Can Vegetarianism Stop Climate Change?

Eating meat doesn't have as big of an impact on the environment as you've been told.


Eating meat is bad for the climate—or at least that was one of the main conclusions highlighted in a flood of news reports based on the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's August report, Climate Change and Land. "Eat less meat to save the Earth, urges UN," reads a headline from The Times of London. "Climate Experts Advise Eating More Vegetables, Less Meat," warned The Wall Street Journal.

Before you give up your animal protein of choice in an effort to save the planet, let's crunch some numbers to see just how much livestock raising and meat consumption contribute to U.S. emissions.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture is responsible for about 10 percent of America's total annual greenhouse gas emissions of 6.5 billion carbon dioxide equivalent metric tons. That breaks down to 302 million tons from nitrogen dioxide, largely in the form of fertilizer; 170 million tons from the methane expelled in ruminant livestock flatulence; 65 million tons from managing livestock manure; 60 million tons of direct emissions from farming; and 40 million tons from agriculture-related electricity use.

Calculations focusing on agriculture ignore 90 percent of emissions that Americans contribute to the atmosphere. Assuming every American adopts a vegan diet and all livestock raising ceases, that change would reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by just 3.6 percent. In their 2017 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study, agronomists Robin White and Mary Beth Hall reached a similar conclusion, calculating that the total elimination of animal husbandry would reduce U.S. emissions by 2.6 percent.

How would going meat-free affect an individual American's emissions? According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, meat consumption in 2019 added up to 220 pounds per capita. Multiplying by emissions per kilogram figures from the Environmental Working Group, a D.C.-based advocacy group generally opposed to crop biotechnology and conventional agriculture, that's the equivalent of 1.4 metric tons of carbon dioxide per person. In other words, going vegetarian for one year would reduce an average American's emissions by the same amount as spending, at current prices, just over $8 to buy cap-and-trade emissions allowances through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative that operates among nine Northeastern states.

Hectoring American meat eaters will do almost nothing to slow climate change. In the meantime, the demand for dietary sacrifice and culinary hair shirts could discourage American consumers from considering more effective ways to address the problem of man-made warming.

NEXT: Brickbat: Leave Them Kids Alone

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  1. Yes, we can stop the climate from changing. *rolls eyes*.

    1. [Rolls AlmightyJB’s eyes back to him.]

      Let’s start calling them climate conservatives.

      1. I prefer stasis statists.

        1. Nice
          I’ve always gone with ‘state supremacists’ but that’s not really specific to just this issue

      2. Remember, chipper never puts people into tribes.

        1. Well he is an Alinsky Alarmist.

    2. I’ll answer Ronnie’s question in fewer words: No.

  2. As far as I am aware the confirmed date for the apocalypse is still fixed at roughly 11 years from now so I’m not sure how dietary choices are supposed to influence any rescheduling at this point.

    1. Ps – the exact date is 01/21/2031 according to the lady who will surely be occupying the Oval Office by then.

      1. No. No. AOC says that prediction was just “Dry Humor”.

        When folks took her seriously, I bet she said, “WTF. I knew Progressives were dumb, but…”

        1. For really dry humor, check out Pelosi’s Netflix special, called “Snatch The Gavel.”

          1. More like, “Gravel Snatch”. Amirite?

            1. Indeed she is.

            2. I’m not watching that!

        2. “Dry humor” from a bartendress?

      2. I saw a homeless guy carrying a sign a while back that said the world would end on 12/21/2002, or something like that

  3. Next they’ll come for dairy. Cow genocide is the final solution.

    1. The only way they will take my smoked Gouda and Greek yogurt is to pry it from my cold dead hands.

      1. I think that’s the point.

  4. “In the meantime, the demand for dietary sacrifice and culinary hair shirts could discourage American consumers from considering more effective ways to address the problem of man-made warming.”

    Maybe, just maybe, climate change, for whatever its actual validity, is being used by people of certain ideological bents as a stalking horse for other policy goals.

    1. You mean kinda like how the threat of terrorism, whatever its actual validity, was used to ramp up to a full surveillance state?

      A not-so-wise man in government famously said, “Never let a crisis go to waste.”

    2. The irony is that the vegans also want non GMO food which takes up both more land and water per plant than GMO food with much more waste and requires more land rotation. They basically want people to starve if not them.

