Food production is a major driver of climate change. It’s responsible for more than a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. But the environmental impact of different foods varies greatly, and making seemingly insignificant changes can actually have significant impacts.
According to a first-ever national study of U.S. eating habits and their carbon footprints, choosing chicken over beef will cut your dietary carbon footprint in half.
The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey asked more than 16,000 participating Americans to name all the foods they consumed in the past 24 hours. The research team then calculated the carbon footprint of what people said they ate. If a respondent consumed broiled beef steak, for example, researchers calculated what the carbon footprint would have been had broiled chicken been consumed instead.
The study’s findings illustrate how making one simple substitution can significantly reduce a person’s dietary carbon footprint. A diet’s carbon footprint is the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that result from the energy, fertilizer, land use, and other inputs necessary to produce food.
In general, animal-based foods have a bigger carbon footprint than plant-based foods. For example, producing beef uses 20 times the land and emits 20 times the emissions as growing beans (per gram of protein), and requires 10 times more resources than producing chicken.
According to the World Resources Institute, keeping the increase in global warming below 2°C will be impossible without limiting the global rise in meat consumption.
Last year, the EAT-Lancet Commission report found that a radical transformation of the global food system was needed because it’s threatening the stability of the climate.
Make a change – big or small – today.
Photo, posted August 30, 2011, courtesy of Ken Hawkins via Flickr.