|Study: Cutting out the beef and bacon would cut trillions from cost of
mitigating climate crisis
The New Scientist February 10, 2009
less meat could cut climate costs
By Jim Giles
Cutting back on
beefburgers and bacon could wipe $20 trillion off the
cost of fighting
climate change. That's the dramatic conclusion of a
study that totted up the
economic costs of modern meat-heavy diets.
The researchers involved say
that reducing our intake of beef and
pork would lead to the creation of a
huge new carbon sink, as
vegetation would thrive on unused
The model takes into account farmland that is used to grow
to make up for the lost meat, but that requires less area, so
will be abandoned. Millions of tonnes of methane, a potent greenhouse
gas, would also be saved every year due to reduced emissions from
These impacts would lessen the need for expensive
technologies, such as "clean coal" power plants, and so save
sums, say Elke Stehfest of the Netherlands Environmental Assessment
Agency and colleagues.
have warned of the high carbon cost of meat
for several years.
is particularly damaging. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is
flatulent cows and by manure as it decays. Furthermore,
to produce a
kilogram of beef (2.2 pounds), farmers also have to feed
a cow 15 kg of
grain and 30 kg of forage. Grain requires fertiliser,
which is energy
intensive to produce.
Stehfest has now weighed the economic impact of
beef and other meats
against the cost of stabilising carbon dioxide levels
at 450 parts
per million - a level that some scientists say is needed to
prevent dangerous droughts and sea level rises.
If eating habits
do not change, Stehfest estimates that emissions
would have to be cut by
two-thirds by 2050, which is likely to cost
around $40 trillion.
however, the global population shifted to a low-meat diet -
defined as 70
grams of beef and 325 grams of chicken and eggs per
week - around 15 million
square kilometres of farmland would be freed
up. Vegetation growing on this
land would mop up carbon dioxide. It
could alternatively be used to grow
bioenergy crops, which would
displace fossil fuels.
Greenhouse gas emissions would also fall by 10% due to the drop in
livestock numbers, she calculates. Together, these impacts would
the costs of dealing with climate change by 2050.
To help consumers, the
environmental cost of meat, in terms of carbon
emissions per portion, could
also be included in the purchase price,
sound about right, says Raymond Desjardins of Agriculture
Canada. However, it may be unfair to compare future
farms to current ones,
Journal reference: Climatic Change (DOI: