How Many Trees Do You Save By Not Eating Meat?

Seems like an odd question but it is a valid one and it speaks to wider questions dealing with the environmental effects of choosing to eat meat. The estimates I’ve seen vary wildly and it’s very difficult to answer but we’ll give it a go! So … how many trees do you save by not eating meat? Let’s get the Sherlock Holmes hat on!

How Many Trees Do You Save By Not Eating Meat?

 Living in the Western world you would save approximately 4.3 trees per person, per year by not eating meat. This is a conservative calculation so it’s likely more but it may seem like a very low number and much less than some other websites are claiming! 

How many trees do you save by not eating meat? (Aerial shot of forest canopy).

Read on to see how I arrived at this figure. I’ve tried to be measured and rational …

Related: How Does Fishing Affect Climate Change?

The meat and dairy industries continue to deforest and pollute our fragile planet. In September 2021 news emerged of a wide ranging report which conclusively showed some major players in this barbaric trade were responsible for more pollution than Europe’s major economies! [1]

Another review study published in February 2022 states: “Beef is by far the biggest source of agricultural GHGs, and the continued production of beef and dairy cattle is unsustainable.” [8]

This same study goes on to say: “Cattle production has been estimated to account for 70% of global agricultural land, and a third of arable land is devoted to the production of fodder for animal feed”.

Doesn’t get much clearer than that.

But how does this pan out when we look at the effect on our trees? Firstly, we need some figures on the number of trees lost to agriculture over a certain time period.

As a sidenote, I recently received a comment on this post which made me question my calculations. So I’ve updated with fresh calculations, more sources and a comparison calculation which came out very close to my original number.

So, here we go …

New techniques have enabled us to more accurately estimate the number of trees on the planet.

Using a combination of ground based surveys and satellite imagery, the estimated number of trees on our Mother Earth is roughly 3 trillion [2] … that’s a lot of trees!

This number is quite a bit more than previous estimates of around 400 billion.

The same report estimates the human race fells 15 billion trees every year! This covers all usage from agriculture to construction to toilet paper.

So, now we have an idea of the number of trees we lose annually, let’s drill down …

 

Why Do We Cut Down So Many Trees Worldwide?

Well, the two largest drivers of deforestation [3] are … wait for it …

  • Beef Production
  • Soy Production

Cows eating animal feed through a metal fence

Seeing as 75 – 90% of soy production is used for animal feed, with a high proportion being used for the production of meat [4], we can safely say the consumption of meat is responsible for a large percentage of worldwide deforestation, mainly in the tropics.

Calculating how many trees that equates to every year is not straightforward though..

One way to arrive at an estimate would be to look at the Amazon rainforest, where we have the most data. Then extrapolate those numbers to include the rest of the world where beef and soy production are heaviest

Before we get into that I’d just like to also mention that only 7% of the soybean harvest is used for direct human consumption [4].

So those rabid anti-vegans who try to suggest we’re hypocrites for using soya based dairy-free alternatives are either disingenuous or ignorant. The next time someone claims soy munching vegans are responsible for mass deforestation, you can put them right …

 

Beef: The Number 1 Driver Of Tropical Deforestation

So, back to the Amazon … Brazil is rapidly gaining ground on the US as the world’s largest producer of beef.

In 2021 Brazil produced 10.4 million metric tons compared to the 12.6 produced by the US [5].

Infographic: The Biggest Producers of Beef in the World | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

Brazil’s beef production has mushroomed over the last decade and particularly over the last 5 years. Brazil also has the most densely populated rainforest.

This combination has seen Brazil second only to Africa in the top list for the largest area of rainforest net loss globally, as of 2020 [6].

However, over the last decade, Brazil holds that undesirable accolade with the largest average net loss by a significant margin. But it’s looking like Africa is the one to watch on this front during the next decade!

 

Annual Deforestation Numbers In Amazonia; 2021

Thanks to some very clever and dedicated scientists, researchers and satellite imaging experts we now have more accurate data than ever on tree density numbers in Amazonia.

Shot of the rainforest with mist rising

The average figure comes out at approximately 600 trees per hectare. [9]

When we consider over 1.7 million hectares per year [10,11], on average, were lost from Brazilian rainforests over the last ten years we’re starting to look at some very large numbers of individual trees lost.

1,020,000,000, approximately … yes that’s over one billion trees, on average, lost every year in Brazil alone!

In the decade prior to this it was well over twice that figure!

Shocking statistics, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Admittedly, not all of this figure will be due to the production of meat but it is the overwhelming majority. Many estimates are at 90% or more!

So let’s be conservative and round down to arrive at a figure of 900 million trees lost to meat production in Brazil every year.

Depressingly enough, this number is on the rise again after Brazil managed to bring down their rate of tree loss significantly in the last decade.

