Diet substance has a greater impact than diet origin on greenhouse gas emissions

It’s the meat not the miles. By Rachel Ehrenberg. Science News.

There is much discussion today about the carbon impact of one’s diet. Eat food grown locally, is a common suggestion. An even better one may be to avoid red meat and dairy.





  1. Nathan Hobbs Avatar

    Becoming more involved with the news of Yellowstone Bison and Wolves has taken away a lot of my appetite for eating beef products, I rarely make the choice to order any beef now when eating out.
    This is icing on the cake to know my choice supports the environment as well.

  2. Catbestland Avatar

    I posted this on another thread but it really works here.

    Albert Einstein said, “Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

  3. Pronghorn Avatar

    What’s sad is that there are exactly two comments on this post when posts on bison, wolves, polar bears, et al get 10-20-30 comments of righteous indignation that likely won’t change a thing. But our diet–one thing that we have substantial control over and one place where we can make a real and significant difference–draws little interest. Why is that? Too threatening? Requires personal investment/change? Maybe most posters here have already gone the meatless route? I don’t know.

  4. JB Avatar


    I think if you query the folks here, you’ll find most of us have already changed our diets. I don’t eat beef and have tried to cut down on the diary.


  5. dbaileyhill Avatar

    Ditto for me as well. I am close to being “dairy-free”.

  6. izabelam Avatar

    no beef for me
    no bison for me
    Last steak was at Cattle Barons in Babbs, MT in September 2007 …grrrrrrrrrrrrrrr I am so mad I ate there.
    I did not even think where the meat came from..

    And I eat free range chicken..

  7. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I think any natural systems plant or animal is good for the the environment. I believe it is when we alter those natural systems that problems develops.

    As for ethics I feel it is bad for our mental health (superior attitude) to say one form of life is “higher” than another. Elitism in any form, I feel, blinds our minds and slowly eats away the ability to see and experience the beauty of everything around us.

    Every one of us kills to live and how can we say killing a plant, as compared to killing an animal, means we are exempt from the responsibility of taking its life?

  8. JB Avatar


    I don’t eat beef for the very reason you mentioned–because we (human beings) replaced and extirpated many native species with non-natives, greatly modifying ecosystems in the process. In short, we took a natural system and turned it into a ‘managed’ system (in this particular instance, we manage for cows and sheep; btw, I don’t eat lamb/veal either).

    I never intended to insinuate that one form of life is “higher” than the other; nor, that we are exempt from responsibility of any sort of killing. However, I do believe there is a difference between taking the life of a sentient vs. a non-sentient being. I may have responsibility for killing and consuming a particular plant, but I don’t have empathy for that plant; in contrast, I am able to empathize with sentient creatures, whether I kill them myself or someone does it for me.

  9. Eve Avatar

    Besides the effects on climate change and environmental damage to rangelands and watersheds, anyone who saw the horrific pictures from the last beef recall, when ‘downer’ cows were being pushed around with forklifts has to think twice about eating any product of our industrial agriculture.

    For an absolutely fascinating examination (and indictment) of American industrial food production, I recommend reading Michael Pollen’s “An Omnivore’s Dilemma – A Natural History of Four Meals”. It is not graphic or preachy, but a thoughtful journey that forces you to consider your every day choices.

  10. Catbestland Avatar

    No one is pontificating a style of life here. Even though cruelty and health issues are of great concern, the reason most decide to leave off eating beef is the destruction that the industry causes to the environment. We realize that we have a choice, either contribute to the destruction or refrain from it. It is the same as saying you hate all the litter on the road but then assume your little piece of trash will not make a difference. Well, it does make a difference. It boils down to a choice that each of us has to make whether to be a part of the destruction or not. Are we willing to sacrifice that steak dinner to keep a cow off of public lands which may in turn save a wolf’s life, or at least cause less damage to the ecosystem? I have said before, do we want our children to look upon us as the ones who protected their heritage of wildlife and wild paces or, as the ones who stole it from them. What are we, individually, willing to sacrifice? You simply cannot have it all. You cant have beef for dinner every night and healthy public lands as well. Our choices do matter. And if by chance there is some day of cosmic reckoning (which I personally believe there will be) which side of the argument do we want to come down on?

    There is no comparison to the death of a plant and the death of an animal. A plant does not bleed or scream in pain or try to escape when you kill it.

