Diet change helps climate change

August 23, 2007 at 12:25 am | Posted in Carbon emissions, Climate change, Diet change, Fitness, Health, Low carbon diet, Reductions, Vegetarianism | 6 Comments

Just back from a fresh crab and avocado salad in San Francisco, I was delighted to hear from Darmok and revisit his informative post on Vegetarianism vs. Meat-Eating and Global Warming.

Almost vegetarian myself, but having one dear member of our family who is rather carnivorous, it is clear to me how difficult it is for some people to give up meat. It is almost as hard to give up meat as it is to give up carbon emissions! Diet change and climate change go hand-in-hand; unfortunately, both require will-power. Thankfully, the financial and health benefits of diet change are clear, though not immediate: you can save money from buying less meat and, as Darmok explains so well, it is easy to reduce both your consumption of meat and your related carbon emissions at the same time! This double-benefit of a low-carbon diet is not to be sniffed at, despite the fact these benefits to your health and the planet’s will take some time to come to fruition.

Even more good news, for those who are overweight or obese, is that you can also save money by walking instead of driving. There’s no need to pay fees to join a health club or gym to get the health benefits walking provides. Though you have to plan your time, or relax tight deadlines, if you become more pedestrian—especially with children on the walk and talk to school and back. You may soon find it is worth investing in shoes that can stand up to a good amount of action, come rain or shine, too.

The boys and I are planning to walk to school every day possible this year. I am sure matt wrote about a few months ago, but now I cannot find his post … where is it, please matt? I shall link to that too when we get back in the school run/jog/walk mode again.

Update: my mistake: matt’s other blog, Environment Solutions, covered Walk to School Week!



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  1. OK then… how long to you have to be veggie for to compensate for a flight to the US? 🙂

  2. Thanks for the post and link to Darmok’s post. As I commented there, one side benefit of reducing animal feed production (and hence meat production) would be reducing the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus (largely from fertilizers) than enter our waterways. Some of our research found a shift away from feed cultivation could help solve the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia problem, which is driven in large part by fertilizer applied to crops grown for animal feed.

  3. Hi William,

    I am glad you asked. As they say over at Choose Climate, “Flying is the cheapest way to cook the planet.” and, according to their handy emissions calculator, these are my results for a return (round-trip) journey LHR-SFO-LHR:

    Results (per passenger)
    Fuel used 488 kg
    CO2 emissions 1517 kg CO2
    Total Warming Effect 4551 kg CO2 Equivalent

    How much is this?

    Your journey needed 488 kg fuel. This amount:
    *is about 7.2 times an average person’s weight
    *has a volume of 646 litres
    *makes 6447 kW-hrs energy when burnt, as much as the electricity used by 12 60W lightbulbs lit continuously for one year, or the food eaten by 6 people in one year.
    *contains as much carbon as all the air above 265 m2 of the earth’s surface, or as a typical tree about 16 m tall.
    *would cost an extra 369 GBP if tax and duty were charged at the same rate as on petrol in the UK.

    ChooseClimate is recommended in the Collins gem Carbon Counter, which I bought at Heathrow airport in order to figure out how to absorb more of my carbon dioxide emissions.

    So now I have some idea of the shockingly large amount of damage I do to the planet when I fly transatlantic once or twice a year (because I work from home for organisations based in the Thames Valley and Silicon Valley and this is my annual commute), I need to know the equivalent CO2 emissions savings in my conversion from meat to vegetation consumption to figure out how long it will take me to combat my fly-by-night (!) ways.

    P.S. I went back to the NewScientist article to find this:

    Their analysis showed that producing a kilogram of beef leads to the emission of greenhouse gases with a warming potential equivalent to 36.4 kilograms of carbon dioxide. It also releases fertilising compounds equivalent to 340 grams of sulphur dioxide and 59 grams of phosphate, and consumes 169 megajoules of energy (Animal Science Journal, DOI: 10.1111/j.1740-0929.2007.00457.x). In other words, a kilogram of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount of CO2 emitted by the average European car every 250 kilometres, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days.

    So, I would have to avoid consuming 4551/36.4=125 kg of beef, about 275 lbs of beef, to combat my two long-haul flights. If I ate a quarterpounder a week, that would take me 1100 weeks, which is 21 years! On the other hand, if I ate the amount of beef my husband tells me he saw people eating in a Swiss restaurant in Wisconsin recently, it would only take me a year or two … I cannot believe the amount of meat some people order, let alone consume.

    P.P.S. I haven’t told you the story about my tree investigations yet—partly because it ain’t over. It was easier to sign up for 100% renewable energy supplied by Good Energy in England than it is to get solar panels installed on a California roof, to say nothing about my investigations into planting or preserving trees … but I am working on some projects as well as (annoyingly) damaging the atmosphere by flying.

  4. inel, it’s always a pleasure to see your approval of one of my posts!

    And you’re correct about the double environmental/health benefit of walking over driving. Fortunately, good health practices and good environmental practices often align.

  5. Hi Simon,

    Thanks for your input; I like your blog too, and will comment on your Reporting and promoting science post next week when I hope to have some time to do so.

    For now, I have a quick link for all to see on the topic of travel. In fact, this highlights the Environmental impact of scientific conferences!

    I remember during the Gulf War there was an upsurge in interest in videoconferencing applications to be added to the global networks I was designing. Also, many Americans at that time stopped travelling to Europe for business purposes (for safety reasons, of course) so we travelled to meetings in the US instead (!) There are many ways round travel restrictions … as long as there’s trust between colleagues many can get a lot done without being side-by-side and face-to-face in an office everyday 🙂

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