Ready to go vegan? If you want to have any kind of life aside from eating meat, this new research will convince you that going plant-based is the key to having it all.
Reducing or eliminating meat from the diet cuts individual carbon dioxide footprint by nearly one-ton per year, says a new report published in Environmental Research Letters.
Meat reduction was cited as one of the four biggest lifestyle choices one can make in reducing their impact on the environment. The research, conducted by experts from Lund University in Sweden and the University of British Columbia in Canada, found that in addition to eliminating meat, reducing air and car travel, and having fewer (or no) children are the most significant steps one can take to help decrease their environmental footprint. Practices like switching out lightbulbs for more energy efficient options, eliminating plastic shopping bags, or using cold water for washing clothes, had very little impact on an individual's greenhouse gas reduction by comparison.
“We estimate that an individual who eats meat and takes one roundtrip, transatlantic flight per year emits 2.4 tCO2e through these actions, exhausting their personal carbon budget, without accounting for any other emissions,” the researchers wrote.
The team looked at 39 peer-reviewed articles, as well as carbon calculators, and government data available on greenhouse gas emissions in order to identify the most impactful personal changes people can make to help thwart climate change.
“There are so many factors that affect the climate impact of personal choices, but bringing all these studies side-by-side gives us confidence we’ve identified actions that make a big difference," lead author Seth Wynes of Lund University told FoodNavigator.
Cutting out meat had four times the impact as comprehensive recycling, and switching to reusable shopping bags is “less than 1% as effective as a year without eating meat.”
While estimates still vary on just exactly how much of our global greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock production, the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) notes that it produces more than all transportation sectors combined. The FAO puts livestock production at about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, but the World Watch Institute says it may be as high as 51 percent.
The more people who opt for plant-based meat (of which there’s an abundance of delicious options) help others in making the switch, too, according to the researchers. “In terms of plant-based diets, the willingness of individuals to eat less meat increases with the perceived effectiveness of this action,” they explained, “which suggests the need for increased awareness of the most effective options for sustainable dietary changes.”
While demand for plant-based foods are at an all-time high and businesses are working to increase production and availability, we’re still only a fraction of the way there as the research points to the urgent and immediate need for a global reduction in meat consumption – which may also be the easiest adjustment for most people to make. For those individuals who can’t use public transportation for work, are frequent air travelers, or are planning on starting a family (or already have one), swapping out meat for plants is a crucial and easy step in protecting the future.
Meat consumption was also just linked to eight life-threatening illnesses, and let's not forget that the healthcare industry accounts for nearly ten percent of the U.S. carbon footprint, with hospitals being the largest emissions contributors.
And what's the point in saving our planet anyway if we can't enjoy traveling to all corners of the globe or sharing it with our children? There's no way sitting at home alone with a steak is better than a Hawaiian family vacation. Not in a million years (or, like 50, if we don't reverse climate change).
“We recognise that these are deeply personal choices,” study co-author Kimberley Nicholas noted, “But we can’t ignore the climate effect our lifestyle actually has.”
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