One of the most cost efficient and easiest way to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is to “reduce meat consumption,” according to Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, head of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It’s a change he says would have more impact than ditching your present wheels for a hybrid car.
If Americans reduced their meat consumption by 20 percent it would be equivalent to switching from a standard sedan to a hybrid, according to calculations by geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pamela A. Martin.
A 2008 Japanese study estimated that 2.2 lbs. of beef produces the equivalent amount of carbon that the average European car does every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100 watt bulb for almost 20 days.
Livestock production causes more greenhouse gas emissions than transportation, according to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), titled Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. The FAO report found that livestock production causes 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, including nine percent of all carbon dioxide emissions, 37 percent of methane, and 65 percent of nitrous oxide.
Livestock production has increased since 1961
Livestock production has increased by 60 percent since 1961, according to the Worldwatch Institute (WI). The amount of poultry raised for human consumption globally almost quadrupled since 1961. Beef and pork consumption in the U.S. has tripled since 1970, and doubled in Asia.
Factory farming is the “fastest growing method of animal production worldwide,” according to WI. Industrial systems are responsible for 74 percent of the world’s total poultry products, 50 percent of pork production, 43 percent of beef, and 68 percent of eggs. WI projects that by 2020 people in industrial countries will eat 100 kilograms per person of meat a year, and people in developing countries will eat 39 kilograms per person (twice as much as in the 1980s).
The FAO report also noted that between 1970 and 2002 the annual meat consumption per capita in developing countries increased from 24 lbs. to 64 lbs. It projects the global meat production to more than double from 1999 levels by 2050. The report cites changing food preferences as increasing the demand for livestock production.
The environmental impact per unit of livestock production needs to be cut in half in order to avoid increasing the level of damage from its current level, according to the FAO report. In other words, an improved diet will reduce GHG emissions.
Henning Steinfeld, the senior author of the FAO report, said, “Livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.”
Take the pledge to eat conscientiously
If you are a meat eater, consider the pointed question that Mark Bittman of the New York Times asked in an article, “And would the world not be a better place were some of the grain we use to grow meat directed instead to feed our fellow human beings?”
Now is the perfect time to take the Pledge to Eat Conscientiously for Animals and Planet. Earth Day (April 22) is next week. Make eating less meat or giving up meat altogether your Earth Day action.