Being all freshly retired and looking to spend some of my freed-up time exploring ways of living more sustainably, I decided to reduce, if not quite eradicate, the amount of dairy products I was consuming. No harm in trying, I considered, though I must admit that the thought of eating and drinking the various vegan alternatives new to the market was not overly appealing. Then again, since my diet was almost vegetarian — eating meat and seafood once or so a week and getting most of my protein through pulses, nuts and only a little milk, yoghurt and cheese — how hard could it be?
According to interactive.carbonbrief.org , for every kilogram of cattle reared for dairy, an equivalent of 20kg of carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. Alternative sources of plant-based protein such as nuts and pulses produce about 1 to 2kg and that — admittedly in a very simplistic way — illustrates that giving up dairy for other sources can significantly reduce the emission of greenhouse gases into the air.
For those not fully up with the science: increases in greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and methane has made the Earth’s atmosphere less able to cool at the same rate it is heated by the Sun so the temperature of the Earth has increased and climate change has accelerated — a bad thing.
Other foods that produce high carbon emissions include lamb, cheese, coffee (gulp!), farmed shellfish, palm oil, pork and poultry. Coffee lovers like myself might worry a little over that product’s score of 15kg of carbon dioxide for each kilogram produced but can take some solace from the fact that my coffee maker produces a lovely mug’s-worth using only 10g of ground beans, which compares favourably with the 115g of meat in a quarter-ponder beef burger or chicken piece.
Another measure of a product’s impact on the Earth’s environment is the land use involved. Milk from dairy requires a much higher quantity (about ten-fold) of land use compared with milk made from alternative sources such as oat, soy and almond; land use for beef and mutton is approximately one hundred times that of pulses. This is important as reducing the need for large tracts of land for beef and dairy production would, in turn, reduce the need for wide-ranging forest clearing; land already razed for cattle could be used for growing protein and dairy alternatives or given back to nature to increase biodiversity and provide space for human recreation.
For someone like me who is trying to live more sustainably, doing without dairy seems a worthwhile endeavour… time to experiment!!