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10 shocking statistics on meat and global warming.

1. If every American (300 million) gave up meat for 1 day a week, this would have the same positive effect on reducing greenhouse gases as saving 90 million plane tickets from New York to Los Angeles! (source:  Meat the Truth documentary, see video clip) [1]

2. If every American gave up meat for 2 days of the week, this would have the same effect as replacing all household appliances like fridges, freezers, microwave ovens, dishwashers, washing machines, tumble dryers and so on and so forth, by energy efficient ones. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

3. If all Americans gave up meat for 3 days a week, they would save almost 300 megatons of greenhouse gas emissions. This would have a greater impact on reducing global warming than if all cars in the US were replaced with Toyota Priuses. (source: Meat the Truth documentary)

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4. Livestock production produces more greenhouse gases (18%) than all forms of transportation (cars + airplanes) combined.  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization)

5. If the average American were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, that would be the equivalent of switching from driving a Camry to a Prius. (source:  Eshel, University of Chicago)

6. $20 trillion would be saved from the cost of fighting climate change if the global population shifted to a low-meat diet – defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week. (source:  Stehfest, Climatic Change)

7. Beef production generates more than 13 times the total greenhouse gases from producing chicken. (source:  Fiala, Ecological Economics, picture)

Chicken Close Up

8. Animals raised for food produce 1.4 billion metric tons of manure, which is 130 times more excrement than the entire human population put together, for a total of 87,000 pounds per second.

This contributes to livestock’s total gas emissions which include 37% of all methane (20 times more powerful than CO2) and 65% of all nitrous oxide (296 times). (source:  U.S. Environmental Protection Agency)

9. 70 – 80% of deforested land in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest is occupied by farmers who use the land for livestock feed and grazing.   The rainforests are a natural defense against global warming, by converting CO2 into oxygen.  Brazil is the world’s 4th largest climate polluter, as 75% of greenhouse gas emissions are from deforestation  (source:  Mato Grosso, Greenpeace Brazil, video).

10. The impact of livestock on global warming is rapidly increasing. Annual global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tons in 2000 to 465 million tons in 2050  (source:  UN Food and Agriculture Organization).

* The calculations used in the documentary “Meat the Truth” derive from and have been validated by many sources including the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the UN FAO and the World Watch Institute.  It was produced under the consultation of many scientific institutions, which can be viewed on its website:  http://www.meatthetruth.nl/en/about-the-film/meat-the-truth-sources/

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cows

This is a useful post for illustrating meat’s carbon footprint to different people.  Do you like exotic food?  Know a Prius or SUV owner?  Don’t plan on going veg anytime soon?  There’s something for everyone. Hopefully, at least one of these ten studies will help you or someone you know to consider eating less meat.

1.  Livestock’s Longshadow

This is probably the most cited and comprehensive study on the impact of meat on global warming and the environment.  Estimated that livestock produces 18% of all greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined.  Summary:  Spotlight: Livestock impacts on the environment

Steinfeld et all., United Nations, Food and Agricultural Organization, 2006.

For those who just want to hear it from a “legitimate source”.

2.  Diet, Energy and Global Warming (pdf)(view as html)

One of the first major studies on this subject, which concluded choosing a vegan diet reduced more greenhouse gases than switching from a SUV to a prius.  Summary:  Vegan Diets Healthier for Planet, People than Meat Diets

Gidon Eshel and Martin, University of Chicago,  December 2005.

For the veg-curious and hybrid or SUV owners.

3.   Kangaroos and Greenhouse Gases

Concluded switching from beef to kangaroo meat would significantly help fight global warming.

Articles about this subject are surprisingly popular.  Though I don’t think I would touch kangaroo meat, many people seem curious about this new alternative.  To me, this is fine.  It brings a lot of awareness to the impact of livestock on global warming, which is the most important thing.  Apparently, about 58% of Australians eat kangaroo meat.  Summary:  Kangaroo Farming would Cut Greenhouse Gases

To start conversations with exotic food lovers, cute Australians, global warming skeptics, and maybe animal rights activists.

George Wilson, University of New South Wales (May 2008)

4.  Food-Miles and the Relative Climate Impacts of Food Choices in the United States

Concluded that reducing meat consumption will more effectively lower one’s carbon footprint than “buying local”.  Summary:  It’s the Meat Not the Miles

Christopher L. Weber and H. Scott Matthews, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Department of Engineering and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon Universit(April 2008).

For locavores and the “just buy local or organic” discussions.