 

One Third Of Biodiversity Loss Is Due To Animal Agriculture

So says the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. If we use the 15 billion figure of trees lost every year as a starting point then we can estimate 5 billion of these are due to animal agriculture.

This seems consistent with the figure we arrived at for Brazil and is also very close to the figure of 4.75 billion which we arrive at when using the data from the Mongabay report for primary tropical forest loss 2010-2019 [11]. Most of this tree loss will be due to meat production (beef and soya).

So this very rough estimate suggests if we all stopped eating meat overnight, we’d save around 5 billion trees every year.

Statista estimates that 86% of the global population eats meat. That’s 6.7 billion people, depressingly enough.

This works out at about three-quarters of a tree per person saved every year by not eating meat. This is an average.

In Western countries as much as ten times more meat is consumed than in developing countries. So we can say that approximately 86% of 1.1 billion people (population of the western world) eat meat.

That’s an estimated 950 million people responsible for 90% of meat consumption globally.

So we can now calculate 2 estimates. Firstly, by multiplying our average figure of 0.75 by 5 to arrive at a very rough figure of 3.75 trees saved. Secondly, by using the 10:1 ratio for meat consumption in the Western world we arrive at a figure of 4.78 per person.

Let’s take the average and we can conclude that every year you save 4.3 trees by not eating meat. This applies to those of us in the ‘Western world’.

This is a very different number to some of the other estimates out there, particularly the 3,432 number being bandied about. A very quick calculation based on this figure reveals meat eaters in the Western world would be responsible for the loss of every tree on the planet.

Clearly utter nonsense.

Fake facts do nothing to further our vegan cause. It just gives others another way in to ridicule our lifestyle.

 

Only 4.3 Trees Per Person Saved Every Year By Quitting The Meat?

This number seems small. But you have to remember most of the beef produced in North America (the largest producer) originates from land which is already free of trees.

Image of an ancient tree with flowing roots

We’re mainly talking about the tropical regions of South America, Africa and Indonesia where forests are being lost at an alarming rate to make way for beef and soy production.

If we take the 7.9 billion global population and multiply it by 11% (approximate proportion of vegetarians and vegans on the planet) [7], we arrive at around 0.9 billion people who don’t eat meat.

Using our average figure of 0.75 trees saved per person we’re looking at 675,000,000 trees saved every year, on average, by those of us not eating meat. Seems a bit more of a respectable number.

Compared to the 5 billion trees lost annually due to all animal agriculture (meat and dairy), it’s maybe a little low but I’d rather err on the side of caution than make wild claims such as those you’ll find prominently displayed in Google’s results.

We need to be realistic in order to be taken seriously.

So I hope this (blatantly unscientific) article has helped to clear up some of the misconceptions surrounding deforestation due to the consumption of meat.

It’s a supremely difficult question to answer and there are so many variables that tiny errors can be magnified out of all proportion resulting in numbers such as the 3,432 per person mentioned earlier … obviously wildly inaccurate!

Just know that by giving up the meat you are doing all sorts of good for the environment, your health and the very future of our existence on this beautiful planet!

I would like nothing more than for you to challenge me on this with your own figures. Maybe this is wildly off the mark and you have a better way of calculating. I found by researching this question, it threw up all sorts of barriers to arriving at realistic numbers but I think it’s somewhere near!

So yes, please challenge me but you’ll need to post your workings in the comments below 🙂

 

If you found this article engaging please consider sharing it with your friends who might enjoy a good read 🙂 Spread the vegan word! Please also leave your comments below. I’d love to know what you think.

Thanks for reading and have an animal friendly day!

Rohan.

[This post was originally published on September 21, 2021 at 06:20 and updated with fresh content and more references on June 17, 2022 at 05:25]


Sources:

      1. [1] – Surge Activism: Andrew Gough, September 8, 2021 – 20 meat and dairy companies emit more carbon than Germany, Britain or France, says Friends of the Earth.

    https://www.surgeactivism.org/articles/20-meat-and-dairy-companies-emit-more-carbon-than-germany-britain-or-france-says-friends-of-the-earth

      1. [2] – Ehrenberg, R. Global forest survey finds trillions of trees. Nature (2015).

    https://doi.org/10.1038/nature.2015.18287

      1. [3] – WWF In Depth: What are the biggest drivers of tropical deforestation? They may not be what you think. (2018)

    https://www.worldwildlife.org/magazine/issues/summer-2018/articles/what-are-the-biggest-drivers-of-tropical-deforestation

      1. [4] – Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2021) – “Forests and Deforestation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from:

    https://ourworldindata.org/soy

      1. [5] – Statista – Beef market in the U.S. Katharina Buchholz: The Biggest Producers of Beef in the World

    https://www.statista.com/chart/19127/biggest-producers-of-beef/

      1. [6] – FAO. 2020. Global Forest Resources Assessment 2020: Main report. Rome.

