Here at Blue Ocean Network, we focus a lot on seafood and the impact that unsustainable fishing is having on fish stocks around the world. And the microplastic epidemic that’s invading the fish on our plates. But today is World Meat Free Day and we’re going to take a look at how meat products are changing our climate. (photo – Whole Foods Market)
We know it must sound strange that eating meat is changing the Earth’s temperature, but it’s true. Animals produce methane.
Cows produce A LOT of methane.
According to Marco Springmann, a research fellow at the Oxford Martin School’s Future of Food program, food-related emissions would drop by around 60%, if we got rid of red meat from people’s diets. I remember when this idea first came up in a 2006 UN report, and people didn’t want to believe it. Our love of meat is killing the planet? This couldn’t be! But just think about this for a second….
Cows Burp and Toot A Lot
Imagine a field of cows munching grass. What happens to you when you munch a lot? You burp and maybe you ‘cut the cheese’. Cows are no different. But when cows burp and toot, methane (a green house gas) comes out. Now multiply those daily bodily functions from one cow by the number of cows being raised for meat and dairy products all around the world. I don’t know about you, but I can’t even begin to count that high. The bottom line is that a cow releases on overage between 70 and 120 kg of methane gas per year. As countries get wealthier, they take on more of a meat-based Western diet. In 2014, our global bovine emissions of methane were estimated to be between 76 – 92 Tg per year (1 Tg = 1 million metric tonnes). (photo – kühe bilder)
What Is the One thing We Can do?
At the 2017 Blue Vision Summit in Washington, D.C., “Racing Extinction” Director Louie Psihoyos weighed in on the question “What is the one thing we can do to help save our ocean planet”? The filmmaker who won an Oscar for “The Cove” urged the audience to consider a plant-based diet to help save the ocean.
“If you want to save the oceans, if you want to save the environment, the best thing you can do—and you do it three times a day—is develop more of a plant-based diet,” said Louie. “It’s more important than solar panels or driving an electric car.”
In addition to all that methane gas, which is 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period, it takes a lot of water to produce the meat on your plate. In fact, it’s estimated that one pound of beef requires 1,800 gallons of water to produce. The average American eats 167 pounds of meat a year! (Photo – racingextinction.com)
The problem is growing rapidly as the demand for meat skyrockets along with a huge population boom. It’s estimated that by 2050, the world’s population is going to be more than 9 billion, 30% higher than it is today. Without any dietary changes today, meat production is forecasted to reach 200 million tons.
The Weighty Problem of Beef
A Japanese study showed that producing a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. If all this info doesn’t entice you to go meat free for one day (or maybe a few days), then knowing that one meat-free day by one person can save the equivalent daily water usage of nine people; the carbon saving equivalent to boiling a kettle 388 times; and a fat saving of 11 grams (two teaspoons of butter).
An alternate pathway would be to try and capture gas emissions from cows. After all, one dairy cow can produce up to 400 litres of methane per day. When burned, this is enough energy to power a small fridge for a day. Some scientists have harnessed methane emitted from cows in backpacks (that red backpack strapped to the cow at right is a methane capture device) however scaling this up to all 1.5 billion cows worldwide could be problematic! (photo – inhabitat.com)
Chicken has the Smallest Footprint
So if cow backpacks aren’t the answer, and you still don’t want to give up meat, consider making meat choices that have less of an impact on the planet. The following table indicates the CO2 production in kg CO2 equivalents per kg of meat depending on the animal.