Reduce Your Carbon Footprint – Eat Less Red Meat

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint - Eat Less Red Meat Red Meat.

In terms of taste, I’ve always preferred baby back ribs to herb-roasted chicken, and honey glazed and grilled salmon to chicken marsala.  In terms of cost, I’ve always preferred chicken over pork and fish.

However, in terms of carbon impact, I am not sure which meat I should prefer.  There seem to be many different figures comparing the carbon footprints between various meats, but they all seem to follow a basic trend.

How can I eat more healthy and more environmentally responsible without resorting to prison pap?  How can I reduce my carbon footprint, life a more sustainable lifestyle, kick out less carbon, simply through my choice of meat?

Beef and lamb has the largest carbon footprint because producing a unit of beef or lamb (a ton, a kilogram, or whatever unit) contributes about four times more CO2 than producing an equal amount of pork, turkey, or chicken.

Producing pork contributes slightly more CO2 than chicken and turkey.

Eggs, a compact source of protein, produce about half as much CO2 as beef or lamb.

Last and in this case least, raising fish contributes a little more than half the CO2 of producing either chicken or turkey.

Okay, I promise to not say “producing” again in this post. Below, I’ve provided a set of rough and very unscientific ratios of CO2output per unit of meat, just to give those visual learners a clearer understanding.

Please don’t hold me accountable for IPCC or USDA data on this one or else I will be in big trouble.

Reduce Your Carbon Footprint - Eat Less Red MeatRatio of Unit of Meat to CO2 output can be understood in this order….. 

Beef: 16
Lamb: 14
Eggs: 8
Pork: 5
Turkey: 4
Chicken: 4
Fish: 3

Also, be wary of these ratios may fluctuate slightly due to differences in packaging, quality and type of feed, and transportation and processing can adjust these ratios in every direction.   Use this scale directionally. It will naturally skew if the meat is transported long distances or if the pieces are individually wrapped (using a lot of plastic, … petroleum).  Otherwise, its a good approximation.

So to answer my own question, from a “carbon footprint perspective”, I should clearly prefer fish over all the other meats options. However, just like everyone else, I make consumption choices for a number of reasons.  It’s not like suddenly I’m only going to only eat fish, even despite how cool it would be to be able to identify myself as a “pescatarian”.  On a similar note, it’s not like I’m going to completely abstain from putting cheese and bacon on my quarter-pound hamburger just to be more eco-friendly, but it is at least good to have a rough understanding of the implications of your consumption decisions.

Regardless,  for now I think I’ll still opt for whole milk American cheese on my burger, but will start weening myself towards the less carbon intensive meat options, more often!

Kenny FrankelIf you want to dig deeper and have a more profound understanding of food’s link to climate change, you can explore the debate of whether we should focus on scaling back our meat-eating as a solution to climate change.  Some say it is crucial to reducing carbon dioxide and methane emissions, while others say we can omit this step, and just eat what we like and conserve in other ways.

Other Green Blizzard insights on healthy, organic eating:



About the author

Kenny Frankel

As graduate of the University of Maryland, Kenny has a major in Environmental Politics and Policy, so he's undoubtedly a guy well versed in environmental issues. Now, post college he is a practitioner of sustainable living and employed by solar installation company. We all will have a deeper green perspective after reading his articles because he brings a big picture insight to our everyday purchase decisions and even recycling.  As an early staff writer for Green Blizzard, Kenny covers environmental policy, big-agricultures impact on the environment, solar energy, recycling, and products made from recycled materials.