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.