If Everyone Ate Less Meat We Could Save the Bay in a Jiff

How Much Do You Pollute? Individuals Can Calculate Their Bay Footprint

(ANNAPOLIS, MD)—If everyone in the Chesapeake Bay drainage area consumed only the recommended amount of protein, the associated reductions in nitrogen pollution would be equivalent to what is needed to save the Chesapeake Bay. That is one of the findings of an exercise by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) and the University of Virginia (UVA) to estimate the collective impact of specific lifestyle and household choices on nitrogen pollution to the Chesapeake Bay.

"Food production, particularly of meat products, is responsible for more nitrogen emissions than any other footprint component. What's more, the typical U.S. citizen consumes roughly 30 percent more protein than he or she needs" said Dr. James Galloway, Professor of Environmental Sciences, at UVA. "If everyone in the watershed consumed only the recommended amount of protein, reductions in nitrogen emissions would be substantial."

This and similar conclusions supplement the launch of CBF's new and improved "Bay Footprint calculator," a collaborative effort with scientists from UVA, funded by the Environmental Protection Agency Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program. This simple online calculator asks individuals to report how many portions of meat, seafood, and milk products they consume; the type of house they live in; property and landscaping they have; and the size of their utility bill, among other information.

The calculator estimates the nitrogen pollution associated with these activities. Users can then run additional scenarios to estimate the benefits of changes in their behavior. The new calculator can be found here www.cbf.org/bayfootprint and takes less than five minutes to use.  

"Our goal is to help Bay residents understand that their day to day activities do have environmental consequences and that we all have a role to play in restoring the Bay and its rivers and streams," said Dr. Beth McGee, Director of Science and Agricultural Policy at the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Even slight changes to our behavior, if adopted on a wide scale, can make a difference."

To help participants appreciate the collective benefit that lifestyle and household decisions could have, CBF and UVA scientific staff scaled up the results from the Bay Footprint calculator for individuals. For example, in addition to the scenario on meat consumption, other scenarios included:

  • Landscaping with native plants: If everyone in Virginia replaced just 10 percent of their yards with native plants, the state could reduce more than one quarter of a million pounds of nitrogen—roughly 10 percent of Virginia's urban polluted runoff-reduction goal.
  • Using rain barrels: If every homeowner in Baltimore City used two rain barrels to capture polluted runoff, about half of the city's polluted runoff-reduction goal would be achieved.
  • Driving less. If all single-driver commuters in the D.C. area walked, biked, carpooled, or used other transportation to get to work one day a week, the District could reduce more than 23,000 pounds of nitrogen pollution annually to our waterways.
  • Reducing energy use. If residents in Pennsylvania reduced their electricity use by 10%, they would prevent nearly a half million pounds of nitrogen from reaching the Chesapeake Bay.
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