    https://doi.org/10.4060/ca9825en

      1. [7] – Vegconomist – September 20, 2021. Study Shows a 3rd of World Population Follow a Diet Based on Reduction or Elimination of Meat.

    https://vegconomist.com/studies-and-numbers/study-shows-a-3rd-of-world-population-follow-a-diet-based-on-reduction-or-elimination-of-meat/

      1. [8] – Dietz, W.H., Pryor, S. How Can We Act to Mitigate the Global Syndemic of Obesity, Undernutrition, and Climate Change?. Curr Obes Rep (2022).

    https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-021-00464-8

      1. [9] – A spatial model of tree alpha-diversity and tree density for the Amazon – Scientific Figure on ResearchGate. [accessed 14 Jun, 2022]. Available from:

    https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Map-of-average-tree-density-trees-10-cm-DBH-ha-1-across-the-Amazon-Forests-in_fig5_254774213

      1. [10] – Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser (2021) – “Forests and Deforestation”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from:

    https://ourworldindata.org/forests-and-deforestation

      1. [11] – State of The World’s Largest Tropical Rainforests in 2020. Mongabay. Source: Hansen / WRI 2020.

    https://rainforests.mongabay.com/

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6 thoughts on “How Many Trees Do You Save By Not Eating Meat?

  1. Anusuya Reply

    Great article for everyone to think about and consider the improvement of deforestation.

    As the global demand for meat rises, so does the number of cattle needed to produce beef. These animals require space and nourishment, so millions of acres of uncultivated land are cleared every year to make room for feed crops and grazing pastures.

    Eating less animal meat or no meat would help. Large businesses like McDonald’s have tried and failed.

    It is helpful to maintain a balanced ecosystem. Cutting trees for building houses and roads should plan for adding trees by vertical and rooftop plantations. plantation-This is my personal thinking.

    I am a vegetarian and I am reducing meat consumption in my family.

    This blood should reach everyone and there should be campaigns around the community to elevate awareness.

    • Rohan McAvee Post authorReply

      Thanks for leaving your thoughts Anusuya. One of the biggest issues I think, apart from the climate change one, is the huge loss of biodiversity when clearing rainforests. There’s species of plant and animal we haven’t even discovered yet, all lost to the destructive felling of vast swathes of virgin forest.

      Eliminating or reducing meat in your diet is one of the best things you can do to make a difference.

  2. Johnny Reply

    I don’t have any prior knowledge of the effect of meat consumption on our eco system, but after reading through this article, I think being a veggie has done this planet more good than harm. 

     I understand this article is intended to create awareness of the subject matter, but i still don’t grasp it totally. So I urge the author to help with a follow-up content on this; although I will set out to make research myself.

    This is a new revelation to me and highly regard this writer for taking their time to bring it to our notice.

     

    • Rohan McAvee Post authorReply

      Hi Johnny and thank you for taking the time to leave a well thought out comment.

      I agree, being vegetarian does help greatly with environmental matters. You’ve eliminated a big part of the problem from your diet. Namely, the industrial scale production of meat.

      Thank you also for the feedback on clarity and I am planning to update this post very soon with some fresh content which will hopefully present the evidence more coherently. It is a little hard to follow at the moment, for sure. I hear ya 🙂

      I appreciate your kind complement and I’m happy this article has opened up the subject for you. So many layers of cause and effect!

  3. Toplink Reply

    Since trees are being cleared for food production and if people were not eating beef but something else would we then blame it on vegetable crops since the forests were being cleared to grow more food? It seems to me to be an issue of food supply and not directly to beef production. The reason, to my way of thinking, is that the forests are being cleared because humans need more food. If the we find a way to control the world’s population, maybe, this will have a greater impact on saving trees as the demand for food will be lessened. Economics seems to drive the cycle. Is this possible?

    • Rohan McAvee Post authorReply

      Hey Toplink, thank you for your comment. 

      Economics certainly does drive the cycle. It’s supply and demand. If you look at the Statista data in the graph it can clearly be seen that demand for beef is off the scale. In Brazil, especially, virgin rainforest is cleared to make way for crops like soy. Over 70% of soy production is destined for animal feed with a large percentage of this used in the production of beef.

      This is not opinion. It is simply counting.

      Global population control? It’s a contentious subject but there are signs the growth is slowing with some scientists of the opinion we’ll reach a plateau at around 11 billion by the end of the century.

      The issue is, we already have the problems we have at our current level of population so we will need to find ways to feed the world more sustainably. The consumption of beef and other meats will figure highly in this re-calibration.

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