The Environmental Impact of Meat Consumption in America

by Morgan Bundrant ~ November 2016
Image credit: World Resources Institute
The phrase “Climate change” has reached every American’s ears in recent decades due to the scientific community’s growing understanding of what is happening to the Earth’s environment.

This understanding does not bring comfort, though. As the Earth’s environment is disturbed from human activity, it is seen that, “[d]espite the small magnitude of warming relative to weather fluctuations, effects of the warming already have notable social and economic impacts” (Hansen and Sato).

Inhabitants of developing countries along coastlines are already seeing the effects of rising sea levels, forcing Kiribati to buy 5,460 acres of land in Fiji to find new land for displaced peoples (Zhang).

The challenge is not informing the American public about climate change, though. It is about informing the American public what they can do to combat climate change in their daily lives. One of the most wasteful activities of the American people is often overlooked, yet the environmental impacts of this activity are said to outweigh that of even transportation: eating beef.

This activity is so wasteful, in fact, that one hamburger uses 6.7 pounds of grain and forage to produce, 52.8 gallons of drinking water, 74.5 acres or grazing land, and 1,036 Btus of fossil fuel energy (Barclay).

Eating beef seems irrelevant in discussing climate change when in fact abstaining from eating beef is one of the relatively easiest and most influential ways to reduce one’s ecological footprint.

Because “agriculture causes 15% of all emissions, half of which are from livestock” (Carrington), the production of meat is a surprisingly large factor in America’s, and the world’s, greenhouse gas emission. Within this production of meat, beef is the most wasteful.

Carrington corroborates this claim: “The popular red meat requires 28 times more land to produce than pork or chicken, 11 times more water and results in five times more climate- warming emissions.” Making the switch to vegetarianism or veganism may not be a viable option for many Americans, but abstaining from eating beef is, especially when options like pork and chicken are still available but have less of an impact on the environment.

The concept of climate change is largely past the time for debate. We no longer have the luxury to contemplate whether or not our actions impact the environment. Because of instances like Kiribati, global climate change has become a humanitarian crisis that jeopardizes peoples’ livelihood.

Other impacts such as ocean acidification, desertification, increase in respiratory diseases, and decreasing biodiversity can also be combated through the reduction of every persons’ ecological footprint. e

It is our responsibility to make a change in our lives to prevent the further disturbance of coastal and natural ecosystems- in part through abstaining from beef and meat. As the world’s second largest producers of greenhouse gasses, it is our duty to begin the world’s progression towards a more sustainable diet.

Morgan Bundrant will be attending the 2017 Washington Youth Summit on the Environment.

Works Cited
Barclay, Eliza. “A Nation Of Meat Eaters: See How It All Adds Up.” NPR. N.p., 27 June 2012.
Web. 15 Nov. 2016.

Carrington, Damian. “Giving up Beef Will Reduce Carbon Footprint More than Cars, Says Expert.” The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited,, 21 July 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 16.

Zhang, Sarah. “Sea Level Rise Is Forcing This Island Nation To Buy Land 1200 Miles Away Sarah Zhang.” Gizmodo. Gawker Media, 13 July 2014. Web. 15 Nov. 2016.