How do using clean energy and eating vegetarian compare?


Climate change is a complex issue and more often than not its solutions can seem just as complicated. But we’re here to help you navigate the nuances of climate change by honing in on some of the most effective ways to combat it, giving you the tools you need to protect our planet without hindering your daily routines.

Let’s take a closer look at how some common green behaviors compare to simply switching your home to clean energy. We’ll cover the level of impact and effort involved in reducing your meat consumption (for instance, by practicing Meatless Mondays) versus signing up for a clean energy plan. By the end, you’ll have a grasp on a few of the simplest ways to live sustainably!

How does the meat industry impact our environment?

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, agricultural activities — including crop and livestock production for food — make up 10% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). Within the agricultural sector, livestock alone generates a quarter of those emissions. And though many of us understand that the meat industry can be harmful to the environment, the reasons why remain unclear.

Three negative effects of consuming meat:

  1. Cows and other grazing animals (like goats and sheep) produce methane, a potent GHG, during their digestion of grasses and plants.
  2. Chemical fertilizers, which are used on crops produced for cattle feed, emit other types of GHGs.
  3. New land slated for agricultural development results in emissions related to the cutting down of trees, which releases the carbon dioxide stored in forest growth. (Every acre of land devoted to food production is an acre that could have stored far more carbon if allowed to grow forest or native vegetation.)

In simple terms, the burden that this industry has on the environment becomes obvious when you look at all the fossil fuels that are emitted throughout the entire meat production process – from raising livestock to transporting meat across the country. While GHGs are still produced during the agricultural processing of fruits, vegetables, and grains, they exist at a fraction of the amount that is emitted during meat production. And while there are ways to produce meat more sustainably (for example, by using improved management practices like rotational grazing), the most sustainable solution is to reduce our consumption, and therefore the demand, for meat.

How can eating a vegetarian diet help?

Do we all need to cut out meat from our diets entirely in order to curb the negative effects of climate change? The short answer is no. Combating climate change won’t require every person in the world to adopt a strict vegetarian diet, or even stop eating red meat. In fact, if meat consumption in high-consumption countries like the US declined to about 1.5 burgers per person per week by 2050, it would nearly eliminate the need for additional agricultural expansion. Simply decreasing our demand for, and the supply of, meat would make a major difference, even in areas beyond GHG emissions.

Meatless Monday impact

Three positive impacts of a partially vegetarian diet:

  1. Preserve natural habitats and species: The livestock industry is responsible for widespread deforestation, which ruins animals’ natural habitats. However, plant farming does not require nearly as much deforestation.
  2. Minimize the pollution of waterways: Pollution of our waterways is caused by agricultural runoff containing animal waste, antibiotics, and hormones which then enter the water cycle. This type of pollution is not present in plant farming.
  3. Conserve water: Producing beef is estimated to require 13–100 times more water than that which is required to produce the same amount of wheat or other plant crops.

Why is Meatless Monday good for the environment?

Studies on world food security estimate that a diet containing meat requires up to three times as many resources as a vegetarian diet — clearly placing a bigger strain on our environment. Nonetheless, in the US we’ve already made great progress. Specifically beef consumption has already fallen by one-third in the United States since the 1970s, coupled with a growing market for plant-based meat alternatives.

We’ve also made significant strides in environmental protection by adopting other solutions worldwide. One of the most effective solutions that has been increasing in popularity is the use of clean energy — particularly in powering people’s homes. Next, we’ll explore how both using clean energy and eating a vegetarian diet can reduce GHG emissions and majorly reduce your personal carbon footprint.

So, if you eat meat, consider replacing one day’s meals per week with vegetarian meals instead. Because of the impact that raising livestock can have on the environment, reducing your personal consumption by even one meal can reduce your emissions by 1,014 pounds of CO2e, or 507 pounds of coal, every year.

Meatless Monday carbon footprint compared to clean energy

Vegetarianism and clean energy have a lot in common in terms of how they benefit our planet. Clean energy is a great alternative to using fossil fuels just like eating a vegetarian diet can reduce the negative impacts of meat production. Powering your home with fossil fuels and consuming a meat-heavy diet are both lifestyle choices that have negative effects on our environment due to their GHG emissions. The alternatives to these choices, clean energy and vegetarianism, help to reduce GHG emissions.

Both clean energy and vegetarianism have positive impacts on our environment; however, these two choices differ greatly in the effort they require. Consuming less meat is a daily commitment and an important one, but it takes less than five minutes to sign up for a clean energy plan.

When it comes to making the greatest amount of impact for the least amount of effort, using clean energy is the obvious choice. Learn more about signing up for clean energy with Inspire and how other green behaviors compare to using clean energy on our green behaviors blog.