On the whole a diet that includes meat has a higher carbon footprint than a diet of plant foods. That’s because meat production is largely centered on CAFOs–factory farms that are divorced from the countryside where livestock used to be raised. Factory animals are fed almost nothing but corn, which is often shipped long distances. After the slaughter meat is shipped out in refrigerated box cars and semis.
This situation is one reason why I disagree that living in large cities will benefit the global environment. Living rurally permits one to live close to farms and pastures. And the food tastes better.
If I consume grass-fed beef from a pasture a few miles away, how does my carbon footprint compare with eating tofu from soybeans that were raised in South America where the Amazon forest is being cut everyday to make room for new soybean fields?
But I have to admit that most people live in cities and eat industrialized, carbon-intensive meat.
Does that mean we should all be vegans? (A vegetarian’s diet accounts for close to the same amount of carbon as a meat-eater. That’s because eggs and dairy are inextricable from the livestock industries.) I support the decision to become a vegan, but looking at diet strictly as an issue of using energy, I believe a more accessible goal would be to reduce the amount of meat we eat and to eat free-range animals. Most Americans eat way more protein than they need.
If you don’t want to be a vegan, eat less meat and choose wisely the kind of meat you eat.