5.  Climate Friendly Dining Meats

A look at the individual carbon footprints of beef, pork, chicken and fish.  Beef accounts for only 30% of all meat consumption, but contributes 78% of meat’s greenhouse gas emissions.  AFP summary:  Hamburgers are the Hummers of Food in Global Warming.

American Association for the Advancement of Science annual meeting, Chicago (Feb. 15).

For the everyday meat eater.

6.  The Cheeseburger Footprint

Concludes: “The greenhouse gas emissions arising every year from the production and consumption of cheeseburgers is roughly the amount emitted by 6.5 million to 19.6 million SUVs.  There are now approximately 16 million SUVs currently on the road in the US. ”  Total Cheeseburgers = Total SUVs?

Jamais Cascio, ref: Energy Use in the Food Sector (PDF), a 2000 report from Stockholm University and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, (Dec. 2006).

To help cheeseburger-eating, frequent SUV drivers feel even more guilty.

7.  Climate Benefits of Changing Diet

Concluded that if the world shifted to a low-meat diet, the world could cut $20 trillion off the cost of fighting global warming (that’s $20,000,000,000,000).  Summary:  Eating less meat could cut climate costs

Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency, Earth System Science and Climate Change Group, Wageningen University Research Centre, February 2009.

For any discussion about the dismal state of the world economy or stimulus packages.

8.  Global Environmental Costs of Beef Production

A well-cited article by scholars, ahead of its time.  Showed “cows emit between 2.5 and 4.7 ounces of methane for each pound of beef they produce.  Because methane has roughly 23 times the global-warming potential of CO2, those emissions are the equivalent of releasing between 3.6 and 6.8 pounds of CO2 into the atmosphere for each pound of beef produced.”  (Nathan Fiala – interesting researcher on this subject, Scientific American)

For those who give you links to carbon footprint calculators.

Susan Subak, University College London (July 1999).

9.  Amazon Cattle Footprint (pdf)

This is an impressive study with maps and graphs on how cattle ranching is responsible for 80% of the continuous deforestation of the Amazon rainforest.  According to Dr. Norman Myers, 5% of the world’s deforestation is currently due to cattle ranching.  Overall deforestation is estimated to be responsible for 20% of all greenhouse gases, more than transportation.  Summary:  How Cattle Ranches are Chewing Up the Amazon Rainforest.

For the everyday treehugger (a good thing) who isn’t cutting back on meat.

Greenpeace (January 2009)

10. Evaluating environmental impacts of the Japanese beef cow–calf system by the life cycle assessment method

Concluded that producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home.  Summary:  Meat is Murder on the Environment

For the next time your wife/husband/roommate/etc. complains about you leaving the lights on or wasting gas.

Akifumi Ogino, National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science, Tsukuba, and Graduate School of Agriculture, Kyoto University, Sakyo, Kyoto, Japan (July 2007)

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The #1 human cause of deforestation in Latin America?  Surprise…it’s the cattle industry.

Daniel Beltra)

A burnt area of the Amazon rainforest in Itaituba 2, a protected area (Photo: Daniel Beltra)

Why are rainforests important?  First of all, rainforests help to slow global warming by significantly absorbing  CO2 in our atmosphere.  So as a result of deforestation, there is an increase in CO2 emissions.

The rate of deforestation has increased significantly in the past few decades.   Deforestation is now the #2 human cause of CO2, behind fossil fuels.

As for a cause of deforestation?  For the Amazon rainforest, it’s meat:

“Cattle ranching is now the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, and nearly 80 per cent of deforested areas in Brazil are now used for pasture.  The cattle industry has ballooned since the 1970s, giving Brazil the largest commercial cattle herd in the world. Since 2003, the country has also topped the world’s beef export charts and the government plans to double its share of the market by 2018.” – “How Cattle Ranches are Chewing up the Amazon Rainorest” Greenpeace (1/31/09)

Greenpeace is currently developing their campaign to pressure the Brazilian government to stop deforestation in the Amazon.

Rainforests help us in many other priceless ways.

Here are some very interesting facts about rainforests:

  • We lose about 50,000 plant, animal and insect species a year due to deforestation.
  • While 25% of Western pharmeceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less than 1% of tropical plant species have been tested.
  • The Amazon is described as the “Lungs of our Planet” because it provides more than 20 percent of the world’s oxygen, by continuously recycling carbon dioxide.
  • Of the 3,000 plants that the U.S National cancer Institute has ID-ed as active against cancer cells, 70% are found in the rainforest.
  • Experts agree that there is more economic value in leaving the rainforests intact than cutting it down for timber or the cattle industry.

The rainforests, as you have read, provide immense value to humanity.  But in a matter of decades, much of that value has been forever lost due to the cattle industry and the rising global appetite for meat.

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