Yes, eating meat affects the environment, but cows are not killing the climate

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Cattle grazing on public lands near Steens Mountain, Oregon (photo credit: BLM/Greg Shine, CC BY). 

Frank M. Mitloehner, University of California, Davis

As the scale and impacts of climate change become increasingly alarming, meat is a popular target for action. Advocates urge the public to eat less meat to save the environment. Some activists have called for taxing meat to reduce consumption of it.

A key claim underlying these arguments holds that globally, meat production generates more greenhouse gases than the entire transportation sector. However, this claim is demonstrably wrong, as I will show. And its persistence has led to false assumptions about the linkage between meat and climate change.

My research focuses on ways in which animal agriculture affects air quality and climate change. In my view, there are many reasons for either choosing animal protein or opting for a vegetarian selection. However, foregoing meat and meat products is not the environmental panacea many would have us believe. And if taken to an extreme, it also could have harmful nutritional consequences.

Global livestock production by region (milk and eggs expressed in protein terms) (FAO, CC BY-ND).