Posts Tagged ‘Study’


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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New Scientist Magazine reports that researchers from the Netherlands have concluded that cutting back on meat could save $20 trillion off the cost of fighting global warming.

According to the study (published Feb. 2009), if the world were to adopt a low-meat diet (defined as 70 grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per week) there would be a 50% reduction in costs to stabilize carbon dioxide levels at 450 parts per million, a level that some scientists say is needed to help prevent dangerous droughts and sea level rises.

The savings would be a result of:

  • A drop in livestock numbers which would significantly decrease methane levels and livestock feed levels ( to produce a kilogram of beef, or 2.2 pounds, farmers also have to feed a cow 15 kg of grain and 30 kg of forage).
  • The availability of 15 million square kilometres of farmland which could be used instead for vegetation to absorb and reduce CO2 levels and to plant bioenergy crops to displace fossil fuels.

Elke Stehfest, one of the researchers, says the environmental cost of meat should be included in the purchase price.  Journal reference: “Climate benefits of changing diet” (DOI: 10.1007/s10584-008-9534-6)

This is huge news.  $20 Trillion dollars is a lot of money (duh).  But I think most of us would agree that it isn’t easy for people to switch to low-meat or no-meat diets.  So why not take the time and resources to show people that such a diet is necessary?

What if more people took the time to teach each other about how to adopt a low-meat diet?  What if nonprofits, businesses, and governments invested in education programs (i.e., cooking classes, t.v. shows perhaps) to teach citizens about low-meat diets?

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Scientific American has put together 5 slides about the environmental costs of meat.  This one in particular caught my eye.

CO2 equivalent emissions

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Transportation Energy Data Book, U.S. Department of Energy, 2008; Seattle Food System Enhancement Project: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Study; Subak and Fiala references in "More to Explore"

So if…

1/2 lb. of potatoes = Driving 0.17 mile, and 1/2 lb. of beef = Driving 9.81 miles

It would take the equivalent of 57 lbs of potatoes to make the same amount of greenhouse gasses as 1 lb. of beef.   That’s a lot of food that could be consumed by a lot of hungry people.

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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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According to a 2006 United Nations FAO Report, the world’s cattle herds give off more greenhouse gasses than all forms of transportation (including planes) put together.

“It’s an area that’s been largely overlooked,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the Nobel Prize-winning United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. He says people should eat less meat to control their carbon footprints. “We haven’t come to grips with agricultural emissions.”

–  “As More Eat Meat, a Bid to Cut Emissions” (NY Times, 12/4/08 )


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