Will eating less meat help fight climate change?

Jennifer Geer

You don’t need to completely stop eating animal products to make a difference. Simply cutting down on your meat consumption can have a positive impact.

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Photo by Alaina McLearnon on Unsplash

The lockdowns from a global pandemic weren't enough to stop the rise of greenhouse gases or halt climate change. 2020 was one of the warmest three years on record. The past decade was the warmest decade on record and ocean heat is at record levels.

Flooding, drought, heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires. These are just a few of the major impacts climate change is creating today. Scientists agree human activity caused this.

And though we need sweeping legislation and quick action from world leaders, there may be some things we can do ourselves that might make a difference. One of them may be reducing the amount of meat we consume.

The world eats a lot of meat

Americans, in particular, like to eat meat. In 2017, Americans ate 222.2 pounds of red meat and poultry per person. Meat production contributes to 14.5% of the world’s greenhouse gases. If we continue in this way, this study predicts that by 2050, the environmental effects of food production will increase by 50 to 90%.

A report from 2018 highlights how an increased population will create a higher demand for meat and agricultural consumption. The researchers determined by 2050, the world would need to clear an area twice the size of India for croplands and pastures to meet the growing demand.

This shift in land use will make it increasingly difficult to stay under the 2 degrees Celcius of global warming that scientists have determined should be our goal.

What can you do?

  • Eat less meat. Cutting your meat consumption to less than 6 oz per day, as recommended by the World Health Organization will help to curb carbon emissions and reduce the need for increased meat production.
  • Go flexitarian. Or you could try a flexitarian diet. It incorporates more plant-based meals in place of meat. But it doesn’t eliminate meat entirely.
  • Try a vegetarian diet. Vegetarians don’t eat meat, but they may eat products that come from animals, such as eggs and dairy.
  • Go vegan. This would have the biggest impact. You could eliminate all meat products (including eggs and dairy) from your diet. Dairy cows do add to greenhouse gas emissions. And it is getting easier to follow a vegan diet with more food choices, such as Burger King’s Impossible Burger, being introduced all the time.

Eating less meat is healthier too

According to the Mayo Clinic, people who eat red meat regularly are at an increased risk for heart disease, diabetes, and stroke. They also say, “Diets low in nuts, seeds, seafood, fruits, and vegetables also increase the risk of death.”

The encouraging thing is, you don’t have to stop eating meat completely to have positive health benefits. This study showed that when participants halved their red and processed meat consumption, they reduced LDL cholesterol levels (the one that contributes to heart disease).

Obviously changing our diet plays a small role in the overall picture. Governments and industries need to take action to reduce carbon emissions. We need to work together to make this happen.

With a new president and new administration, the U.S. is back to leading the world on tackling the climate change problem by reentering the Paris Agreement and hosting world leaders at a climate change summit to be held this April.

But if you are wondering what you can do to create change at the individual level, aside from voting for candidates that prioritize climate change, cutting back on how much meat you eat is an easy way to start. It’s also a healthy choice for your body.

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Jennifer covers lifestyle content and local news for the Chicago area. New articles published each weekday.

Chicago, IL
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