Let’s be honest: most of us enjoy a juicy, succulent steak and a glass of Malbec, or settling down to a Sunday roast with trimmings trying to escape the plate. But, as you chow down, are you conscious of the impact the beef you are eating has on climate change? Does this even cross your mind when wandering the aisles with your shopping trolly or casually leafing through a menu?

It should.

You don’t need to wake up one morning and solemnly swear to never eat an ounce of beef again. This is an unrealistic approach, and a sure way to fail before you start. However, it is time to recognise the consequences of what we choose to put on our plates each day.

A  simple, immediate, and effective way to help combat climate change is to reduce the amount of beef you eat; it has a greater positive effect than you might realise.

So what’s the issue?

Unfortunately cows contribute two problems here.

Our furry friends are the biggest emitter of greenhouse gasses in farming. As they digest the grass they are consuming they emit methane,yes from the end they are most renowned for, but actually even more from their burps. Although methane’s lifetime is short compared to CO2 (which is basically immortal), it is more potent whilst it remains in the atmosphere . The negative effect of methane on the climate is 23 times higher than that of CO2.[1]

Contributing further to this is the amount of land required for farms and growing food for cattle. Forests are one of the most important global stores for CO2 and vast swathes are cleared every year to produce beef. This is the biggest cause of deforestation in the whole of the Amazon.[2]

According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations the methane released from cows, along with the deforestation and fertilisers used for all livestock, creates as much greenhouse gasses as the world’s cars, lorries and planes combined.[3]

Just digest that for a moment.

The world’s cars, lorries and planes combined. This is an astronomical global crisis.

How much less do we need to eat to make a difference?

There are a number of variables contributing to the environmental impact of food types which differ hugely as illustrated by the figures below. However, a University of Oxford Study found the impact of beef has by far the most damaging effect on the environment.[4]

To quantify this, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250km, and burns enough energy to light a 100w bulb for nearly 20 days.[5]

Beef has the biggest carbon footprint but the same food can have a range of impacts.

So, how much less beef do we need to eat? If you are a beef lover you might want to sit down.

Scientists have warned that in western countries a 90% reduction in consumption of beef, replacing with five times more beans and pulses, is needed if the world is to combat climate change.[6]

This is massive.

A significant shift for a vast proportion of the population which will not only require individual choices and motivation, but most probably the introduction of legislation, taxes, education and subsidies for plant grown food. All of which are controversial debates in their own right.

However, there are some easy, instant and effective ways you can start to help tackle this global problem.

What can I do?

Depending on how frequently you eat meat, particularly beef, reducing how much you consume can be the single biggest way you can mitigate your carbon footprint.

If you are interested in reducing your personal environmental carbon footprint, make some small tweaks to your eating habits to start contributing to the global shift that is required to tackle this huge problem.

Here are some ways you can do this, along with some useful sites to help get you started.

  1. Reduce your consumption of beef. Whether that’s eliminating beef or challenging yourself to go beef free for one or two nights per week: https://www.meatfreemondays.com/recipes/
  2. When eating meat, choose a lower carbon type – chicken or pork over beef and lamb: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-46459714
  3. Plan meals so food is never wasted: https://www.lovefoodhatewaste.com/what-to-do

We need to change our diets if we are to have a sustainable future.

We can all make decisions that will make a difference, so next time you’re writing your weekly shopping list spend some time considering what’s included and take a second to think about the impact of your choices.

[1] https://timeforchange.org/are-cows-cause-of-global-warming-meat-methane-CO2

[2] Yale University. “Soy agriculture in the Amazon Basin. Yale University n.d. Web. 25 July 2016

[3] http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/197623/icode/

[4] Poore, J., & Nemecek, T. (2018). Reducing food’s environmental impacts through producers and consumers. Science, 360 (6329), 987 – 992.

[5] New Scientist Magazine, 18 July 2007, pg 15

[6] Springmann, M., Clark, M., Mason-D’Croz, D., Wiebe, K., Bodirsky, B.L., Lassaletta, L., de Vries, W., Vermeulen, S.J., Herrero, M., Carlson, K.M. and Jonell, M., 2018. Options for keeping the food system within environmental limits. Nature, 562(7728), p.519

Interested in learning more about the actions you can take to combat climate change? Check out the green run on the POW Mountain to get started.

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