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THE OMNI CALCULATOR: Does Knowing the Carbon Footprint of Meat Make Us Eat Less of It?

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If you say eating 1 burger a month is equivalent to 32.6 pounds of greenhouse gas produced, it might seem like a small number. But if you say that it's like driving 36.6 miles, then it's alarming.

HELEN CHRISTOPHI: Last year, the medical journal The Lancet reported that global consumption of red meat needs to fall by 50 percent by 2050 for us to “remain within a safe operating space” on climate change. And in 2018, the journal Nature reported that beef consumption in Western countries needs to fall by 90 percent. Meat production is the primary source of methane emissions, a greenhouse gas 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period, and beef cattle produced over 70 percent of it via enteric fermentation—belching and farting—in 2016. (Dairy cattle accounted for another 25 percent that year.)…

Hannah Pamula, the Omni’s meat footprint calculator’s designer and a graduate student at AGH University of Science and Technology in Kraków, Poland, says we don’t need to ditch meat altogether in order to achieve significant reductions in emissions. For Pamula, the key is to persuade a lot of people to cut their meat consumption, not to push a vegan diet on everybody.

“[We] need to be realistic, so my tool doesn’t want to convince anyone to go vegan,” Pamula told me by email. “We believe that showing people the scale of the issue will make them think for a while and hopefully influence them to change their eating habits. Even a slight reduction in our meat consumption would matter. Skipping one burger a week could already be of huge help,” she said…

Trying out the meat calculator is simple. Users enter the number of three-ounce servings each of poultry, beef, pork, lamb, and fish they ate over a week and get back a few standard results—such as the amount of greenhouse gas emissions their meat produced and what the environmental damage would be of eating that way all month. Unlike with other carbon footprint calculators, however, users also get real-world equivalencies for those results to help them wrap their heads around the impact of their meat consumption…

“If you tell someone that two servings of beef in a month, which is similar to just one burger a month, is equivalent to 32.6 pounds of CO₂eq [greenhouse gas emissions] produced, it might seem like a small number. But if you find out that it’s similar to charging 1,891 smartphones or even driving for 36.6 miles, then it’s alarming,” Pamula explains…

Meanwhile, The Lancet estimates that a global shift to plant-based diets could slash greenhouse gas emission by up to 80 percent by 2050, while measures meant to raise livestock more sustainably will only reduce them by about 10 percent. “Even small increases in consumption of red meat or dairy foods” will render climate change mitigation “difficult or impossible to achieve,” the report stated.  SOURCE…

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