How much would giving up meat help the environment?
The Economist’s this week’s edition’s Daily Chart section carries a startling chart showing the average relative environmental impact of various foods on one axis and the relative risk of dying from their consumption on the other. It shows how food that isn’t good for your health isn’t good for the environment either. The article features two recent academic papers which have studies the impact of diets on human health as well as the environment. In conclusion, it shows veganism as the way to go for humans either way.
“A study published this week by scientists at Oxford University and the University of Minnesota estimates both the medical and environmental burdens of having an extra serving per day of various food types. The health findings were sobering. Compared with a typical Western adult of the same age who eats an average diet, a person who guzzles an additional 50g of processed red meat (about two rashers of bacon) per day has a 41% higher chance of dying in a given year.
…Earlier this year a group of academics, based mainly at Johns Hopkins University, simulated the environmental effects of such substitutions. They used consumption and trading data from 140 countries to estimate which foodstuffs people might switch to in order to help the planet, and came up with several hypothetical diet plans. These would allow people to achieve the recommended amounts of energy and protein in various ways.
Giving up meat makes a big difference. For instance, compared with an American who eats 2,300 calories of a typical mix of foods, one who became vegetarian would knock 30% off their annual greenhouse-gas emissions from eating. But dairy, produced by methane-emitting cows, is still costly. Environmentally conscious omnivores can get similar reductions in their carbon footprints by cutting out milk and cheese.
A better option still would be go to vegan for two-thirds of meals, while still occasionally indulging in animal products. Doing so would cut food-related greenhouse-gas emissions by nearly 60%. Absolute veganism, unsurprisingly, is the most environmentally friendly. Die-hard leaf-eaters can claim to have knocked off 85% off their carbon footprint.”