Giving Up Meat Could Halve The Carbon Footprint Of Your Diet
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Giving Up Meat Could Halve The Carbon Footprint Of Your Diet

But you don't even have to ditch meat entirely to make a big difference. Just cut down on your consumption a little bit.

There are many reasons to give up eating meat, but climate change alone is a pretty good one. The United Nations estimates that livestock-related emissions comprise about 14.5% of all manmade greenhouse gas output. With more and more of the world eating meat, emissions are only going to rise.

A new study, in the journal Climatic Change, puts the argument in more personal terms.

The study found that the average U.S. meat-eater has a global warming footprint that is almost double that of an average vegetarian and 2.5 times that of a vegan.

The researchers, based at the University of Oxford, questioned 60,000 adults about their diets; 2,041 individuals were vegans; 15,751 were vegetarian; 8,123 were fish-eaters; and the rest, about half, ate meat. They further broke down the meat-eaters into heavy, medium, and low meat eaters. The average U.S. meat-eater, according to the Washington Post, would be classified as a heavy meat-eater under these definitions, consuming about four ounces per day—well above the 3.5-ounce definition.

What's Your Carbon Footprint? (Per 2,000 calories)

  • Heavy Meat Eaters: 7.19 kilograms CO2 equivalent
  • Medium Meat Eaters: 5.63
  • Low Meat Eaters: 4.67
  • Fish Eaters: 3.91
  • Vegetarians: 3.81
  • Vegans: 2.89

Even if you’re not ready to give up meat, the results support the rise of so-called "flexitarian" diets. Eating less meat, or eating only fish, can have a large impact, without ditching animal products altogether.

The authors, one of whom disclosed in the paper that he is a member of the Vegan Society, suggest that national governments consider revising dietary guidelines to incorporate the study's recommendation of lowering the consumption of animal-based products. In addition to health and other environmental benefits, "reducing the intake of meat and other animal based products can make a valuable contribution to climate change mitigation," they write.

[Image: Meat via Niloo / Shutterstock]

Add New Comment


  • Jeff Carrick

    Since we all exhale carbon dioxide should we reduce how much we breathe as well?

  • Bory Teh Gomos

    I hate to bring up the problem with the premise here but the study is about U.K. meat-eaters and so on, the values are going to be different when you compare a U.K. citizen to a U.S. citizen as one is a limited farmable range being an island situation for food production and import costs with regard to carbon footprint values.

    I'm not saying that the U.S. meat eater will be less than a vegan by any means, it's possibly the gap could be greater, but you can't apply the same values without doing the study in the U.S. itself, and then you'd have to expand the ranges possible as local food sources will be different, the difference in allowable food qualities by legislation between the two countries, and so on.

  • jkeenjr

    We humans are equipped to eat meat, which is a great source of vitamin B12. Vitamin B12 is crucial to our health, and i dont believe that it was intended that we obtain it from our local General Nutrition store. The human digestive system is not equipped to process grains and in fact rejects grains and food made from them. I recommend that you do a little research and make MIT proud. Human diet must include meat, fruit, vegetables..., no grains nor foods therefrom.

  • volker

    It is true that we need B12 supplements if we go on a vegan diet, but this article does not state that you have to become vegan. It simply says that met intake has a significant impact on your carbon footprint (see UN report "Lifestock's Long Shadow" at and that you should REDUCE your meat and animal product intake. This article does not even touch ethical implications or animal rights issues. It simply states that we should consider our carbon footprint when choosing our meals every day and that you can have a significant impact if you do not consume animal products 3-4 times a day. Please read the article and understand its intentions before going onto an anti-vegan troll, Jessica, and make MIT proud as well. Thank you for your consideration!