Many actions to address climate change require investments of time and money by government, industry, business, or individuals. Here’s something everyone can do right now that will make a difference immediately: reduce meat consumption.
How does meat promote climate change?
Raising animals for human food requires a lot of land. Global deforestation is a serious climate problem. According to the World Resources Institute, “…rising beef production requires increasing quantities of land. New pastureland is often created by cutting down trees, which releases carbon dioxide stored in forests…During the first two decades of this century, pastureland expansion was the leading direct driver of deforestation. Continued demand growth will put pressure on forests, biodiversity and the climate.” Furthermore, in digesting grasses and plants, animals such as cattle and sheep emit methane, which is a strong greenhouse gas, and the animals’ manure emits even more methane.
In general, producing plant protein directly for human consumption is a much more efficient use of land, water, and energy than applying those resources to raise animals as a source of human protein.
What meats have the biggest impact?
According to the New York Times (NYT), “Your Questions About Food and Climate Change, Answered,” updated April 15, 2022, “In general, beef and lamb have the biggest climate footprint per gram of protein, while plant-based foods tend to have the smallest impact. Pork and chicken are somewhere in the middle.”
According to a research article by Joseph Poore and Thomas Nemecek in Science, quoted in the NYT, average greenhouse gas emissions (in kilograms of carbon dioxide) that result from consuming 50 grams of protein from the following food products are: beef 17.7; lamb 9.9; farmed crustaceans 9.1; cheese 5.4; pork 3.8; farmed fish 3.0; poultry 2.9; eggs 2.1; tofu 1.0; beans 0.4; and nuts 0.1. Lowering consumption of beef and lamb and increasing use of nuts, beans, and tofu will have a very positive effect on the climate.
Tips to lower your meat consumption
Here are tips to help transition to a lower meat diet:
- Be aware of your diet. Is preparing or ordering a meat-centered meal automatic for you? Take a pause and think of other options. How about a meatless soup? Pasta? Rice,beans, risotto? More fruit, vegetables?
- Eat meat as a side dish. If your main dish is usually meat, try instead to think of meat as a side dish, just one of the foods on your plate.
- Choose smaller meat portions. Order a smaller cut of meat when you can…or share with a friend. If you enjoy beef or pork in your chili, can you put more beans in the pot and less meat?
- Add variety with meatless meals or meatless days. Maybe your typical daily meals include bacon at breakfast, a hamburger for lunch, and a lamb shank for dinner. Can you try a meatless meal each day? Or maybe a meatless day or two per week while you are finding new meals to enjoy?
- Shift to meats with lower greenhouse gas impact. Eat less beef and lamb; eat more pork, fish, and poultry.
- Try meat substitutes. Tofu and tempeh are good examples of plant-based meat substitutes that will put protein in your diet. Read about many more meat substitutes.
If you are frustrated by thinking there’s nothing you alone can do to fight the overwhelming climate challenge, changing your diet and encouraging others to do so as well is an action you can start right now.