A Burger Won’t Negate an Airplane

Over the past decade, my bovine friends have started to receive a bad rap for releasing their bodily fumes into the air (apparently they are the only animals on the planet that belch – shame!). Many people have even gone so far as to blame our planet’s changing climate on cows, in an attempt to create a scapegoat for their own drastically impactful behavior. So, indulge me for a moment while we talk about climate change, population growth and cows.
Over the last 100+ years, the global temperature has increased by ~0.74°C. Global sea level has risen by 17 cm during the 20th century, in part because of the melting of snow and ice from many mountains and in the polar regions.* Clearly, the planet is getting a wee bit warmer and our climate is changing.
Now let’s think about what has happened in the past 100 years:


  • U.S. population – 107 million
  • World population – 1.8 billion
  • Cars on American roads – ~7 million
  • Number of flights in the U.S.– First commercial flight wasn’t until 1926 and air travel wasn’t common until 1950s but we’ll use 5,000 for 1920 as a benchmark even though that is vastly overshooting it.
  • Number of cows in the U.S. – 12.5 million


  • U.S. population – 331 million – 209% increase
  • World population – 7.75 billion – 330% increase
  • Cars on American roads – 269 million – 3,742% increase
  • Number of flights in the U.S. – 16.1+ million – 321,000% INCREASE
  • Number of cows in the U.S. – 41.1 million – 228% increase

Look at the increase in the number of cars in the U.S over past 100 years. Look at the number of planes now in commission. The average coast-to-coast round-trip flight from New York to San Fran produces 2-3 tons of carbon dioxide per person. PER PERSON. With about 300 seats on a coast-to-coast flight, that’s roughly 600-900 tons of CO2 from one round-trip flight. Mind-blowing, honestly. If you combine all 16 million U.S. flights’ GHG emissions with the GHG emissions from 269 million cars, you’d have accounted for 29% of all U.S. GHG emissions.

Do you know what percentage of GHG cows are responsible for? Two percent.

That’s right, a measly 2% of all GHG emissions are attributed to cattle and all of agriculture (the sector that feeds 331 million people) is only 9%.** How cool is that that our food production process is so efficient that we feed 331 million people with that low of a climate impact?!

In regards to food production, let’s keep our wits about us and remember that ALL FOOD HAS AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT. Bread, green beans, beef, ice cream, carrots, the Impossible Burger – all of these things have an environmental impact, and some deliver a more powerful caloric punch than others.

For example: plain old iceberg lettuce – you know the kind that is mostly water and has no caloric value? That lettuce takes a tremendous amount of water to grow and can only be grown in certain regions of the U.S., it then has to be transported across the nation where it is largely thrown in the trash*** or used as a delivery vessel for bacon, ranch, croutons, carrots and cheese.

Conversely, cattle take human non-edible foods (stuff that we are too picky to eat, like bruised apples or potato tops) and turn it into high-quality protein. Cattle are raised for beef in all 50 states, so it doesn’t have be transported from one side of the country to the other. Additionally, beef is one of the least wasted foods and delivers a much more nutrition-packed meal than lettuce. It’s a good or excellent source of 10 different nutrients such as protein, zinc, iron and B-vitamins. It’s not really fair to compare iceberg lettuce to beef.

Here’s the real story: do not sit on your soapbox and tell me that cows are responsible for climate change. I will not hear it.
Do not attempt to tell me that eating less meat will somehow miraculously offset the miles driven by cars, flights across the U.S., electronic use and consumerism. That’s bull hockey.
Until next time,
~ Buzzard ~
[bctt tweet=”Do not attempt to tell me that eating less meat will somehow miraculously offset the miles driven by cars, flights across the U.S., electronic use and consumerism.” username=”brandibuzzard”] 
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* www.eea.europa.eu/themes/climate/faq/how-is-climate-changing-and-how-has-it-changed-in-the-past
** EPA. 2018. Inventory of U. S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2016. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, D. C.
*** To my lettuce-growing friends, I apologize. I mean you no harm, I’m just speaking facts.
This work reflects my private, personal opinions and does not represent the views of my employer. 


10 responses to “A Burger Won’t Negate an Airplane”

  1. Excellent analysis.

  2. Barry Sparling Avatar
    Barry Sparling

    Very factual

  3. Scott A Smits Avatar
    Scott A Smits

    I forwarded this to one of my daughters and her question and bigger concern was not CO2 from cows, but methane? do you have any data on methane produced by cattle. I am a beef eater, just trying to keep people fully informed.

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      Hi Scott, yes cows do emit more methane than they do CO2. The difference is that while CO2 remains in the atmosphere for 100+ years, methane is actually part of the biological cycle. Cows emit methane -> plants absorb it, cows eat plants, cows release methane and the process repeats itself. Any methane not absorbed by plants is on a 10-year cycle so it’s far less negatively impactful than the CO2 counterpart.

      I hope that helps with your question – please let me know if you have other questions and thanks for reading!

  4. Burgerlover Avatar

    I like your approach, but you sure did cherry pick that data, which always smacks of dishonesty to me. The graph for methane looks drastically different – why didn’t you include that one? Ag is the top producer in that category – even if methane is only a fraction of the overall GHG. Why not address the bad with the good? You’d still have a good point about overall emissions and impact, but it would feel like a more honest and well balanced story.

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      Thanks for your comment – I think the cherry-picking accusation is an exaggeration.

      Yes, cows do emit more methane than CO2 and it is more potent, however it dissolves in the air about 10x more quickly. Additionally, regardless of which gas we are speaking of, total GHG attributed to cows is only 2%. If we talked about methane only, it would be less than 2% and if we talked only about CO2 it would be less than 2%. Those gases combined is right at 2%, which is the number I shared rather than breaking it down into multiple points for people to remember, I chose to share the big picture number.

  5. Stuart Krantz Avatar
    Stuart Krantz

    My focus is saving wildlife. They’re definitely getting the short end of the stick if one views the happenings on Earth. I’ve got farmer friends I love in Wisconsin so I understand your and their plight.
    However animals appeared on Earth, IOW Gods Work OR Evolution(Lots of time involved), I think they’re precious.
    I think they’re more important than any humans / including my family / So how do we preserve them??? I say ask YES or NO to one question – Is the activity SUSTAINABLE ?
    If YES – continue it. If NO – reduce, diminish or extinguish it. Percentage is unimportant. All the cogs must be turned to save wildlife. Your saving grace is: it may be forever before I get Humanity to agree with me.
    Good luck but the numbers don’t lie. Wildlife is one of the most threated things happening on Earth today. Thank Humans. We did IT.

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      Hi Stuart,

      I’m glad to see you are a lover of wildlife – I am too! I love that I can look out my window and see deer in our cattle pasture. There is also no shortage of birds and other wildlife around our ranch; the same with thousands and thousands of farms and ranches nationwide.

      Without cattle grazing on pastures and publics lands, those lands would be developed and humans take over. I do not wish to see wildlife habitat covered in concrete, which is why I”m proud to be a rancher. Cows and wildlife life in harmon! In fact, open space, primarily managed by cattle farmers and ranchers, provides habitat for 75% of the nation’s wildlife.

  6. Catchy headline and nice effort………just be extremely wary of accepting the leftist false narrative about climate, carbon, environment and related. Once you accept and try to defend……..you have actually given lies credibility.

    1. bbuzzard13@gmail.com Avatar

      My political affiliation does not affect my ability to comprehend and absorb science.