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

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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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Acknowledgements

We dedicate this article to the memory of our valued colleague and co-author, Dr. Sam Soret, 1962 - 2016.

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HH conceptualized the research, conducted the analysis and wrote the article; JS obtained part of the research funding; GE assisted with the analysis and writing; SS obtained part of the research funding; WR assisted with the analysis and writing. All authors contributed to editing the article.

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Correspondence to Helen Harwatt.

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Harwatt, H., Sabaté, J., Eshel, G. et al. Substituting beans for beef as a contribution toward US climate change targets. Climatic Change 143, 261–270 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10584-017-1969-1

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