Do I need to give up meat to save the planet?

Dear Sam,

I have a friend who is vegan, and he says I have to stop eating meat to save the planet. I love a good hamburger, though.

What do you think?




Dear Howie,

Who doesn’t love a good burger? I’m with you! There are some tasty meat-free options these days, but that’s beside the point of your question.

The animal agriculture industry does emit a lot of greenhouse gases. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report, methane from ruminant digestion (cows and sheep) and methane and nitrous oxide from manure make livestock the primary source of agricultural emissions.

Another recent study published in Nature Communications found “a substantial reduction in the global environmental impacts by 2050 if globally 50% of the main animal products (pork, chicken, beef, and milk) are substituted—net reduction of forest and natural land is almost fully halted and agriculture and land use GHG emissions decline by 31% in 2050 compared to 2020.”

So, it seems clear that animal agriculture contributes to climate change. But do you have to stop eating meat to make a difference?

No. At least not totally. There’s a lot of space between stopping eating meat and making no change at all. Meatless Mondays is a campaign that started in 2003 which advocates removing meat from your diet on Mondays only. Their calculator shows significant impacts from a one-day-a-week change. And, if you were to add more meat-free days, you would have an even greater impact.

Adding meatless meals to your meal planning every week, if you have access to other options, is an excellent way to take action on climate change. “Flexitarianism” is becoming a popular choice for many, meaning it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. With so many tasty meat-free recipes on the internet and vegetarian and vegan options becoming more and more common at restaurants, it’s easy to add meat-free meals to your routine to reduce your diet’s carbon footprint.