Do You Really Need That Meat? A Call for Meat Moderation


Our love for meat, particularly beef, strains our natural resources and contributes to global warming. Why? How can our meat consumption possibly have such negative consequences for the planet?

According to an Oxford University study published in the Journal of Earth Science and Climatic Change, American meat-eaters consume about 4 ounces of meat per day, making them “heavy meat-eaters” (those who consume 3.5 ounces of meat per day or more).  This meat-heavy diet has a surprisingly high impact on one’s carbon footprint, as, for example, the average meat-eater living in the United States contributes about twice as much to global warming as the average vegetarian does.[1]

The study also reveals that a heavy meat-eater is responsible for nearly 16 pounds of CO2 production. To put this into perspective, 16 pounds of CO2 is equivalent to nearly 1,128 hours of computer usage, 48 miles of flying in a plane, and the production of 70 plastic bottles or 176 plastic bags.[2]

These statistics are particularly alarming because CO2 is the primary greenhouse gas in our atmosphere. Therefore, the more CO2, the more solar heat trapped in the atmosphere, which causes dramatic climate changes and disasters.

But with this problem comes an obvious solution. Cutting one’s meat intake in half cuts one’s carbon footprint by over 35%, and Americans have been lowering meat consumption, especially of resource-intensive beef, for the past several decades.[3] Unfortunately, this good news is offset by the fact that the rest of the world is actually increasing its meat consumption due to the rising middle class in developing countries. In fact, global demand for meat is expected to increase by 70% by 2050.[4] Thus, each of us – regardless of nationality, culture, or socioeconomic status – has a duty to eat responsibly for the sake of our planet’s future, which is directly tied to our own.

Some argue that the problem does not lie in people’s personal food choices but in the gigantic meat industry that fuels the supply. That is partly true.  Though the United States’ beef consumption peaked in the 1970’s, currently, the United States’ beef industry has increased production. Even more telling, beef and dairy sectors together account for roughly 10% of global warming emissions. [5] For example, producing a single quarter-pound hamburger patty requires: 6.7 pounds of feed, 52.8 gallons of water for drinking and irrigation, 74.5 square feet of land for grazing and crops; and 1,036 British thermal units of fossil fuel energy for transport and feed production (equivalent about 18 minutes of microwaving).[6]

These numbers exclude the cow’s waste and methane emissions. Cows consume a large amount of food, which is not usually produced by environmentally friendly methods. Additionally, cow flatulence releases harmful amounts of methane gas. Smells like global warming.

By no means is this a call to stop eating meat. Meat is delicious, and a part of America’s food culture - from a summer BBQ to a steakhouse meal. However, one should realize that meat, particularly the creation and consumption of beef, is inextricably linked to climate change.

Aim to consume just a little less beef, and maybe more importantly, spread awareness. Don’t forget about other protein options such as pork, chicken, fish, and vegetarian substitutes. Push local, state, and federal legislators and regulators to work with livestock and feed industries in order to foster innovation for greener methods of production. Everything in moderation and everyone in cooperation… this seems to be the appropriate mindset when it comes to our love for meat.


[1] Scarborough, Appleby, Mizdrak, Briggs, Travis, Bradbury, Key. “Dietary Greenhouse Gas Emissions of Meat-Eaters, Fish-Eaters, Vegetarians and Vegans in the UK.” Climatic Change.  Volume 125, Issue 2. July 2014.

[2] “What is a Carbon Footprint.”

[3] Bentley, Heanine, and Buzby, Jean. Food Availability (Per Capita) Day System. United States Department of Agriculture. June 25, 2014.

[4] Ferdman, Roberto. “Our Obsession with Cows is Causing Almost 10% of Global Warming Emissions.” Quartz. September 27, 2013.

[5] Seinfeld, Henderson, Mottet, Dijkman, Falcucci, Tempio. “Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.  2013.

[6] Barclay, Eliza. “A Nation of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up”. NPR. June 27, 2012.


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