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Grass-Fed Beef Is Actually Worse for the Planet, Report Finds

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There are plenty of reasons to reject factory farming, but in the case of beef, your carbon footprint shouldn’t be one of them. According to EcoWatch, new research shows that grazed cattle provide an outsized contribution to greenhouse gasses, as opposed to cattle kept largely indoors and fed on grain.

The report [PDF], released by Oxford’s Food Climate Research Network, aims to provide definitive answers to what has been a heavily debated topic in environmental circles. Some research has found that grazing cattle actually reduces the carbon footprints of beef operations, because all that pasture stores carbon and prevents it from being released into the atmosphere, and because all that chomping stimulates new vegetation growth. Other research has found that the benefits aren’t as great as the grass-fed boosters estimate—especially since the fields of grain used to grow cattle feed for factory farms sequester carbon, too.

The new Oxford research comes down firmly on the side of the latter camp. It finds that while grass-fed operations can help sequester carbon, it’s “only under very specific conditions,” in part since the definition of what a grassland is can vary wildly. There are natural ranges dominated by wild vegetation, there are pastures that are actively maintained and managed by farmers, and there is land that lies somewhere in between. Overgrazing, trampling, and soil conditions can all negatively impact how much carbon the grasses can sequester. And even under the best conditions, the gains can be short-lived. “This sequestering of carbon is even then small, time-limited, reversible, and substantially outweighed by the greenhouse gas emissions these grazing animals generate,” according to FCRN.

And it seems that even if the vegetation does sequester carbon, grass-fed beef is still an outsized source of greenhouse gasses.

To begin with, all cattle are a huge drain on the environment, no matter how you feed them. The report estimates that the livestock supply chain generates around 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and cattle create 65 percent of those livestock emissions. But even compared to cattle in general, grass-fed animals are heavy polluters. Within the global protein supply, grass-fed beef makes up around 1 gram of protein per person, per day, compared to 13 grams from all ruminants (cattle, sheep, goats, etc.). But these grazed cattle generate up to a third of all global greenhouse emissions from ruminants. In other words, grass-eating cattle create an outsized cost—emissions-wise—compared to the meat they provide.

And the carbon sequestration doesn't help enough to offset that. The report estimates that the carbon sequestration that might occur from grazing practices would only offset emissions by 20 percent.

There are other reasons to buy grass-fed beef, of course, whether it’s about ethical concerns with factory farming or just a taste preference. But if you’re going to choose grass-fed, your reason shouldn’t be concern for the environment.

[h/t EcoWatch]

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Eco-Friendly Cruise Ship Design Includes Vertical Farms, Solar Sails, and a "Plant Kingdom"
Oliver Design
Oliver Design

If you want to reduce the environmental impact of your next vacation, you could do better than boarding a cruise ship. Luxury liners consume tons of fuel and produce even more sewage that is often dumped directly into the ocean. But cruises don’t have to be disastrous for the Earth by design: As inhabitat reports, the newly-designed Ecoship aims to be the most eco-friendly cruise ship on the seas.

The futuristic vessel was envisioned by the firm Oliver Design for the Japanese humanitarian organization Peace Boat. For decades, Peace Boat has been spreading its message of global social change through “peace voyages” that sail around the world. The Ecoship will embody this mission by being kinder to the environment than conventional cruise ships. Ten photovoltaic solar sails extend from the deck like giant fins, collecting clean energy to supplement the hybrid engine. Retractable wind generators harvest energy as well.

According to Oliver Design, the Ecoship will produce 30 percent less carbon dioxide than modern cruise ships. The vessel’s electrical system has also been updated with both the solar sails and kinetic floors onboard providing power. The biggest change comes in the sewage operations: Both the waste and water will be fed through a closed loop, which means that whatever’s produced is filtered and recycled again and again.

As these features are working behind the scenes, passengers will get to see some Earth-friendly amenities up close. A “plant kingdom” that covers five decks will consume surplus waste, water, and carbon dioxide produced by the ship, while vertical farms will be used to grow vegetables for meals.

When the Ecoship sets sail in 2020, it will continue to spread awareness of the changing climate that inspired its design. Oliver Design writes on its webpage, “The organization [Peace Boat] wants the Ecoship to be a turning point for the shipping industry and a flagship for raising awareness on climate change. As well as hosting Peace Boat’s voyages throughout the world, the ship will be used to stage exhibitions on green technology at the 100 ports where it is expected to dock each year.” You can check out the concept art for the project in the video below.

[h/t inhabitat]

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The Most (and Least) Expensive States for Staying Warm This Winter
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It’s that time of year again: Temperatures outside have plummeted, while your monthly heating bill is on the rise. If you want an idea of how much heat will cost you this winter (perhaps you blocked out last year’s damage to your bank account), one reliable indicator is location.

Average energy expenses vary from state to state due to factors like weather, house size, and local gas prices. Using data from sources including the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, WalletHub calculated the average monthly utility bill totals for all 50 states plus Washington D.C. in 2017.

Source: WalletHub

The personal finance website looked at four energy costs: electricity, natural gas, car fuel, and home heating oil. After putting these components together, Connecticut was found to be the state with the highest energy costs in 2017, with an average of $380 in monthly bills, followed by Alaska with $332 and Rhode Island with $329.

That includes data from the summer and winter months. For a better picture of which state’s residents spend the most on heat, we have to look at the individual energy costs. Michigan, which ranks 33rd overall, outdoes every other state in the natural gas department with an average bill of $60 a month. Alaska is close behind with $59, followed by Rhode Island With $58.

People living in Maine prefer oil to heat their homes, spending $84 a month on the fuel source. All six New England states—Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts—occupy the top six spots in this category.

So which state should you move to if you want to see your heating bill disappear? In Florida, the average household spends just $3 a month on natural gas and $0 on heating oil. In Hawaii, on average, the oil bill is $0 as well, and slightly higher for gas at $4. Of course, they make up for it when it comes time to crank up the AC: Both states break the top 10 in highest electricity costs.


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