Aspiring to be an environmentalist in the modern world.

Cows on a Plane

Cows on a Plane

Sitting on a plane flying towards Makassar, I’m asked ‘Fish or beef?’ by the air steward. I smugly reply “fish, terimah kasi”. My self satisfied expression is due to the fact that I don’t tend to eat cows, as their impact on the environment is huge. I’m stopping the world from melting by making my sustainable meal choice. Whilst sitting in a jet. So, is there any point in foregoing the steak or would staying put in Blighty make much more of a difference?

The Impact of Beef

Beef agriculture is terrible for the planet. It requires using 28 times more land and 11 times more water than for pork or chicken.  The cows exude methane, adding to the global warming of the planet. The recent hurricanes in the Americas were more severe due to a warmer ocean, showing how much damage changing weather can do to our society. It’s often claimed that giving up the burgers would have a greater impact on one’s carbon footprint than losing the car.

The Price of Flying

On average I have flown 3,623 miles in the air every year.  At 0.199 kg CO2e per passenger mile (median value from here), I’ve released the equivalent of 721 kg of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere each time we hurtled around the sun.

How does that compare to an 8oz steak? Each steak releases about 5kg CO2e (using the average for a US farmed cow). In other words:

one steak = 25 air miles

My justifications have included travel making me a better person and teacher, but most often it’s time. I could have caught the train, but it would have taken a day instead of 2 hours. I’d have to not eat 144 steaks a year to make up for my flying.

I suppose the alternative would be having contributed to the COwith travel and eating beef, and if everyone ate like me then the emissions from food would be greatly reduced. But does my frequent flying just make me a hypocrite?


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