The joints of meat that do more damage than a long-haul flight
By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 23rd December 2015
The figures were so astounding that I refused to believe them. I found them buried in a footnote, and assumed at first that they must have been a misprint. So I checked the source, wrote to the person who first published them(1), and followed the citations. To my amazement, they appear to stand up.
A kilogramme of beef protein reared on a British hill farm can generate the equivalent of 643 kg of carbon dioxide. A kilogramme 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(2).
This is the worst case, and the figure comes from a farm whose soils have a high carbon content. But the numbers uncovered by a wider study are hardly reassuring: you could exchange your flight to New York for an average of 3kg of lamb protein from hill farms in England and Wales(3). You’d have to eat 300kg of soy protein to create the same impact.
In choosing our Christmas dinner – or making any other choice – we appear to take informed and rational decisions. But what looks and feels right is sometimes anything but. In this case, the very features we have been led to see as virtuous – animals wandering freely across the mountains, tended by horny-handed shepherds, no concrete and steel monstrosities or any of the other ugliness of modern intensive farming – generate astonishing impacts.