The message about meat being a big, big factor in global warming is slowly getting out there. Let’s keep spreading the word 🙂

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  3. Did you know that the majority of our CO2 emissions come from coal used to generate electricity and from petroleum fuel used for transportation? Or that in the U.S., 91.8% of greenhouse gas emissions come from sources that are not related to agriculture? Or that in the U.S., fossil fuels are responsible for 55 times the amount of CO2e produced by the U.S. beef herd. And globally, fossil fuels are responsible for 342 times the amount of CO2e produced by the U.S. beef herd. So, asking people to stop eating beef, or going meatless on Monday, is not going to be a solution for the global CO2e emissions problem.

    If we are interested in reducing CO2 emissions, we’re going to have to reduce our electricity usage and petroleum fuel usage. This is going to be tough, because in today’s society everyone is expected to live a certain way. I don’t know of anyone who washes their clothes or dishes by hand anymore. Most people believe that it is too much work, or it takes too long. And most people don’t hang their clothes to dry on a clothes line anymore. Most Americans have homes that are cooled by an electric air conditioner, or heated by coal fired electricity, or fuel oil, or natural gas heat.

    Among large nations, the U.S. is the worst offender per capita for CO2 emissions. Our government has not committed to setting a goal to reduce CO2e emissions. If we are going to reduce CO2 emissions, our government is going to have to guide the way. If automobile manufacturers were required to manufacture cars that get 100 mpg, we would all be driving a car that gets 100 mpg. If fossil fuels were taxed and renewable fuels were subsidized, we’d all be trying to find ways to use more renewable fuels. (And for the record, ethanol is not always a low CO2 fuel or a “green” alternative fuel. Ethanol may create a slight reduction in CO2 emissions versus gasoline. But, if the ethanol has been manufactured in a coal fired facility, more CO2 is produced manufacturing a gallon of ethanol than is produced from burning a gallon of gasoline.)

    Here is some food for thought. In the past fifty (50) years, the U.S. beef herd has shrunk by 88%, to 29 Million today. In the same time, the U.S. population has grown by a 165% (to 317 Million), the number of registered highway vehicles in the U.S. has risen by 284% (to 245 Million), and the global population has grown by 222% (to 7.25 Billion, or 7,250 Million). At the same time that global population has been climbing, total CO2e emissions per person have been increasing as well. Atmospheric CO2 accumulations have been rising and accelerating. That does not sound sustainable to me.

    If you think beef is bad for the environment, you need to realize that humans are far worse for the environment.

    Post a Reply
    • Hi John, Thanks for taking the time to post this comment. The figures you quote only consider the direct emissions from agriculture. Food’s carbon footprint also includes all the related emissions such as land clearing, fertilizer and pesticide production, food and livestock transportation, growing animal feedstuffs, food processing and packaging, cooking and storing food, food waste, animal manure and breath. It is generally accepted that this at least 20% of worldwide emissions but may be much more. Even the lower figure is more than all the emissions from transportation world-wide.

      The US is lagging behind many other nations in its refusal to set a target for greenhouse gas reductions or provide any carbon tax mechanism. Fortunately, many of the US states and cities are leading the way in cutting emissions.

      I agree that humans are very bad for the environment! That is why we all need to take personal responsibility for changing our habits to lead a greener lifestyle.

      Regards Jane

      Post a Reply
  4. When you look at world wide agriculture, the percentage contribution rises in comparison to the US.
    Also, looking forward, as developing nations become developed nations, the tendency is to consume more animal proteins so things will not get better. After all, who can blame a developing nation for emulating the developed nations.
    Since it is unlikely that we will all voluntarily become vegans, choosing seafood animal proteins over other animal protein options minimizes the carbon footprint. This is from a recent talk by Dr. Steven Gaines of the UC’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management.

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