Reducing Your Footprint
Across the country, thousands of people and dozens of schools and other institutions are going meatless on Mondays. Just like reducing home energy use or driving less, skipping meat once a week can make an important difference if everyone does it. By itself, eating less (or no) meat won’t stop climate change or eliminate environmental damage, but it is very important for improving personal health and reducing your environmental footprint.
If everyone in the U.S. chose a vegetarian diet – the equivalent of taking 46 million cars off the road or not driving 555 billion miles, according to EWG’s calculations, it would only make a moderate dent in overall carbon emissions, about a 4.5 percent reduction. Other estimates of meat’s overall contribution to US emissions are higher, but not as high as many estimates for the world as a whole (Weber 2010). That’s because the U.S. has other very large other industrial sources of greenhouse gases, making the meat slice of carbon emissions comparatively smaller. Also, U.S. livestock production does not depend on cutting down carbon-rich rain forests in order to import or grow feed crops and raise animals, as is true in Europe (which imports significant amounts of feed from Brazil) or in some tropical countries, where livestock emissions are a much larger slice of the overall emissions pie.
While important, it is clear that making significant cuts in US emissions will not come solely from individual action. It will take political action to bring about comprehensive policies that put the nation on a path to green energy. Similarly, reducing meat production’s negative impact on soil, air and water quality will require better policies and regulatory enforcement as well as curbing meat consumption.
Here’s how eating less meat measures up against other climate-saving actions:
Over a year:
If you eat one less burger a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for 320 miles or line-drying your clothes half the time. 10
If your four-person family skips meat and cheese one day a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for five weeks – or reducing everyone’s daily showers by 3 minutes. 11
If your four-person family skips steak once a week, it’s like taking your car off the road for nearly three months. 12
If everyone in the U.S. ate no meat or cheese just one day a week, it would be like not driving 91 billion miles – or taking 7.6 million cars off the road. 13