What Does Eating Meat Have to Do with Fossil Fuels?

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A participant in London's November, 2015, climate march carries her home made placard with the message that going vegan is probably the biggest contribution anyone can make to limiting and, hopefully, eventually reversing global warming and climate change. "Go vegan and cut your climate footprint" (CC BY-SA 2.0) by alisdare1

More that 1/3 of all fossil fuels produced in the United States go towards animal agriculture. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1), the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well. Where does all this waste occur?

Each animal that is slaughtered for food must be fed with grains, soy, and other crops. The production of these crops requires energy consumption. This feed must then be harvested, transported to feedlots. From the feedlots, animals are then transported to a slaughterhouse, the carcasses are often trucked (in refrigerated trucks – another energy consumer) to yet another processing plant before the meat is ready to be transported to a grocery store. Next time you’re driving the interstate, take a look at all the trucks around you and think about all the emissions and fuel consumption each one of those trucks is using to transport materials from one location to another. Many of these trucks are transporting food for animals, or the animals themselves.

A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year.

A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet (2). ​​Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car! With the energy needed to produce a single hamburger, you could drive a small car twenty miles. Next time you’re craving a burger, think about the fabulous road trip you could take!

Next: Meat Consumption and Rainforest Depletion

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(1) David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, “Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78.3 (2003)
The New Scientist,“It’s Better to Green Your Diet Than Your Car,” 17 Dec. 2005.