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Does it take 16 kg of CO2e to make two hamburgers? It seems an exaggeration

It’s also worth putting the amount of carbon involved in having a Christmas tree in context. The Carbon Trust estimates that a 2m-tall (6.6ft) Christmas tree burnt after use emits only 3.5kg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) – roughly 0.2% of the emissions from a return flight from London to New York. A tree of the same size that ends up in landfill has a carbon footprint of 16kg of CO2e – equivalent to 1% of that return flight, or roughly two hamburgers.

(from The overlooked benefits of real Christmas trees)

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    The title might be better phrased as "Does it release 16 kg of CO2 equivalent...", as it does not take the gases.
    – jpa
    Commented Dec 17, 2022 at 7:14
  • How does burning a Christmas tree after use emit less CO2 equivalent than burying it in a landfill? It is off-gassing a lot of methane in the landfill???
    – Michael
    Commented Dec 18, 2022 at 18:49
  • "It seems an exaggeration" only if you haven't the faintest idea what sort of orders of magnitude are involved in CO2e emissions. Beef (from beef herds) produces 60 kg CO2e per kg (OWID). Here the BBC isn't clear about what it means by a "hamburger", but even if we're just talking about two 125g patties, that's 15 kg CO2e. (I think the implicit and unspoken assumption made by most is that 1 kg of beef should surely produce <1 kg of CO2e, but that's not the case.)
    – user62611
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 7:14
  • Aren't Christmas trees, or any plant, carbon neutral? While growing a plant absorbs CO2. When a plant dies and rots, gets eaten, or is burned, it releases CO2. Wouldn't it be the same amount?
    – Pete
    Commented Dec 24, 2022 at 23:46

1 Answer 1

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Does it take 16 kg of CO2e to make two hamburgers? It seems an exaggeration.

That's about right. For example, per Got Beef? Here’s What Your Hamburger Is Doing To The Climate, it takes 60 kilograms of CO2 equivalent to produce one kilogram of beef. Other sites yield similar ratios. That means producing two small hamburgers (1/4 lb each) require 30 pounds of carbon dioxide (or its equivalent), or 13.6 kg. And that's for two small burgers. Many restaurants in the US sell half pound burgers, or larger.

One problem is that cows belch and fart (sorry to be crude). Those belches and farts contain methane gas. Methane is much more harmful with regard to CO2 equivalents than is CO2 itself. In addition to this key problem, cattle are fed with CO2 intensive grains near the end of their lives so as to dramatically increase their mass.

While I do enjoy a nice burger, a nice brisket, or a nice steak meal on occasion, I have tried to reduce this craving. Eating beef is incredibly bad with regard to global warming.

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    @Dreamer It's CO2 equivalents, not CO2 itself. The methane in cattle belches and farts has a huge multiplier with regard to CO2 equivalents. Also note that growing and transporting livestock feed is not carbon neutral. A lot of non-neutral machinery is involved, as is a lot of non-neutral fertilizer. Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 10:53
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    @Onyz the problem is with all ruminant species, which, BTW, include sheep.
    – Didier L
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 13:34
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    @DavidHammen sheep and goats are also ruminants, so not much better - that digestive system produces a lot of methane. So are deer, but wild venison can be better as the deer would exist whether or not it got eaten. The best non-ruminant red-meat experience is probably duck, pigeon or pheasant - rabbit has a good flavour but not the colour/texture. (The tiny bit of meat I eat isn't from ruminants for this reason)
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 13:47
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    Note that comparing the global warming potential of different gases depends on the timescale, as some break down quicker than others. Methane (which comes out of both ends of a cow) is at least 27× (EPA.gov) as bad as CO₂, with other estimates going as high as 84×.
    – Chris H
    Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 13:52
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    Not to mention the deforestation involved in producing more grazing land for cattle. I've heard of iguana meat being suggested as a beef substitute because rather than needing to cut down rainforests for pastures, iguanas live in rainforests. And the meat is apparently very similar in taste/texture. Commented Dec 16, 2022 at 14:14

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