The environmental cost of raising cattle through conventional farming, slaughtering the animal and distributing the meat. Producing a kilo of beef causes the equivalent of 36.4 kilos of CO2.

Small behavioural changes, big effects

Steve Clemens | UBI

EarthToys Renewable Energy Article
The environmental cost of raising cattle through conventional farming, slaughtering the animal and distributing the meat. Producing a kilo of beef causes the equivalent of 36.4 kilos of CO2.
Small behavioural changes, big effects

Steve Clemens, Prof. Environmental Education at UBI, Brussels


The inhabitants of the wealthier nations of the world, say of the OECD countries, amount up to about 1,1 billion of people1. When and if ever we would manage to effect small and seemingly insignificant behavioural eco-changes with such great numbers, it could make a big difference. Below are a few examples that are not beyond the possible: 

  • Reduce meat intake by half.   Most Western inhabitants are stuck to a diet which contains too much meat to be healthy. The current global average meat consumption is 100 g per person per day, with about a ten-fold variation between high-consuming and low-consuming populations. According to an article in medical journal The Lancet2, 90 g per day is proposed as a working global target. But in OECD countries tradition and cultural habits cause excessive meat intake, and it is helping us to high incidences of heart diseases, hypertension, bone loss with older women, kidney failure, high cholesterol, anemia, arthritis, breast cancer, cancer of the colon, cancer of the prostate, diabetes, gall stones, gout, high blood pressure, obesity, piles, strokes and varicose veins.   There are 20 billion head of livestock taking up space on the Earth, more than triple the number of people. A Japanese study led by Akifumi Ogino3 of the National Institute of Livestock and Grassland Science in Tsukuba, calculated the environmental cost of raising cattle through conventional farming, slaughtering the animal and distributing the meat. Producing a kilo of beef causes the equivalent of 36.4 kilos of CO2. Most of these greenhouse-gas emissions, but not all, take the form of methane, released from the cow's digestive system. That one kilo of beef also requires 48 KWh energy to produce and transport the animals' feed.   If 1/4th of the OECD meat-eaters would reduce their daily meat intake to doctors’ recommended 100g, next to significantly lowering individual well being and societal health costs, this would reduce the CO2 emissions by about 1 billion tons per year. If indeed, at current emission levels, another 3 GtC are added every year4, this meat-reduced-diet would reduce the carbon emissions by 1/3rd.
  • Ride a bicycle for short trips.   Cars are often used for very short trips to the local shop or bakery. According to the 1990 National Personal Transportation Survey in the California Bay Area:  40% of all trips are two miles or less, and two-thirds are five miles or less. Experts from VCD motoring association in Berlin5, Germany, say that more than half of the car journeys made in Germany – which is typical of western European countries with a high level of car ownership – are shorter than 6 kilometres (3.7 miles). And, 5% of trips made are less than one kilometre in distance. A study6 in Flanders, Belgium, reveals that 43% of all car trips in the Flemish region are less than 5km, and 26% of trips are only 1km in distance.  Every kilometre of travel done by bike instead of a car saves about 250gr of CO27, also because these short trips are relatively fuel inefficient as car engines need time to warm up. Based on a Pilot Project8 in the Flemish town of Sint-Truiden, where 250 citizens jointly avoided 75.000 short trip car-kilometres over 3 months, we could calculate that: if only 1/5th the OECD population would execute its short trips on bicycle, next to the increased cardio-vascular health, less parking hassle and safer streets, this would save about 66 million tons of CO2 per year, or: 2% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
     
  • Wash our laundry at lower temperatures.   New products at laundry detergent manufacturers allow us to wash our laundry at lower temperatures while keeping the wash cleanliness of hotter temperatures. A life-cycle analysis at Procter & Gamble showed that the biggest part of the energy footprint of laundry detergents are situated at the level of the user’s heating of water, and switching from 40°C to 30°C makes a difference of approximately 200Wh per wash9, and people have an average of 1,8 washes per week per person.   If 1/2 of the OECD households would reduce their washing temperatures by only 10°C, at no discomfort or loss of cleanliness of clothes, this would reduce the CO2 emissions by 10,3 million tons per year, or: 0,3% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
     
  • Replace incandescent lights by low-energy CFL lights.   A 12W CFL light saves 48kg of CO2 per year10 over a similar light-emitting incandescent light bulb of 60W. If all households would switch just 1 light bulb per family member from incandescent to CFL, this would save 52,8 million tons of CO2 per year, or: 1,7% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.
 Another few un-computed examples here:
  • Ride a motorbike. Cars are often used to commute to/from work with single occupancy, resulting in more fuel consumption due in part to lower fuel efficiency of cars vs. motorcycles, but mainly due to idling while stuck in congestion from the clogged-up streets and highways.

  • Watch LED TV instead of the LCD or CRT. ‘Old style’ CRT TV’s consume a lot more power (approx. 300W) than current day popular LCD TV’s at approx. 150W, but the new generation of LED TV’s are even leaner with only 45W power needs.

  • Drinking tap water instead of bottled (often imported) water: 185g CO2/L for Volvic, 172g/l Evianxi, as opposed to 0,3g/L tap water.

  • Read newspapers and magazines online instead of in paper versions.

  • Lower the thermostat by 1°C saves about 7% of fuel consumption.

i J. Bennet, Investment in Population Health in Five OECD Countries, OECD Health Working Papers No. 2, DELSA/ELSA/WD/HEA(2003)
ii A. McMichael, J. Powels, C. Butler and R. Uauy, Food, livestock production, energy, climate change, and health. The Lancet 2007; 370:1253-1263.
iii Akifumi OGINO, Hideki ORITO, Kazuhiro SHIMADA, Hiroyuki HIROOKA (2007), Evaluating environmental impacts of the Japanese beef cow-calf system by the life cycle assessment method, Animal Science Journal 78 (4), 424–432.
iv R. Watson, The Carbon Cycle - Policy Nexus, UNFCCC COP-6bis, Bonn, Germany, 16 July 2001.
v G. Lottsiepen, Cut short car trips to save fuel, VCD VerkehrsClub Deutschland, Berlin, May 2007.
vi Mobiel 21, Reducing short car trips in favour of more sustainable modes, ECOMM 2005 Seminar -27th-28th October 2005 -Parma (Italy).
vii G. Lottsiepen, Cut short car trips to save fuel, VCD VerkehrsClub Deutschland, Berlin, May 2007.
viii Mobiel 21, Reducing short car trips in favour of more sustainable modes, ECOMM 2005 Seminar -27th-28th October 2005 -Parma (Italy).
ix E. Saouter and G. van Hoof, A Database for the Life-Cycle Assessment of Procter & Gamble Laundry Detergents, LCA Case Studies, Procter & Gamble, Belgium, 2001
x A. Stenquist, S. Patel and F. Chohan, Examining Environmentally Friendly Lighting Options for Pendleton Hall, Wellesley College, Massachusetts, May 2007
xi www.danone.co.uk

 


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