Giving up beef can do more to save the planet than giving up cars

A new study calculates the enormous environmental footprint of meat production

Topics: meat, Beef, Methane, greenhouse-gas emissions, Food, Climate Change, cow farts, ,

If you’re not going to give up all of the meat, scientists say, you at the very least should consider cutting down on your beef consumption.

Researchers at Bard College, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Yale University calculated the environmental footprint of animal products in the U.S. food production system, from the resources needed to produce the feed that goes into their bodies to the emissions produced by the manure that comes out. Beef, they concluded, is worse for the planet than all of the other meats. Way worse. According to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the amount of greenhouse gases released by beef production is five times that of poultry, pork, eggs and dairy averaged together. It also requires 28 times more land, 11 times more water and six times more nitrogen fertilizer.

The researchers are framing their findings as an attainable way to green up our diets: while meat, in general, is much harder on the climate than grains and vegetables, convincing people to go vegan or vegetarian may be less doable than getting them to cut down on the worst offenders. And that would be the burgers. “Really, there’s no question about it,” Gidon Eshel, a research professor at the Bard Center for Environmental Policy and the study’s lead author, told the Huffington Post. ”Reduce beef whenever possible.”

“The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” concurred Tim Benton, a scientist at the University of Leeds, in an interview with the Guardian. Benton referred to another study, out last week, that showed how beef is wasting calories that could be better allocated to people suffering from hunger. The researchers behind that one reached the same conclusion: Cutting down on steaks and burgers — or eliminating them from our diets completely — has the potential to make a significant impact.

Lindsay Abrams

Lindsay Abrams is a staff writer at Salon, reporting on all things sustainable. Follow her on Twitter @readingirl, email

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 11
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails
    Burger King Japan

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Burger King's black cheeseburger: Made with squid ink and bamboo charcoal, arguably a symbol of meat's destructive effect on the planet. Only available in Japan.

    Elite Daily/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    McDonald's Black Burger: Because the laws of competition say that once Burger King introduces a black cheeseburger, it's only a matter of time before McDonald's follows suit. You still don't have to eat it.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Domino's Specialty Chicken: It's like regular pizza, except instead of a crust, there's fried chicken. The company's marketing officer calls it "one of the most creative, innovative menu items we have ever had” -- brain power put to good use.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    Arby's Meat Mountain: The viral off-menu product containing eight different types of meat that, on second read, was probably engineered by Arby's all along. Horrific, regardless.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    KFC'S ZINGER DOUBLE DOWN KING: A sandwich made by adding a burger patty to the infamous chicken-instead-of-buns creation can only be described using all caps. NO BUN ALL MEAT. Only available in South Korea.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Waffle Taco: It took two years for Taco Bell to develop this waffle folded in the shape of a taco, the stand-out star of its new breakfast menu.

    Michele Parente/Twitter

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Krispy Kreme Triple Cheeseburger: Only attendees at the San Diego County Fair were given the opportunity to taste the official version of this donut-hamburger-heart attack combo. The rest of America has reasonable odds of not dropping dead tomorrow.

    Taco Bell

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Taco Bell's Quesarito: A burrito wrapped in a quesadilla inside an enigma. Quarantined to one store in Oklahoma City.

    2014's fast food atrocities

    Boston Pizza's Pizza Cake: The people's choice winner of a Canadian pizza chain's contest whose real aim, we'd imagine, is to prove that there's no such thing as "too far." Currently in development.


    2014's fast food atrocities

    7-Eleven's Doritos Loaded: "For something decadent and artificial by design," wrote one impassioned reviewer, "it only tasted of the latter."

  • Recent Slide Shows


Loading Comments...