Climatic Change

, Volume 143, Issue 1–2, pp 261–270

Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets

  • Helen Harwatt
  • Joan Sabaté
  • Gidon Eshel
  • Sam Soret
  • William Ripple
Article

Abstract

Shifting dietary patterns for environmental benefits has long been advocated. In relation to mitigating climate change, the debate has been more recent, with a growing interest from policy makers, academics, and society. Many researchers have highlighted the need for changes to food consumption in order to achieve the required greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions. So far, food consumption has not been anchored in climate change policy to the same extent as energy production and usage, nor has it been considered within the context of achieving GHG targets to a level where tangible outputs are available. Here, we address those issues by performing a relatively simple analysis that considers the extent to which one food exchange could contribute to achieving GHG reduction targets in the United States (US). We use the targeted reduction for 2020 as a reference and apply published Life Cycle Assessment data on GHG emissions to beans and beef consumed in the US. We calculate the difference in GHGs resulting from the replacement of beef with beans in terms of both calories and protein. Our results demonstrate that substituting one food for another, beans for beef, could achieve approximately 46 to 74% of the reductions needed to meet the 2020 GHG target for the US. In turn, this shift would free up 42% of US cropland (692,918 km2). While not currently recognized as a climate policy option, the “beans for beef” scenario offers significant climate change mitigation and other environmental benefits, illustrating the high potential of animal to plant food shifts.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen Harwatt
    • 1
  • Joan Sabaté
    • 1
  • Gidon Eshel
    • 2
    • 3
  • Sam Soret
    • 1
  • William Ripple
    • 4
  1. 1.Loma Linda UniversityLoma LindaUSA
  2. 2.Physics DepartmentBard College, Annandale-on-HudsonNew YorkUSA
  3. 3.Radcliffe Inst. for Advanced StudyHarvardUSA
  4. 4.Department of Forest Ecosystems and SocietyOregon State UniversityCorvallisUSA

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