The Math Behind Cutting Meat & Dairy

Several months ago, I read this article. It suggested removing meat and dairy from your diet was the biggest way to reduce your impact on Earth.

I grew up next to the ocean in Nova Scotia, and I believe climate change is one of the largest current threats to our well-being globally.  

I support the zero waste movement, and I want to reduce my personal impact as much as possible, within reason.

As a result of the article, I reduced the amount of meat in my diet. I still eat eggs (a lot), but I’ve shifted my protein consumption primarily to eggs, fish, and supplements.

What the article didn’t make clear to me was the scope of the impact.  How did cutting meat and dairy compare to everyday habits?

Doing the Math

I went back and read the full paper cited in the article.

Then I did some comparisons of greenhouse gas emissions of meat production with more tangible items: driving a car, flying and lightbulbs.

You can see more details in the spreadsheet itself, but the results are remarkable.

Producing 100g of beef has the same CO2eq impact of driving 199 km, flying 167 km, or powering an LED light bulb for 537 days.

This doesn’t even consider other negative impacts, like land use, acidification, water use, and eutrophication.

Average Meat Consumption in North America

The average American ate 25.2kg (55.6 lbs) of beef in 2016, and was expected to eat 100.8kg (222.2 lbs) of red meat and poultry in 2018.

Canadians consume a bit less - about 16kg (35.3lbs) in 2017 - and about 96kg (211.6lbs) total.

The consumption of beef for an average American in one year translates to driving 50,198 km, flying 42,008 km, or powering an LED light bulb for 371 years!

The average US household has 45 light bulbs.

If the average American cut beef for a year, the saved energy could power the lights in their house for over 8 years.

The Big Question

If you care about the environment, why are you still consuming so much meat?

Not all meat is created equal. Poultry, eggs, and fish are all vast improvements over beef, and plant-based proteins are coming.

Check your local A&W for a Beyond Beef burger, or maybe Burger King for an Impossible Foods burger.

In the meantime, think about the impact your meat consumption is having on the environment.

Do you really need that much meat?