Hamburgers, meatballs and more types of steak than ways to cook it – what’s not to love about beef? Well, the answer is more than you think. We all know the effects that eating too much red meat can have on your health, but, actually, the bigger concern should be the impact beef production is having in terms of climate change.
Forget cars, forget factories and forget whatever else you think contributes more to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. The biggest contributor by far is the agricultural sector, particularly industrialized farming. Agriculture produces a shocking 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, in comparison to just 13% from the transport sector, and beef cattle are by far the biggest contributors.
In a study by Carlsson-Kenyama and Gonzalez, it was discovered that to produce just one kilogram of beef required 30 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions. This is in comparison to root vegetables like carrots, which produce only 0.42kg of emissions. To put that into perspective, this means that eating one kilogram of beef is the same as driving a car 160km.
When you consider that the average American consumes around 26kg of beef over the course of a year, it is easy to see just how much beef production is contributing to climate change. So, beef may be off the menu, but at least you can still enjoy a tub of Ben and Jerry’s without consequence, right? Sadly not. Dairy cows are also high greenhouse gas emitters, producing 700 litres of methane a day, enough to drive a 4×4 35 miles. All this means the burger and milkshake you were planning on treating yourself with are far worse for the climate than you might have thought.
Cattle beef aren’t only bad for emissions; they waste a lot of water as well. Around two-thirds of all water use worldwide is connected to the farming industry, predominantly growing crops to feed animals. What makes this an issue is the fact cattle beef are notoriously inefficient at converting crops to energy, meaning more water for more crops that could be going towards other foodstuffs instead. This is all the more poignant when you consider that global water shortages are touted to be a major concern of the future, with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicting 2 billion people will be in dire need of freshwater by 2100. Considering that cattle beef are responsible for over a third of the total global water footprint of all animal production, can we really justify eating beef when it might come at the cost of survival for future generations?
Given their contributions to the degradation or our planet, we have to say no. At the risk of sounding preachy, however good they may taste, we are all going to have to cut our consumption of beef in order to protect the planet for future generations. So enjoy that hamburger while you can – you might not have the water in the future to do so again.