How do the common “go green” tips measure up next to changes in diet? How helpful is a vegan diet for the environment? How long do you have to not shower before you match the impact of not eating a pound of beef?
NOTE: Please see this more recent post for a far more thorough and extensively cited exploration of this topic!
Today we’re going to talk about a really inconvenient truth: you cannot be an environmentalist and a non-vegan. in my very first nugget ever, I touched on the environmental impact of the animal products industry.
Today we’re going to compare the benefits the environment that the typical going green methods have, to the impact that you have by making shifts in your diet. Often times the most passionate, vigilant, and militant environmentalists still eat animal products. Let’s take a look at why that is completely discordant.
I’m going to focus on the elements of environmentalism that you most often hear about: water, paper—meaning trees—and CO2 emissions.
One of the common water saving tips that you hear is to get a water efficient shower head. The typical shower head emits 5 gallons per minute. Most water efficient shower heads emit 2.5 gallons per minute. Say that you take 10 minute showers every day, you’re going to save 9,125 gallons every year. If you take a 15 minute shower every day, you’re going to save 13,687.5 gallons every year. The average us citizen eats 185 pounds of meat every year, and 62.4 pounds of beef. So every year the average American is using 156,000 gallons of water for their beef consumption alone. If you didn’t eat any meat for an entire year, conservatively, you’d be saving 339,900 gallons. The average American also eats 632 pounds of dairy. Every pound of dairy takes approximately 600 gallons of water. So if you stopped eating dairy for entire year, you would save 379,200 gallons.
Now here’s the real testament: if you went an entire year without eating any meat or dairy, you would be saving 719,100 gallons of water for that year. That’s the same amount of water as if you didn’t shower at all for 53 years if you took a 15 minute shower, or 79 years if you took 10 minute showers. So what’s really making the best environmental impact as far as water is concerned. Maybe a full year with no meat or dairy is a little too much for you to handle right now. What about not eating 1 pound of beef. You would be saving the same amount of water as if you didn’t shower for 100 showers. That’s 3 1/2 months of not showering, just for 1 pound of beef. I hope you’re starting to see how huge the impact of diet is on the environment.
When it comes to how to help the environment, one of the common tips is to go paperless, and also recycle whatever paper you do use. On average, a person uses between 5 and 8.51 40-foot trees every year. If you recycled 1 ton of paper, that’s 2,000 pounds, you’ll be saving about 17 trees.
And now for dietary impact. I’m only going to use the data for beef right now, because it is the meat that’s had the most environmental impact studies done. To produce 1 pound of beef, it takes approximately 55ft² of rain forest, which—depending on the area—is anywhere between 45 and 55 trees.
So, if you didn’t use any paper at all for an entire year, you’d be saving at most 8.51 trees. Whereas if you avoid just 1 pound of beef, you’re saving 45 to 55 trees. Now if you went an entire year without eating any beef, you’d be saving 3,432 trees. By not eating beef for an entire year, and we’re not even talking about any other animal products at this point, you would still be saving 3,406.49 more trees than if you didn’t use any paper for the entire year and recycled an entire ton.
Now, what about toilet paper? The average person in the United States uses 50 pounds of toilet paper every year. Let’s say, dear Americans, that you went an entire year without using any toilet paper. You would be saving a measly 0.425 trees.
Now for CO2. The animal products industry is the largest sole contributor to climate change, and is responsible for emitting 2,964 million tons of CO2 every year. Now let’s compare the CO2 emissions of the average car to that of the meat dairy and egg industries. When people talk about saving CO2, you always hear about hybrid cars. The average passenger car is going to emit 5.1 tons of CO2 per year. Now different hybrid cars have different CO2 emissions. If you decided to drive a prius instead of your average car, you’d be saving 1.7 tons of CO2 every year. Whereas going a year without just beef, saves 5.5 tons of CO2. And now for a simplified version – you could drive about 600 miles from the CO2 that’s produced by 1 pound of beef.
Now believe it or not, this is the tip of the iceberg. We’re not even going to go into nitrogen from fertilizer and feed production, the issue of methane, or the over 500 million tons of fecal matter produced by livestock every year. In summary: never showering, never using paper, never using toilet paper, recycling an entire ton of paper, and never driving, don’t even come close to making the environmental impact of switching to a vegan diet.
— Emily Moran Barwick