Memorial Day marks the beginning of barbecue season in the United States. From now until Labor Day, the population will eat over 800 hot dogs per second on average. That’s a whopping seven billion hot dogs in one summer. Yet, those numbers are nothing compared to America’s biggest BBQ favorites: burgers and steaks.
The US is the world’s top beef consumer at a rate of four times the national average, but countries like China are catching up. Demand for beef is rising across the developing world and could grow 88% by 2050, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Because beef is a resource-intensive process, this trend undermines any hope for future sustainability.
3 Ways Cows Cause Climate Change
1. One cheeseburger uses 660 gallons of water. That’s two months of showers for one person. More than half of the US’s water goes to animal agriculture, and the global meat and dairy industry uses a third of the Earth’s fresh water.
2. Beef production emits 20 times as many greenhouse gases as common plants. Every minute, seven billion pounds of excrement are expelled by farm animals raised in the US. From burps to manure, their waste gives off methane, which traps 25 times as much as heat as carbon.
3. Cattle Farming is the leading cause of deforestation. Latin America is a top beef exporter and they’re expanding to meet increasing demand. This is bad news for the Amazon, considering that farmers clear a land mass the size of Massachusetts every year to make way for cattle farms. They often burn trees to make space, which not only eliminates necessary carbon-consuming trees, it also releases the carbon they had stored.
Beef production's contribution to climate change is often understated because the statistics don’t include the effects of land loss. They also don’t consider the consequences of land used to feed cattle, or the resulting devastation of wildlife habitats. A study from the World Resources Institute found that, with all factors calculated, the environmental footprint of the average American diet is close to the amount of greenhouses gases used by non-agricultural energy use– the leading cause of climate change. The good news? Our choices matter.
How You Can Help
If every other burger Americans ate was plant-based, we could at least eliminate the need for further deforestation. Per-capita beef consumption has already dropped by a third since the 1970s, and the meat-substitute industry is growing rapidly. Plant-based meat is now an accessible reality thanks to brands like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Not to mention, clean meat, which is cultivated in a lab using animal cells, is on the near horizon. Beef-lovers can satisfy their taste buds while minimizing environmental impact.
These innovations could be a saving grace for the health of our plant, and for the 56 billion animals slaughtered every year. If you’re a BBQ-loving American, trying throwing an Impossible Burger on the grill this summer, or maybe a less environmentally-intensive meat like chicken. Our dietary choices can ensure that future generations will also get the chance to celebrate our cherished holidays.
Consumers have the power to sway corporations with every dollar spent. This year, the CEO of Tyson Foods announced that they will start manufacturing their own meat substitute, stating “plant protein is growing faster than animal protein, we want to be where the consumer is.” If public opinion can influence one of the biggest meat distributors in the world, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.