climate change food

The striking climate impact of beef

Last year I wrote a whole series of posts about meat, and how we can reduce the environmental impact of our diet. An NRDC report came out last week that demonstrates the point very well. This graph shows America’s food related per capita greenhouse gas emissions. As you can see, there has been a 10% decline in the last decade or so.

That decline is almost entirely down to changing dietary preferences, and Americans eating less beef. In that time, beef consumption fell by 19%. The drop in sales has been equivalent to taking 39 million cars off the road – such is the impact of beef.

In fact, if you look at the top five foods in the American diet and rank them by climate impact, this is what you get:

There’s a simple message in that pie chart. The simplest thing you can do to reduce the emissions from your food is to stop eating beef.


  1. Thanks for sharing. Figure 4 is very enlightening. Many know by now that meat has a larger impact but the size of that impact is startling when you see it expressed on a per capita consumption basis.

    1. It’s crazy isn’t it? Americans eat more beef than most other countries, so it’s a bigger slice of their dietary emissions than it would be for most of us. But it shows how beef is in a league of its own when it comes to environmentally unsound foods.

  2. very interesting. I stopped eating meat about a year ago and recently decided to be vegan so this is intriguing to me. Have you watched the documentary Conspiracy on Netflix? definitely recommend it! It talks a lot about how cattle specifically is making a negative impact to this day but yet most industries and companies won’t admit it. Super interesting!

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