A new online tool that calculates how our eating habits impact the environment has revealed that if everyone had the same diet as the USA we’d need another planet.
A PhD student examined the results of more than 1,500 studies into farming, food production and water usage to create the online tool.
The calculator, part of the Poland based Omni Calculator Project, examines the impact of meat consumption on land use, water and air pollution.
Currently 50 per cent of the Earth’s land is given over to food production, but that could go down to as little as 12 per cent if everyone turned vegan, they found.
Developer, Hanna Pamula, said she wanted to prove that even a small drop in meat consumption could make a difference to the environment.
As part of the study the researchers found that eating just one serving of chicken, pork, beef, lamb or fish a week can have a ‘devastating impact’ on carbon footprints.
‘We don’t need a handful of people performing meat reduction perfectly, by changing to a vegan or vegetarian diet’, said Ms Pamula.
‘We need millions of people doing it imperfectly, reducing meat consumption as much as possible.’
Eating five servings of meat per week uses the same amount of water as 13 people would drink in a year – about 3,159 gallons.
They also found that 31 trees were needed to absorb the amount of CO2 emissions produced by eating five portions of meat per week over the course of a month.
That is the energy equivalent of driving 141 miles in an average car or charging a smartphone 7,320 times.
The calculator has been published on the Omni Calculator Project website but is available here for a snapshot of the impact your own meat consumption has on the environment – based on the study findings.
The Omni Calculator Project was designed by a team of doctors, scientists and economists to produce ‘factual evidence behind every day issues’.
The researcher notes that animal agriculture is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for about 13-18 per cent of global emissions.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency all agriculture accounts for 24 per cent, second to electricity and heat production at 25 per cent.
The amount of water used in the production of meat is also a ‘major source of concern’, according to the research team.
‘Meat consumption has recently soared, as more countries begin to develop and global society is getting richer’, said Ms Pamula.
‘In the last 50 years, the amount of meat eaten globally quadrupled, exceeding 320 million tonnes per year.
‘Unfortunately, meat is a very inefficient food if you take into account the resources needed for production and the amount of protein obtained.’
Beef production needs the most water at about 4,000 gallons to produce 2.2lbs of meat – making it ‘the most water-intensive protein’, the study found.
‘Lamb is a bit less greedy (over 2700 gallons/10,400 litres), and poultry production takes 1100 gal (4300 l) per kilo of meat’, said Pamula.
‘That’s rather a lot, especially when compared to what we drink on a daily basis.’
They also found meat takes up far more land than growing vegetables, with beef production requiring 22 times more land than pea production.
If every person in the world had the UK’s meat consumption and average diet, 95 per cent of global habitable area would be needed for agriculture, the team found.
‘Even more terrifying results appear if the whole world chose the US’s average diet – 138 per cent of the global habitable area would be needed’, said Ms Pamula.
‘Unfortunately, we can’t do it – we don’t have a spare planet.’
The flip side to that fact is that if everyone switched to a vegan diet then the amount of land used to produce food would drop by more than 75 per cent, she said.
‘With the human population growing rapidly, we’ll need more and more land for living, but also for food production.’
One of the most significant findings was the fact that the lowest-impact animal product exceeded the impact of the average vegetable substitute.
‘This should lead to the conclusion that even a small diet change is really beneficial for the environment’, Pamula said.