Meat-Eaters: Twice as Bad for the Planet as Vegetarians

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But will that be enough to make anyone give up their steak?

The last thing meat-eaters want to be told is that they’re part of the problem. After all, the quickest way to turn someone away from your cause is to judge them. But there’s a hard truth us meat-eaters need to face—at least, that's the finding of a new study out of Oxford University.

Researchers there found that meat-eaters have roughly twice as large a food-related carbon footprint as vegetarians. More importantly, the study showed that the more meat you eat, the more you're hurting the planet's health.

Just how did the scientists reach this conclusion? They began by separating a pool of more than 65,000 participants into six dietary groups: high meat-eaters, medium meat-eaters, low meat-eaters, fish-eaters (pescetarians), vegetarians, and vegans.

With that done, they estimated the greenhouse gas emissions associated with 130 general food items, with each kind of gas (carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide) receiving a certain “weight.” These were then assigned to 289 different “food codes,” creating a detailed link between greenhouse emissions and food sources.

Meat production tends to demand more energy. Also, cow farts produce a lot of methane.
Meat consumption is generally associated with a larger carbon footprint because it takes more energy to raise animals than plants. On top of that, cows’ fermentation-based digestive processes produce huge amounts of methane (via belching and farts)—a far more potent greenhouse gas than CO2.

It’s not surprising, then, that pescetarians are responsible for a larger footprint than vegetarians, and vegetarians contribute more greenhouse gases than vegans. Here’s how it breaks down:

greenhouse gas production by meat consumption.jpg

While 65,000 people is a pretty large sample set, all of the participants in this study were British. That means it's entirely possible you might get different data in other countries. Overall, though, the results are pretty clear: Eating meat contributes to climate change.

I’m not about to stop eating meat in light of this study, but it's easy to see why the report’s authors recommend governments adjust their dietary guidelines. Reducing greenhouse emissions linked to our diets would likely be a drop in the bucket next to the colossal carbon footprints of power plants, automobiles, and fossil fuel processing, but it’s still food for thought.

Hero Image: Wikimedia Commons, "Elina Mark" (CC BY-SA 3.0)

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