How Much Does Lent Decrease Our Carbon Footprint?

Catholics give up meat on Fridays for Lent, which has a big impact on CO2 emitted.

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It's a time for ashes and palm fronds, sacrifice and rebirth, and occasional vegetarianism. For Catholics across America, Lent is here, and with it, meatless Fridays. As Catholics (and other Christians) forego beef and chicken for one day each week in favor of fish and vegetables, I wondered: How much does our collective carbon footprint decrease over Lent?

According to my calculations, 354 million pounds of meat will go uneaten during Lent.

  • There are 67.5 million registered Catholics in America. Using figures from Audubon Magazine (referenced in this earlier post about flexitarianism) the per capita meat consumption of Americans is 12 oz a day. Let's assume all Catholics go meatless on Friday (though I recognize that many do not). This means that 810 million ounces of meat go uneaten each Friday during Lent. For the next seven Fridays until Easter, that's 5.67 billion ounces, or 354 million pounds.
  • Now for the meat. To produce 1 average pound of meat, 8.25 pounds of CO2 are emitted.

    • This is a combined figure for beef, pork and chicken, which emit 19 pounds, 4.25 pounds, and 1.5 pounds of CO2 per pound consumed. The three meats are consumed in equal amounts in developed countries, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
    • If 354 million pounds of meat are not eaten, and there are 8.25 pounds of CO2 saved per pound not eaten, that means 2.921 billion pounds of CO2 are saved.

      To put that abstract figure into perspective, that's the equivalent of to 1.5 million round trip flights from New York to Los Angeles not being taken.

      Obviously, I realize that this is not a precise science - more like a game of "What if." There are plenty of Christians other than Catholics who give up meat for Lent, and there are plenty of Catholics who don't participate. There's also the factor of the carbon emissions from fish that many eat on Lenten Fridays instead, which I left out because there are so many kinds of fish that we eat, and each has a different carbon footprint. Either way, Catholics that participate in Lent are automatically lowering their carbon footprint, which is a good thing, since some church officials have urged Christians to give up carbon for the 40-day period.