According to the North American Meat Institute, 37 percent of meat consumed by the average American is poultry and 55 percent is red meat. Assuming Americans eat the same proportion of beef, pork, and lamb, and using those carbon dioxide values, you can get a rough estimate of how many kilograms of carbon dioxide meat production and consumption produces on an average American day.
1 – Beef = 576,965,000 kilograms of CO2
1 – Lamb = 576,965,000 kilograms of CO2
2 – Chicken = 202,640,000 kilograms of CO2
3 – Pork = 178,164,000 kilograms of CO2
Total = 1.53 million tonnes (1.69 million tons) of CO2 per day. If everyone stopped eating meat for just one day per year, and the livestock numbers changed to reflect this, this is how much CO2 would be saved. It’s a truly remarkable number.
As a point of comparison, if everyone went meat-free for one year, this equates to 558 million tonnes of CO2, which according to our calculations is 10 percent of America’s total carbon emissions, as of 2015. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that all of America's agriculture produces 9 percent of the country's total emissions, which happily suggests that our calculations are broadly correct.
So is it worth going meat-free for just one day per year? For environmental reasons, it absolutely is. Imagine going meat-free once per week then, as an increasing number of people are doing!
According to the most comprehensive plan to combat climate change yet, if 50 percent of the world adopted a more plant-based diet by 2050 – and cut back on agriculture-related deforestation too – then 66 billion tonnes (about 73 billion tons) of CO2 could be prevented from reaching the atmosphere.
This makes a plant-based diet the fourth-most effective way for the planet to cut its carbon footprint, according to that analysis. So what are we waiting for?