      1. Can’t have a good holodomor without banning a few eggs.

  5. That RGGI looks like an interesting idea with positive results over the last decade. I guess the reason it’s not formally an interstate compact is because DC’s such a constipated lobbyist-ridden clusterfuck and can’t even charter an interstate compact (which constitutionally it is required to do) anymore.

    That sort of legal structure looks like a good way of approaching all land/resource externalities that are currently unpriced. I can see something similar working re transportation emissions too.

    1. I dunno. Seems kind’a like the old definition of Daylight Savings Time – cutting one end off the blanket and sewing it to the other to make the blanket longer.

      1. I have no idea what that means

  6. When I see ecomentalists advocating for nuclear power plants, allowing us to replace all fossil fuels we use for electricity generation and home heating, while still having cheap electricity, I’ll give them some credit.

    Until then, they aren’t actually trying to help.

  7. “carbon dioxide equivalent”
    I stopped on that phrase. Back when teachers taught facts instead of political indoctrination, carbon dioxide was a specific element, and had no equivalent.
    I suspect this is again the socialists making bad stuff up because there isn’t really enough bad stuff to justify eliminating freedom.

    1. You might have done better to investigate what the phrase actually means. It does have an actual meaning. The greenhouse effect from certain gasses in the atmosphere isn’t a made up phenomenon.

      1. Except it’s a complete perversion of the real greenhouse effect which isn’t primarily a radiative effect. In fact if you combine the two by placing a CO2 rich atmosphere inside a sealed glass container you get some surprising results.

      2. It does have an actual meaning.

        He didn’t say it doesn’t have a meaning, he just said it was political rather than scientific.

        It’s certainly not readily reduced to grams of steak consumed without lots of spherical cow bullshit and plenty safe to say that ‘carbon dioxide equivalents’ is nowhere near as empirical or standardized as ‘miles per gallon’.

      3. The greenhouse effect from certain gasses”

        All gasses are greenhouse gasses there are no gasses that you can put in the air to cool the planet. even oxygen is a green house gas all gasses absorb energy. Once you realize that you see the whole thing is a scam because if it weren’t for greenhouse gasses we’d be like the moon and dead

    2. Math and science are racist.

      1. This is known. Don’t question it lest YOU be a racist, or a misogynist.

  8. Can Vegetarianism Stop Climate Change?

    No. Can Climate Change Stop Vegetarianism?

    1. Can Climate Change Stop Vegetarianism?


  9. culinary hair shirts

    Nice band name.

    1. They were also known as Naked Scotsmen.

  10. Vegetarianism is a commie plot to weaken us to the point where we will be unable to fight back when the carnivores begin harvesting us for food. The subsequent massive population decline will be touted as a cure for global warming and cannibalism will then be known as “carbon sequestration”. Don’t fall for the “eat the babies” sloganeering.

    1. You forgot to add in something about our precious bodily fluids…..

      1. Women sense my power and they seek the life essence. … I do not avoid women, Mandrake.

        But I do deny them my essence.

  11. The “problem” of global warming needs to be established in the first place before anything needs to be solved. And failed model predictions need not apply.

  12. We live in a world where plastic straws are banned in inland US cities in order to save the Pacific Ocean from plastic debris.

    And you think that “agriculture only accounts for a small portion of CO2 emissions” is going to be a persuasive argument for these folks?

    1. We live in an age of cargo cults. Somehow the elites can’t figure out why the hoi poloi have lost faith in their expertise.

      1. “Somehow the elites can’t figure out why the hoi poloi have lost faith in their expertise.”

        Whenever someone assumes they are always the smartest and/or the most virtuous person in the room, they never understand why anyone else would not agree.

  13. Climate will always change. stop with the absurd headlines.

  14. It is almost as if the left is using “climate change” as a catch all justification for every lunatic lifestyle control they want to enforce on us. Who knew?

    1. Certainly not credulous Reason. After all multiple failed models all say the same thing, and as we know it’s the quantity of allegations that matter and never the substance or reality.

      1. It is a consensus Skippy. Don’t you understand that science is about consensus of experts not your petty little predictions and data?

