If you really care about climate change you'll stop eating burgers

If we don’t alter the way we eat and farm, the food industry will cause an environmental disaster


Give up meat, save the planet. It really could be that simple, as new research warns that without radical changes to our diets, the food industry alone is likely to cause an 80 per cent increase in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, exceeding the current emissions targets for the entirety of the global economy.

This creates something of a dilemma for steak loving environmentalists, like myself, who have so far managed to skirt around the issue of meat, instead preferring to focus our righteous efforts on recycling yoghurt pots or investing in energy efficient light bulbs.

Burgers, chops and pies are regular winners of the daily contest to satiate my carnivorous cravings. But, every tenderly roasted, lovingly stewed and patiently encrusted bit of flesh, that once made salivary glands froth and bellies expand, are now unambiguous contributors to the climate change problem.

Of course, we’ve known for a long time that eating piles of meat is bad for the environment. So far, around 35 per cent of Earth’s ice-free land has been cleared for food production causing deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution, while the egregious levels of methane produced at every end of a cow contribute directly to the greenhouse effect.

What’s new is the scale of our collective appetite. At the rate we’re munching through burgers, the amount of land used in the race to provide us with enough medium-rare-rump will have ballooned by 42 per cent by 2050 causing massive further deforestation, pollution, and loss of species. The message is clear: if we don’t alter the way we eat and farm, the food industry will cause a climate disaster all by itself, making meat eating a relatively selfish hobby.

The question is, can we – the assembled patty-lusting, climate-caring humans of earth - do it? Can we quit meat for the sake of the planet? Can we turn our backs on the cheap beef and the plump cuts? Can we avoid the glossy explosion of new burger bars and steak houses that have hit Britain’s streets? Can we stop drooling over the barbeque and instead forge an environmentally responsible life of ascetic vegetarianism and endless beans?

In fact, going cold turkey might not be completely necessary. The authors of the paper, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, suggest that if each of us was to cut our seven day grill-fests down to a modest but perfectly achievable two portions of red meat a week, the damage might just be avoided.


But, perhaps that approach sends us in the wrong direction. Year-round we fret about governmental inaction on climate change, bemoan the reluctance of the world’s statesmen to take the threat posed by global warming seriously, and grow tired of the bluster that accompanies every retreat from prioritising sustainable energy. As individuals, we often feel powerless to put a dent in reports of mounting emissions, or alter the direction of our planet’s worrying future: doomed by science and neglected by politics.

Eating meat, however, is down to us. The associated climate change danger can be pinned squarely on our insatiable appetites and our collective demand for more ribs on more plates, and no one can stop chewing on that cow for you. The market marches to the growl of our stomachs, and if we eat less, they’ll farm less. By dropping meat we can make a positive impact on global warming, while if we keep up our habits, the opposite is equally certain. It might be time to put down the steak knife and embrace a meat-free future.

Read more:
Europe now lags behind the US and China on climate change. It should take the lead once more

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Production Technician

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Production Technician is required to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer - Hosted Telecommunications

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for a Ne...

Austen Lloyd: Private Client Solicitor / Partner - Cheltenham

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: A very rare high level opportunity with a fir...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This distributor of electronics...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kanye West performs live at the Brit Awards 2015  

UK grime is finally getting the recognition it deserves, but why has it taken so long?

Paul Gibbins

Jihadi John went to my university – so what?

James Tennent
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower