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Brentwood School

Opinion: The importance of reducing meat consumption

What do you think produces more greenhouse gas: eating a McDonald’s burger or driving to a local McDonald’s from your home?

The answer may surprise you: it is actually the burger.

Did you know every time you enjoy a juicy steak or burger, you are not only harming the environment but also increasing your carbon footprint?

In order to help save our one and only Earth, you must make a simple change immediately – reduce the amount of meat you consume. 

There is a significant connection between meat consumption and global warming. Reducing meat consumption has a positive effect on the environment, causes less greenhouse gas to be emitted, destroys less land, conserves more energy, saves more resources. Reducing meat consumption can help save our planet.

The production of meat causes an excess of carbon dioxide to be released into the atmosphere, which creates a hole in the ozone layer. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization reported that 18% of the world’s global warming emissions come from livestock. Therefore, by cutting down one’s meat consumption, one’s personal carbon footprint — total greenhouse gas caused directly and indirectly by an individual, event or product — will decrease.

People who consume meat are responsible for one and a half more tons of greenhouse gas annually than those who do not consume meat. In comparison, reducing meat consumption saves more greenhouse gas than if one were to switch from a Toyota Camry to a hybrid Toyota Prius, which saves one ton of greenhouse gas each year.

Moreover, eating three servings of meat a day causes 239 pounds of greenhouse gas to be emitted into the air, which is equivalent to 12.2 gallons of gas and driving 269 miles. There is a great emphasis on the negative effects that gasoline has on the environment and the benefits of electric cars, when there should be more emphasis on meat production since it is even more detrimental.

It is vital to spread awareness and teach people how to truly cut down their carbon footprint, which is by not only switching to electric cars but also more importantly reducing meat consumption.

Most people are unaware of how much meat they actually consume and are hesitant to cut meat out of their diets altogether. Fortunately, in order to make a change, people do not need to cut meat completely out of their diets; they only need to reduce the amount of meat they consume.

If everyone reduced their meat consumption by one quarter and replaced it with plant proteins, about 82 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions would be saved, according to The New York Times. This would be a significant improvement in combating climate change.

Reducing meat consumption by one quarter could make about 23 million acres of high-quality land available for other use, according to The New York Times. This land could be used for more efficient food production and growing crops or could be converted into forestland. This also helps combat climate change because forests can absorb and store carbon dioxide.

Even cutting out meat for just one day a week would make an impact, according to The New York Times.

Not only does the production of meat produce a significant amount of greenhouse gas, but cows’ digestive systems also produce a specific greenhouse gas: methane — which is 23 times more damaging than carbon dioxide.

The manure from livestock also accounts for 65% of the emissions of another greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide that stays in the atmosphere even longer.

In order to consume less meat, people must adjust their diets to include more plant-based products.

“We don’t want to tell people what to eat,” Hans-Otto Pörnter, an ecologist that co-chairs the UN’s IPCC’s working group on impacts, told Nature. “but it would indeed be beneficial, for both climate and human health, if people in many rich countries consumed less meat, and if politics would create appropriate incentives to that effect.”

The IPCC issued a special report which states that a major opportunity to adapt to climate change includes a plant-based diet, and it also recommended reducing meat consumption, according to Nature. Therefore, those living in the United States, “a rich country,” have a responsibility to do their part in helping climate change by consuming less meat and incorporating more plant-based products into their diets, Pörnter said.

In contrast, some believe that replacing meat with fruit and vegetables is not necessarily the solution to help reduce global warming as they can also use a significant amount of water and resources to produce. For example, in order for a single avocado to grow, 30-60 gallons of water must be used, according to the BBC. This has been linked to the increasing water-shortage crisis in Chile and Peru.

In addition, certain fruits, such as blueberries and strawberries, have high carbon footprints because they are often imported by air to Europe and the U.S., according to the BBC

Though some fruits and vegetables do require a large amount of water and resources, it is still significantly less than meat. For example, 6.61 pounds of greenhouse emissions are emitted per serving of beef, but less than one pound is from one serving of potatoes, carrots or rice, according to a study done by the University of Michigan.

Moreover, meat replacements can help to lower one’s carbon footprint and make it easier to cut meat out of one’s diet; there is an endless variety of faux meats that can be used as meat replacements. Beyond Meat offers meatless options, including burgers, that taste similar to real meat. Faux meat companies use less land, emit less greenhouse gas and conserve more energy than a meat company does, according to CNBC.

There are many different types of meat replacements for burgers — veggie burgers, Beyond Meat burgers, Impossible Burgers as well as others. Many fast-food restaurants have also started to offer meat alternatives such as Burger King, McDonald’s, Dunkin’, Del Taco and more.

In addition to adding meat replacements into one’s diet, producing meat in a less conventional way can also have a dramatic effect on reducing greenhouse gas. Cutting-edge scientists are now able to produce meat by growing it in a lab from animal tissues. Using this technique, 33 companies are producing various types of meat from hamburger patties to chicken nuggets.

These companies aim to produce meat more efficiently with environmental benefits. If more countries were to adopt this technology, it would cause the total emissions from meat consumption to decrease tremendously.

It is very important to make a change and reduce your meat consumption now, in order to save our planet.

According to the 62-foot wide Climate Clock that presides over the facade of the Metrodome in New York City, unless we reduce global warming, we only have seven years until the damage we have done to the Earth is irreversible. This number comes from calculating the amount of carbon dioxide that can be put into the atmosphere, while at the same time keeping global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to Dazed Digital.

It is essential that you begin to lessen your carbon footprint by being aware of the amount of meat you eat. You can make a great impact on the Earth by taking a small step — reducing your meat consumption.