        1. DemocracyHive collective, is there nothing it can’t do?

          1. We must allow the collective wisdom of paid experts to guide us. What could possibly go wrong?

  15. Making sacrifices for climate change scratches the same evolutionary itch as charity and self-flagellation: our brains evolved to make us want to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves, and we feel that way when we’re suffering and making sacrifices for a greater cause than ourselves.

    The desire to suffer and make sacrifices for a greater cause seems to be felt especially by those who are wealthier among us–and wouldn’t suffer or sacrifice much if it weren’t for a greater cause like global warming. Progressives were always prone to religious fervor, and nothing much has changed.

    1. Climate change or whatever you want to call it is a secular religion. You have better luck questioning the existence of Allah with a devout Muslim than you do questioning even the most outlandish climate change predictions with a climate change believer.

      1. “than you do questioning even the most outlandish climate change predictions with a climate change believer.”

        Don’t you mean ‘even the least outlandish climate change predictions?’ Least is far more shrill and mendacious, the effect you are undoubtedly aiming for.

        1. No. I mean even the most outlandish. Believing the moderate things does not take the same fervor as believing in the outlandish things. Therefore, it should be easier to convince them to renounce the outlandish things. The fact that you can’t, shows how fervent their belief is.

          1. You can keep the ‘most’ if you insist but you have to drop the ‘even.’

            You wouldn’t say, for example, that you couldn’t even convince that Mullah that Allah doesn’t exist.

    2. “The desire to suffer and make sacrifices for a greater cause seems to be felt especially by those who are wealthier among us”

      They call this desire for suffering and sacrifice “deferred gratification,” the ability to resist temptation over the short term to receive greater rewards over the long term. It’s no coincidence that this quality is seen more among the wealthy than otherwise. I never heard that Leftists exhibited this ability any more than others. Sounds like nonsense.

      1. Leftists don’t want to suffer themselves, they want to force it on others.

  16. Think about the lifetime CO2 savings per person if we did “eat the children?” We’d see immediate results in less than one generation!

    1. We have to eat the babies!!

      1. Both shrill and mendacious. You learn quickly.

      2. How can you eat the babies if your not allowed to BBQ them

  17. Worthless article. Beyond lazy. Uses “Climate Change” a dozen different ways with absurd assumptions to boot.

  18. So, thanks to Reason, we now have a full color picture of The Rev. This is what a jar of sentient dictatorial gall bladders looks like.

  19. The short answer is NO. The only way to reduce human induced climate change if there is any is to reduce the number of people. In the times past there were wars and plague to thin out the population. So even if animals wore no longer used as food these animals would still be on the earth producing the climate changing gas unless these animals were wholesale.

    1. All animals fart including the human animal and grasses not eatin will rot and give off gasses, we are doomed.

  20. You can have my bacon…from my greasy, dead hand.

    1. You can have my bacon…from my greasy, dead hand.


  21. Only if we knock down all buildings and go back to dirt roads.

  22. My wife’s parents were vegetarians(not vegans) and when we visited them we did not eat any meat. I was fine with the meals and the food was good. However, beans were a major source of protein in their diet. I don’t need to say much more about this way of eating other than some of us took a lot of walks during those visits.

    1. My wife decided to go meat free for a week and I went along with it-lots of beans and we had to sleep in separate rooms

      1. So who flung the dung Nick?

  23. Ron Bailey, will you please stop using that weasel phrase “climate change” when you are referring to AGW/CAGW?
    Nobody in their right mind would assert that we can stop climate change.

    1. I suspect the Reason style guide uses the standard phrases to avoid being labeled as fake news on social media and such. It’s mostly robots policing that stuff, and it’s not like journalism is a cash cow these days, so getting ratioed or whatever can have deleterious consequences on the bottom line.

  24. giant wall of vegetarians might help.

  25. Well of course the UN wants to control everyone’s diet. They want to spread the misery.

    1. Yep, basically they want us all to return to living in the trees and flinging poop at each other

      1. We, rhetorically, do that every day. Right here.

  26. “Calculations focusing on agriculture ignore 90 percent of emissions that Americans contribute to the atmosphere. ”

    Isn’t that what calculations focusing on agriculture are supposed to do?

  27. Even if the answer is yes, it’s not worth it.

  28. Nice article about Vegetarians..

    Also see

  29. You can’t beat meat!

  30. “Eat me,” says the guy in the Arcimboldo painting.

