We know that eating red meat devastates the planet. But just how much? According to a comprehensive new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, meat production spews out five times the amount of greenhouse gases than production of dairy, poultry, pork, and eggs averaged together. The scientists even go as far as saying that consuming less red meat can benefit the environment more than giving up your car.
“The big story is just how dramatically impactful beef is compared to all the others,” Gidon Eshel, a Bard College professor and the study’s lead researcher, told The Guardian. He said the amount of damage from red meat production is so massive that it warrants action from lawmakers.
“I would strongly hope that governments stay out of people’s diet, but at the same time there are many government policies that favor the current diet in which animals feature too prominently,” Eshel said. “Remove the artificial support given to the livestock industry and rising prices will do the rest. In that way you are having less government intervention in people’s diet and not more.”
Tim Benton, a University of Leeds professor who wasn’t part of the study, agrees. “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat,” he told The Guardian.
The meat industry isn’t staying quiet. The study is “a gross oversimplification of the complex systems that make up the beef value chain,” Kim Stackhouse, sustainability director for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, told The Wall Street Journal. Stackhouse claims that in recent years meat producers have upped their sustainability game, and that beef production in the U.S. generates fewer greenhouse gases than that of any other country in the world.
That could be because wealthier countries such as the U.S. have been getting their beef from cows raised in developing countries. Eshel told the Journal that while the amount of greenhouse gas emissions from livestock has dropped by 23 percent in the developed world, other nations have doubled theirs.
People who aren’t ready to give up steaks and burgers shouldn’t fret—simply consuming less meat can lower your carbon footprint (and it’s cheaper than buying a Tesla). One of the study’s researchers, environmental scientist Ken Caldeira, offered a simple enough image: Eating a pound of beef generates more carbon emissions than using a gallon of gasoline.