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Walking can be worse for the climate than driving - NZ Vegetarian Society

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

The NZ Vegetarian Society is urging Kiwis to re-think how they calculate their environmental impact after new research revealed that walking can be worse for the climate than driving.

The research suggests that those who fuel their walk with meat, rather than plants, are likely to be releasing more carbon dioxide than those who forego the meat and walk, and drive. The article, ‘Fuelling walking and cycling: human powered locomotion is associated with non-negligible greenhouse gas emissions’, which appears in Scientific Reports, states:

"[I]n order to reduce GHG emissions we need to encourage changes in what we eat as well as reducing motorized vehicle use."

NZ Vegetarian Society spokesperson Philip McKibbin says what you eat matters:

"If you’re walking, you’re going to be using more calories - around 50 calories per kilometre. To be able to do that - to fuel your walk - you have to eat more. And where you get those additional calories is key. If you get them from red meat, you may as well be driving as far as the climate is concerned, because the CO2 generated from producing red meat exceeds that emitted by your car. But if you get those calories from legumes, like beans, you’ll actually be reducing your carbon footprint."

Cars release around 0.2kg of carbon dioxide per kilometre. According to the study, walking 1km requires 48-76 additional calories. 50 calories of beef or lamb has a carbon footprint of 0.28kg, whereas 50 calories of legumes produces just 0.001kg - so if you fuel your walk with meat, you risk ‘cancelling out’ the positive gains you make by leaving the car at home.

Mr. McKibbin says that diet is one of the best weapons we have for fighting climate change:

"Meat and other animal products are associated with very high carbon footprints. If you’re serious about contributing to the fight against climate change, you can start by making changes to what you eat. Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the most effective things you can do as an individual - and it’s great for your health, too!"

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