Burgers to Burnout: The Effects of the Beef Industry on Climate Change

Burgers. The quintessential American meal, a symbol of patriotism, and readily available on nearly every block. Unfortunately, red meat consumption around the world (and especially in the US) is disastrously affecting our planet and its ability to keep us alive.

Cows release a pretty massive amount of methane, and the sheer number of livestock across the world makes the amount even more frightening. Add to that the 34 trillion gallons of water usage each year along with the energy used in the slaughter and meat production, and we’re looking at a major contributor to a host of environmental issues, number one being our changing planet. The production of beef produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than that of potatoes and it requires 28 times more land than other meats like chicken or pork.

We could talk all day about how evil the beef and meat industries are, but the problem truly lies in the demand. Worldwide meat consumption is rising steadily every year, and if the estimates that the global population will be nearly 10 billion by the year 2050 are correct, the problem is only going to get worse. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “the human appetite for animal flesh is a driving force behind virtually every major category of environmental damage now threatening the human future.”

I personally gave up red meat almost ten years ago, and I have never once regretted it. I had a whole host of reasons for doing so, climate change among them. But as I’ve gotten older and learned more about what humans are doing to the planet, I’ve continued to avoid red meat for primarily environmental reasons. I can’t bear the thought of having to explain to my future child that the Earth may not be able to sustain them through a full life, all while knowing that I’d been chomping away at burgers during this pivotal time.

University of Leeds professor Tim Benton said, “The biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat.” Truthfully, I am not suggesting that everyone in the world or even the US give up red meat entirely. It would do wonders for the planet, but I’m not so naive as to think it could actually happen overnight.

While large-scale change can’t happen in the blink of an eye, if anything in this article resonated with you, you do have the power to make changes in your own life and in the lives of people around you. Start with the ever-popular Meatless Mondays and work your way up no red meat or even no meat at all. We’re in a wonderful age where meatless food options are more plentiful than ever, while our time to backpedal climate change is dwindling quickly.


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