Science Questions

What tiny changes could we all make to reduce enviromental impact?

Tue, 4th Oct 2016

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Richard Thornley asked:

What very very tiny easy changes can we all make in our lives that will add up overall to us having a reduced environmental impact?


We put this to zoologist Max Gray... earth

Max - So thereís a whole bunch of things you could do: making sure youíve turned your lights off; donít leave the fridge door open too long when you're looking in the fridge; spend less time in the shower. Thereís lots of things that will make a tiny difference but the small things that wonít necessarily change your life that much but that could make the biggest difference is what you choose to eat. The amount of meat you eat is probably on an individual basis, per person, the biggest single contribution to how much environmental impact you, as a person, have. Iím not saying everybody needs to go vegetarian or, indeed, needs to give up meat but just eating less meat. Loads of people eat meat for two meals a day, particularly will have meat during lunch and during dinner.

Chris - Why is meat so bad Max?

Max - Itís because of the amount of energy that is required to produce meat compared to producing vegetables, for example. Energy initially comes from the Sun and gets absorbed by plants through photosynthesis. They create proteins and sugars and thatís where you get the food from. The efficiency is better going from sunlight to plants than if it has to go from sunlight to plants and then be fed to an animal. The energy isnít transferred a hundred per cent efficiently and so it takes a lot more energy to get to a plant. And itís factored into the amount of water that is required to keep cattle, the amount of energy that goes to growing the crops to produce cattle feed, and thatís before you even count the amount of methane that cows burp into the atmosphere.

Chris - But not all meats are equivalently bad are they?

Max - No.

Chris -   I think beef is the worst culprit.

Max - Beef is by far and away the worst - followed by lamb, followed by pork.

Chris - So whatís best - what can I eat with lessÖ

Max - Chicken is roughly on a par with hard cheese. So cheeseÖ

Chris - It tastes better though!

Max - Well, I donít know. Iíd pick cheese over chicken most days, myself.

Chris - You prefer cheese?

Max - Who doesnít! If youíre lactose intolerant, I suppose, they get a pass.


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Only eat meat once per week. If that sounds like a big change, maybe try eating no meat one day per week (and don't reward yourself with a big steak the next day  ), and after doing that for a month, try going 2 days per week without meat...

Livestock (especially cattle, but also pigs, sheep, and chickens) have an incredibly large environmental impact.
Read about it here:
or do some googling chiralSPO, Sat, 23rd Apr 2016

Absolutely agree. Farm animals generate 25% of all anthropogenic carbon dioxide and change the landscape. If you must eat meat, go for pork or chicken (more efficient protein converters than cattle) or preferably sheep/goat (grazed on land that can't be used for arable crops). If you want to make a really big positive contribution, eat insects.

Next, wear lots of wool (aha! the sheep again!) and turn off the central heating. 40% of energy consumption is for space heating which is completely unnecessary (ask any Inuit) and leads to obesity (75% of the calories you consume are used to maintain your body temperature - or would be, if we didn't heat our environment). 

Best of all, die. The hallmark of life is that every living thing consumes its environment and excretes toxins. alancalverd, Sat, 23rd Apr 2016

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