How Changing Your Diet Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

In the modern times, the world has seen a shift in public opinion as well as government policy concerning emissions. The two main areas that are emphasized are the Energy sector as well as transportation. One example of how government policy is changing is President Obama’s National Fuel Efficiency Policy. It states that the average fuel economy must be 35.5 mpg in 2016 [1].

However, there is one sector that very few Americans think about when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, that is the Agricultural Sector. Just living in the US it is easy to see that we live a life of luxury compared to most places. As a result of that we are able to afford large quantities of food that we inevitably waste. This waste of energy was detailed in a post by HIRSCH2013 titled “When we waste food we waste energy” (link provided below) [2]. However the energy used, and the resulting emissions, from that energy production needs to be accounted for as well.

From the ten years spanning 2002-2011, the United State averaged more than 27.2 billion pounds of annual beef consumption [3]. In a life cycle analysis of greenhouse emissions for common foods conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), Beef was shown to have emission of about 27.0 kg of CO2e (Carbon Dioxide equivalents) per kilogram of beef. The following graph was also produced by the EWG [4].  Those 27.2 billion pounds of beef translates to 462.4 billion pounds of CO2e per year.

Source: EWG [4]

Source: EWG [4]

This source of emissions in never really talked about, yet adds significantly to the about of greenhouse gases produced. Now, while the US government will not likely mandate how much food we eat, we Americans can take it upon ourselves to be conscious about our food choices. Now, I love steak as much as anyone else, but research shows that eating too much read met can have harmful side effects.  Eating read meat could increase the risk getting heart disease, kidney disease, osteoporosis, and cancer. This risk increases as people being to eat more processed meat such as bacon and hot dogs [5]. In a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, they found that each additional serving of meat increased the chance of death among the participants, and advised that people should eat red meat only about two to three times in a week [6].

Based on health and energy research, changing ones diet to reduce the intake of red meat in favor of poultry or fish (or other protein providers) would aid in keeping ourselves healthy and reducing our carbon footprint, both of which can be taken as very positive things.


1: President Obama Announces National Fuel Efficiency Policy. (2009, May 19). Retrieved February 17, 2013,


3: USDA ERS – Cattle & Beef: Statistics & Information. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from

4: Climate and Environmental Impacts. (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from

5: Are You Eating Too Much Meat? (n.d.). Retrieved February 17, 2013, from 

6: Harding, A. (2012, March 13). Study: Too much red meat may shorten lifespan. Retrieved February 17, 2013, from




Filed under energy

3 responses to “How Changing Your Diet Can Reduce Carbon Emissions

  1. Industrial meat production is indeed a troubling industry in the United States. As the blog author states, the energy requirement alone paints a dismal picture for efficiency. I, however, disagree with the author’s recommendations and the health impacts he/she denotes to beef consumption.

    Beef: The association between cancer and heart disease and beef is tenuous. Numerous studies have shown that the quality of beef and particularly the lifestyle of a cow affects the human health benefits from eating beef. Grass versus grain fed beef can have higher incidences of antioxidants, more heart health fatty acids and less total fat . Because of the intrinsic link between fat content and diet in cattle, a grass-fed diet contributes to more nutritionally sound beef products . Nutrition scientists found that beef contains an anticarcinogenic fatty acid known as conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). Levels of CLA in beef increase when it is cooked .

    Fish: In an interactive study published in 2006, National Geographic highlighted the crises of fisheries around the world . The study highlights the drastic decline in certain fish stock due to high-tech fishing techniques, unsustainable demand (in-large part due to the artificially low cost of seafood) and general overfishing. The more commonly consumed types of fish are the ones most endangered like tuna, cod, swordfish and salmon, to name a few. Additionally, due to various pollutants found in fresh and salt water, many fish have high levels of mercury . Consumers need to be cautious of the amount and type of fish they consume because of the human health effects and negative environmental externalities.

    Chicken: The poultry industry is problematic too. The industry has come under scrutiny for inhumane treatment of chickens i.e. keeping animals in cramped spaces, cutting off beaks and genetically engineering chickens with large breasts that inhibits walking . The wastes from these industrial facilities are similar to those from the beef industry- chicken farms cause causes water and air pollution .

    I would like to reiterate that I agree with the blog poster’s comments about the energy inefficiencies and the significant emissions surrounding industrial beef production. The solution however, is much more complex than eating less beef and more chicken and fish. Conventional fish and chicken productions are problematic in their own right; consuming more fish and chicken does not necessarily equate to better health and a smaller carbon footprint, as the blog author notes. A consumer’s role in the solution process should be one based on information. As a consumer, I want to know where my food comes from and how it was grown or raised. In the United States we have the privilege of having readable access to this information i.e. Monterrey Bay’s Seafood Watch, farmer’s market and certain grocery stores. This way, every once in a while, I can enjoy a $30 steak that comes from a pasture-raised, Texas cow.

    Grogan, Martha. Does grass-fed beef have any heart health benefits that other types of beef don’t . Mayo Clinic Cardiology,

    Scolan, Nigel et al., Innovetions in beef production systems that enhace the nutritional and health value of beef lipids and ther relationship with meat quality. Meat Science, Volume 74, Issue 1, September 2006, Pages 17-33
    Hasler, Claire M., Functional Foods: Their Role in Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

    Montaigne, Fen. 2007. “Global Fisheries Crisis.” National Geographic.
    Mercury Contamination in Fish: Know Where It’s Coming From. Natural Resources Defense Council.

    Hidden Camera Controversy on Iowa’s Chicken Farms. Time Video.,32068,1365878626001_2105140,00.html

    Food: A Project Envision Documentary. KPBS: San Diego Public Radio,
    Lin, Xing Jun et al., Air Emissions from Poultry Production Facilities. Biological and Agricultural Engineering Department, University of California, Davis.

    Gould, Jessica. Poultry Waste Having Negative Impact On Local Waterways. WAMU News: American University Radio.

  2. I’m still not sure why we want artificially low prices for food.

    American Meat is a documentary you may want to watch or show to others on the subject.

    Also, any idea why raising sheep produces so much?? Is it because of food waste? I’m assuming the x axis of that graph is mass of meat we actually consume, and not mass that the animals eat.

  3. Interesting argument. I read before that growing rice could also be a significant resource of methane gas, which is another major greenhouse gas apart from CO2. So it looks like that we can hardly reduce the carbon emission for the food we produce because there’ll be large carbon emission for either eating rice or meat.

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