A startling result

cowIn UK universities this is the season of project report writing for senior undergraduate students and report reading for their professors.   This year one of my students has been monitoring his personal ecological footprint and looking at ways in which he could use technology-based solutions to reduce it and then make recommendations to help others achieve the same [see my postings ‘Are we all free riders‘ on April 6th, 2016  ‘New Year Resolution‘ on December 31st, 2014].  He found that his weekly contributions to greenhouse gases (GHG) due to energy consumption in his flat or apartment, transportation and consumption of meat were 12.73, 5.87 & 8.60 kg carbon dioxide equivalents per week.  The total of 27.2 kg carbon dioxide equivalents per week is relatively low compared to the UK average but then he does not own a car and is living on a small budget.  What startled me was the proportion of greenhouse gases generated as a result of eating meat!

He consumed about 1.2kg of meat each week in about equal proportions of beef (12.14 kgCO2e/kg), chicken (2.84 kgCO2e/kg) and pork (4.45 kgCO2e/kg).  The numbers in parentheses are the greenhouse gas emissions from the production of each of these commodities in the UK and they can be compared to green beens or wheat at 1.55 and  0.52 kgCO2e/kg) respectively.  So, you don’t need to become a vegetarian but you could follow the example of my student by dropping beef from your diet in order to  make a significant individual contribution to reducing GHG emissions, or you could become a weekday vegetarian (see Graham Hill’s TED talk).

BTW – the diary cows, like the one in the picture, are lovely calm creatures and milk has a relatively small footprint at 1.19 kgCO2e/kg


How low can we go? An assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from the UK food system end and the scope to reduce them by 2050. WWF November 2009.

11 thoughts on “A startling result

  1. Peter Goodhew

    We all like diary cows – they make such good reading!

    I became an almost-vegetarian about a year ago for exactly the reasons you describe here. We don’t buy meat at home, but very occasionally eat a meat dish in a restaurant.

  2. F. Holt

    Am I to believe this student eats 1.2 kg each, of beef, poultry, and pork, per week? A total of 3.6 kg? I regard 1.2 kg of any meat as an excessive amount to eat each week, and I’m thinking more of the unfortunate mammal than of the “carbon footprint”, I’ve worked all my life, and I’m now 83. I would find 1.2 kg of meat per week, rather expensive. Can a student afford it? Can the word of us mammals afford it?

    1. Beverly Johnson

      I read it as a total of 1.2 kg for all three. I had to convert that to pounds to mentally grasp how much that is, and it is about 2.65 pounds. I still thought that was quite a bit, but when I checked a graph for consumption in the U.S., the age bracket 19-30 has one of the highest weekly consumptions, around 40-45 ounces, or 2.5 pounds plus. That is probably the age bracket for the student as well. The average weekly consumption for a U.S. female in that age bracket is much less. Regardless, there’s no way I eat that much meat in a week, but I can see how in the U.S. it would be easy to do. Beef in the U.S. has become one of the priciest meats to eat, next to lamb, while chicken and pork remain very affordable. I’m curious now what the carbon foot print of an egg is, and also cheese! Eggs last week or so in one of my stores were 49 cents/dozen (but that was a come on sales price, limit one per customer).

  3. Pat

    Thank you for the data about meat, particularly about beef. I had heard that before but the numbers really bring it home. What a great idea for a project.

  4. Alan Perkins

    It would be lovely to only keep dairy cows, but what would we do with the male calves that were born? Unfortunately vegetarianism would really require the extinction of all farmed animals for it to work. It is a real dilemma – unless someone knows better.

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