by Kaelin Ferland '23 on April 20, 2023
The return to campus after Easter break marks the end of meatless Fridays in observance of Lent. From an environmental perspective, eliminating meat on Fridays at Providence College has a positive impact on our planet. Annually, an average American diet produces 2,000 kilograms of greenhouse gasses. However, by eliminating meat from your diet for just one day a week, you can decrease this amount by 400 kilograms. Switching to a plant-based diet is arguably one of the best things we can do to live sustainably and help our planet. While this lifestyle might not be something everyone is able to adopt, the next best thing we can do is avoid eating meat for one day, one week, or even for one meal.
About one-third of greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere are from food production. Of this number, about 60 percent can be attributed to meat production, while 29 percent is attributed to the production of plant-based foods. Animals raised for meat, specifically cows, also release a greenhouse gas called methane, which is 26 percent stronger and better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that these animals are responsible for one-third of our global methane emissions. Plant-based meat, however, releases about 90 percent fewer emissions.
Additionally, around 70 percent of our world’s deforestation is due to agriculture, most notably meat production. As meat consumption continues to increase over the years, deforestation and the loss of trees to meet demand will make it even more difficult to remove carbon dioxide emissions from our atmosphere and mitigate climate change. On the other hand, plant-based meat uses up to 95 percent less land according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Meat production also has a significant water footprint. 15,000 liters of water are required to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. Pork and chicken similarly require a lot of water, using about 6,000 and 4,300 liters of water respectively per kilogram of meat. More specifically, the UN Environment Assembly estimates that 2,500 liters of water are used to produce one beef burger, and just three slices of bacon require 408 liters. Think of all the water you can save by choosing to skip a burger for one day, as well as how much water we’ve preserved by not serving them on campus during Lent. The UN also estimates that plant-based meat substitutes use 75-95 percent less water.
Meat consumption has a significant environmental impact, requiring copious amounts of resources. By making small dietary changes to exclude meat partially or entirely, it’s possible to help preserve these resources, as well as minimize our greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting a plant-based diet in some form is one of the best ways we as individuals can help do our part in mitigating climate change.