Stopping eating meat can be more polluting than not eating due to the rebound effect

Stopping eating meat can be more polluting than not eating due to the rebound effect

Alberto Garzón , Minister of Consumption, suggested in a video that we should consume less meat : "14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, especially macro-farms, while for us to have 1 kilo of meat of cow requires 15,000 liters of water ".

The problem is that things are not that simple , and estimations are not easy to do either. We often forget that on Earth we are many people, and that all our decisions activate other long chains of decisions that had not previously taken place.

Ambiguous percentages and rebound effect

Studies on the effects of adopting vegetarianism on greenhouse gas emissions offer very disparate figures . This systematic review , for example, suggests that if everyone in developed countries stopped eating meat they would only reduce emissions by 4.3% on average.

And if all Americans went vegan, emissions would drop 2.6% , according to this other study .

If Americans cut their decanre consumption by a quarter, greenhouse gas emissions would only drop 1%, according to this other study published in Nature . And if everyone stopped eating meat altogether, forever, the reduction would be 5%.

But these analyzes are one-dimensional. Life is based on multidimensional interactions that are very difficult to model. At least if we try to model some of them, then we discover counterproductive effects.

For example, if we take into account that plant-based diets are cheaper than meat-based diets, as a result it happens that people tend to spend their money savings on things that require energy , such as consumer products, taking place a rebound effect. As Michael Shellenberger explains in his book There is no apocalypse :

If consumers spend their savings on consumer goods, which require energy, the net energy savings would only be 0.07 percent and the net carbon reduction only 2 percent.

Going vegetarian is a good point to exhibit moral virtuosity, or even a conscious and informed decision to live a healthier life, but the truth is that we cannot trust the environmental future to a set of good intentions that are based on the power of self-control. of people. Only 2-4% of Americans are vegetarians, and nearly 80% of those who try end up failing . Being a vegetarian is like trying to be on a diet, and we are already seeing what happens: the obesity epidemic continues to grow.

To reduce emissions, therefore, we cannot rely on individual decision-based, low-impact, high-sacrifice advice. And even less if we do not take into account the range of new behaviors that this brings . That, of course, does not mean that we can give or receive good advice (although another issue would be if they are so good or are they useful for something other than to position ourselves politically or ideologically):