With one dietary change, the U.S. could meet its emissions goals


What if we told you that the U.S. could almost completely meet the emissions goals Barack Obama promised with one small change? And what if we said that simple (but not-so-easy) solution involves eating beans instead beef? Would you do it?

Environmental scientist Helen Harwatt has spent years trying to maximize the impacts of individuals on the environment. And in a recent study she found that one of the biggest impacts Americans can make is to give up beef for beans.

In fact, if every American were to make this dietary change, the U.S. would nearly reach the greenhouse gas emissions goals pledged by Obama in 2009. More precisely, this means we would reduce emissions by nearly 17 percent (from what they were in 2005) by 2020. (Hint: that’s actually a really big deal).

Why beans? For Harwatt, the choice was easy. Farmers need one metric ton of food in order to feed about 42 head of cattle daily. And that food is often beans. Cows eat the beans to fatten up, and then humans eat the cows. But in the meantime, the cows emit lots of greenhouse gas and eat lots of perfectly good beans. So why not just cut out the middleman (the cow) and reduce emissions all at the same time?

This little switch from beef to beans would not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It'd cut back on deforestation, land degradation and free up about 42 percent of U.S. cropland, which, alone, would greatly benefit the environment.

Takeaway: Okay, so this hypothetical situation is not going to happen. Americans won’t be switching from beef to beans anytime soon, and even if they did, we would still have millions of cattle and millions of acres of cattle farming infrastructure to deal with. But there is an important lesson to learn from this study: even as individuals, we can have a big impact (both positive and negative) on the environment. And cutting back on beef can make a huge difference.

Read more at: The Atlantic’s If Everyone Ate Beans Instead of Beef

Are you willing to make this change?