  11. bob jackson Avatar
    bob jackson

    I grew up on a farm in the heart of U.S. agriculture….Iowa. I knew the livestock business, which my dad was a part of, was not natural then … and it is now 1000 times more industrialized in agriculture now. There was no spraying for weeds except for the 2-4-D the farmers put on thistles. As for livestock there essentially were no confinement operations back then. (I know this dates me).

    Today I take it a big step different than what my dad did. I am glad I could live the life on a farm to help me get to where I want to be today, however. Most of my “change” had to take place in the mind before I could apply it on the ground. This meant I could not distinguish between plant and animal,… nor seperate any of the animal and plant kingdoms from the wind, sun or water. To me all has life. and all is harmonious with my emotions when I think this way.

    Spending half of each year for 30 years in the most remote spot….and natural…. area of the USA I’m sure had a lot to do with forming my thoughts on life. As realtors say; the three things being most important….location, location, and location. It doesn’t mean I am one of the “chosen few” however.

    When I prone out to get a drink of water from a stream it is impossible to not think that water has life. I did it for thirty years in Yellowstone and I lay prone to do the same thing in drinking from a stream on my Iowa farm yesterday. The earth there is the same as it is here.

    This water has life whether it is in Yellowstone or Iowa and I feel we need to consider all water as magical. To violate water with practises that impair it, I feel is wrong and no different than overgrazing mt. sides with domestic animals.

    To me plants have pain even though they can’t scream it like an animal does. They know violations of respect of the people who partake of what is eaten … who can not feel what allows them to live. It is impossible to think differently.

    I think any person who eats without understanding how they fit in as part of everything in the wind and water is missing some of the quality life can provide us. To me it makes no difference if a person wants to eat meat or plants. It is up to them. It is the attitude towards that food that counts.

    Again. there is no way I can believe any different. It is just part of me. So to me there is horror of cattle being in feed lots and there is horror in every grass based rancher who weans a calf from her mother. I also believe there is horror in how our state game and fish dept. set seasons based on population densities. The result of breaking up of family infrastructure in these herd animals adversely effects the ecosystem. Animals, whether “wild” or domestic, without good structure means animals that can not graze in sustainable manner. Our earth hurts because of insensitivities.

    I guess in the end every one of us has to choose his fight and “take on” the most blatant violations of life and environment. I give moral support to all who do. I carry out “my life” on the farm in which I raise (and sell the meat from) bison. I don’t even consider words such as “organic” or “natural’. To me those terms are so limiting when one thinks what these animals consist of. Organic and natural just falls into place without striving for it.

    My thoughts in the end mean practises that allows me to drink the water from my farm the same as I did in Yellowstone. It means I can eat the brains and the nutrient dense spinal ligaments from my mature buffalo without worry of any disease. I can eat the same bison as Native Americans did for thousands of years.

    But again, how I get there has more to do with how I view life…all life…whether it is the wind, plants or animals. I commend everyone out there who tries in what ever way they think can best repair life on this earth.

  12. Catbestland Avatar

    Even within the decision to eat or not eat meat, there are better choices that can be made. For instance, of course it is better for the planet to eat meat from sustainable sources than to purchase hamburger from local supermarket chains. Commercially raised bison are usually not grazed on public lands, so there is a benefit there. It is marginally better for the earth to order the chicken sandwich at Burger King than the double beef Whopper. and so on. Within each of our lives there is room for improvement. We just have to be conscious of the choices we make. For some it is unconscionable to eat the flesh of any creatures for both cruelty and ecological reasons. Others are happy simply to abstain from beef. The consious efforts of both are to be applauded.

    I look at plants as a source of nutrition that was supplied by the Creator to sustain all creatures that contain the “breath of life” within them. Like the air and water. When you cut the grass it grows back. When you pluck fruit, often, more is produced. This is not to say that all creatures are or should be vegetarians, but almost all creatures do at some point eat vegetation. I don’t believe man is naturally a meat eater. And this is not to say that man does not have the right to eat meat. He just needs to make choices with more than his appetite in mind.


Dr. Ralph Maughan is professor emeritus of political science at Idaho State University. He was a Western Watersheds Project Board Member off and on for many years, and was also its President for several years. For a long time he produced Ralph Maughan’s Wolf Report. He was a founder of the Greater Yellowstone Coalition. He and Jackie Johnson Maughan wrote three editions of “Hiking Idaho.” He also wrote “Beyond the Tetons” and “Backpacking Wyoming’s Teton and Washakie Wilderness.” He created and is the administrator of The Wildlife News.

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