Posted on Aug 19, 2011 in Life, the Universe, and Everything | 0 comments

More thoughts on carbon footprint. The Environmental Working Group brings you this diagram (found here):

So in terms of using the carbon footprint argument as a reason to practice vegetarianism, do you see the problem with this chart (other than its fuzzy axis labeling)? Cheese. Cheese is a problem. So strictly to make the largest possible impact on your carbon footprint, at first glance it appears that you should eliminate lamb, beef, and cheese. Now I never ate lamb in the first place (actually only because I don’t like the taste) and I grew up relatively dairy free (my mother is lactose intolerant, and I also have a mild version of it). I’m pretty sure that cutting beef and cheese from my diet would be considerably easier than cutting out all meat.

So, I did some math. Because the pharmacokinetic calculations I have a test on the day after tomorrow aren’t enough for me. Assuming I was a “typical” American, my per capita consumption of cheese would be 14.8 kg annually (2009 value, thanks wikipedia) and my beef consumption would be 27 kg annually (2010 value, CME Daily Livestock Report). In the same report, annual per capita consumption of chicken was 37 kg. Let’s assume for this exercise that the only meat I consume is beef and chicken (actually pretty true).

If you’re confused about the values in the chart above, the numbers represent kilograms of equivalent carbon dioxide (CO_{2}e) per kilogram of consumed product. So cheese consumption makes me personally responsible for 199.8 kg CO_{2}e per year. If you replace cheese with an equal mass of yogurt or milk (my sister does this substitution), you can drop that value to 29.6 kg. Beef accounts for 729 kg (wow!), while chicken produces 255 kg. If I replace 27kg of beef with 27kg of chicken instead, my collective meat-related CO_{2}e is 441.6 kg.

Then I got really arbitrary. Cutting meat entirely would eliminate 64kg of beef and chicken from my annual diet that I would have to replace with some other protein. So lets assume I instead consumed 64kg of products averaging a CO_{2}e/kg ratio of 2 (the raw average of all the non-meat products in that chart, excluding cheese). That gives me a CO_{2}e value of 128kg.

So by combining some numbers, you will find that vegetarianism reduces my CO_{2}e by 856 kg per year. Replacing cheese with yogurt/milk and replacing beef with chicken reduces my CO_{2}e by only 457.6 kg. Even if we assume that I use cheese as a vegetarian crutch and consume double the amount of cheese (29.6 kg) I still beat out the no beef or cheese diet, reducing my CO_{2}e by 656.2 kg.

Now, these calculations are so arbitrary that they really don’t prove anything.

But my point is, once again, vegetarianism wins.

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