  31. Like I said previously, fuck all you vegans and vegetarians.
    I’m going to have a steak tonight.
    It will be cooked rare.
    I will enjoy the blood that flows from it.
    I like the idea of killing a cow so that I can it eat.
    Then I’m going to lie down.
    Later I will produce more gas from my farts to fuck up the ozone layer.
    Then I will defecate and flush it down the toilet to waste more precious water.
    Then I will seek out and mock the brain dead idiots who are stupid enough to believe in the myth of “climate change” with great mirth and merryment.

    1. You sound like a brave guy. How about telling us your name and address?

      1. “ bacteria in the soil absorb all the methane from ruminants if they are in pasture,”

        How is that possible? Farts rise.

        1. That was supposed to be for the comment below this one. Commenting system sucks on mobile…

  32. One study showed bacteria in the soil absorb all the methane from ruminants if they are in pasture, NOT in a feed lot eating grain which produces less desirable meat. But commercial meat production is committed to one way and that won’t change until they lose more market to the “pasture raised” meat/dairy. I have researched and eat ONLY pasture meat, eggs, dairy. Up until 70-80 years ago that was the norm. Big chem sold the farmers on synthetics by offering it cheap at first, then after they were hooked, slowly raised the price.

    1. Commercial meat production utilizes pasture.

      Animals are ‘finished’ in feed lots. They are fed high fat, tasty foods that provide well marbled delicious meat.

      ‘Grass-fed’ animals leave off that last step–so you get to pay premium prices for unfinished meat.

  33. Next they’ll come for dairy. Cow genocide is the final solution.
    مشاوره قبل از ازدواج

  34. It’s a mistake to think that any one of dozens of strategies for reducing carbon emissions will “stop climate change” on its own. Reason magazine needs to really step back from the straw man arguments.

    If we add reduced meat consumption to overall reduced food consumption (Americans typically eat 30-50% more calories than their waistlines appreciate), reduced food waste (about 30-40% of food produced in the US is wasted) and improved agriculture practices that include reducing land and water use and deforestation, then definitely reducing meat consumption could be a part of the solution. 2.5% seems small in isolation, but definitely when you factor in all of the related changes to agriculture that have been called for then it makes a big difference. (And that’s just talking about agriculture.)

    And let’s not forget that the way Americans eat now is the way that 3 billion people in South East Asia want to eat in the future. If that comes about, then meat consumption, on its own, will have a much bigger impact than the current data imply.

  35. So going completely vegan can be proven to have little to no affect in preventing climate change.

    What gets me is that there are some or several popular key ingredients in a vegan diet that requires the clear cutting of rainforests and the death of animals and thier natural habitats, and yet many somehow feel they are better than those who enjoy a steak on the arguments of “death free living” and “better for the environment”. We need the space to farm anything, plants included, and the only way to make that space is to kill and destroy natural lands/habitats for both plants and animals. The loss of a natural habitats is a leading cause of animal extinctions. (Hint: The plants are still alive while you are chewing them until your stomach acids kill them.)

    This article is just proof that those arguments are flawed and we need better reasons to choose our personal diets and shouldn’t be treating someone as inferior simply because they don’t eat the way you do.

  36. Even if it could, is that a world worth living in?

  37. The climate is a living system, and as such, it changes. The only way to stop it from changing is to kill it. No thanks!
    Besides, look up “death rates from climate disasters” and scroll through the images. You’ll find graphs showing a dramatic decline in climate death rates over the last century.

  38. Why should we want to stop climate change? A warming world is a better world.

  39. Eat the rich! Then eat the babies! –AOC

  40. You should title this article, “Why Giving Up Meat Won’t Have Much of an Effect on Climate Change.” Oh, wait. Bailey already wrote an article called that. So why is he regurgitating his alarmist claptrap with a new title? Laziness. Bailey used to be an honorable skeptic and then he was converted to the left’s latest religion: global warming, which is second only to abortion.

  41. No, Vegetarianism stops climate change. veg and No-veg food is part of food chain

  42. You cannot stop something that doesn’t even exist. This is another stupid idea. I hope one day the dinosaurs return in the millions and then when we have dino farts circling the globe, we might have a real problem. But I doubt it. Still eating meat when I want.

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