As more evidence linking animal agriculture and climate change mounts, the omnivore’s dilemma intensifies. Now, one of the world’s leading environmentalists is tipping the scales a bit more, by claiming that free-range animal farming – often marketed as a kinder, gentler approach to eating meat – is worse for the planet than airplane travel. Guardian columnist George Monbiot has long been saying “flying is dying,” expressing his belief that there is no greater threat to the environment than long-range airplane travel. Monbiot is now making an exception, adding the so-called ‘ethical’ form of meat production to his list of things that damage our ecosystems.
According to Monbiot, “free-range” can be a troubling word when it comes to the farming of animals for human consumption. It implies, well, freedom, yet the animals living what consumers hope is a decent life will still all meet the same untimely end when they are slaughtered in the name of someone’s dinner plate. Monbiot took particular issue with free-range meats in a column published just before Christmas, entitled “Warning: Your festive meal could be more damaging than a long-haul flight.”
In it, Monbiot discusses the relationship between greenhouse gas emissions and beef production, breaking it down on a per kilogram level. Quoting a figure from a scientific paper that he verified personally, Monbiot explains: “A kilogram of beef protein reared on a British hill farm can generate the equivalent of 643 kg of carbon dioxide. A kilogram of lamb protein produced in the same place can generate 749 kg. One kilo of protein from either source, in other words, causes more greenhouse gas emissions than a passenger flying from London to New York… You could exchange your flight for an average of 3 kg [6.6 lbs] of lamb protein from hill farms in England and Wales. You’d have to eat 300 kg [660 lbs] of soy protein to create the same impact.”
The links Monbiot illustrates aren’t revolutionary, as it’s long been understood that devoting land and water to animal farming is more resource-intensive than vegetal crops. While some scientists are working on ways to green the process of animal farming, mostly by finding ways to reuse waste, the only true solution to this particular dilemma is quite obvious. Reducing consumption of animals would save untold resources while making drastic cuts to carbon dioxide emissions that are damaging the Earth’s environment. Monbiot doesn’t want to advocate for the abolition of animal products from the human diet, but he does urge people to “eat far less” meat in an effort to reduce our individual footprints.
If you’re looking for ways to reduce your meat consumption, check out some of the meatless recipes we’ve featured in the past.