Germans’ daily habits are becoming a “burden” on the environment, according to a report on Tuesday by Germany’s Federal Environmental Agency (UBA). Germans’ demand for meat and non-seasonal produce are the two factors with the biggest impact on the environment and climate, according to the report.
“We will only reach our climate protection goals if we think about our consumption behaviours,” said UBA president Maria Krautzberger in a statement. “This also extends to the habits we’ve grown fond of: the production of animal products, especially of meat, is putting a strain on the environment to a high degree through the use of resources and land, but also through nitrate pollution in the soil and water and greenhouse gas emissions.”
The consumption of meat in Germany has fallen slightly, from 2.8 million tonnes in 2000 to 2.6 million tonnes in 2013, but Germany is exporting much more than before. About 0.8 million tonnes of meat were exported in 2000, increasing to 3 million tonnes in 2013.
Production for one kilogram of beef leads to the emission of between 7 and 28 kilos of greenhouse gases, while the production of the same amount of fruit or vegetables results in less than one kilo of gases. And importing animal feed from abroad, like South American soy, requires a lot of land.
The pressure to grow more and more crops to feed animals often leads to deforestation in developing countries, reducing the Earth’s ability to absorb greenhouse gases. Germans are also throwing away too much, including food that is still good, the report states. Private German households throw away around 6.7 million tonnes of food each year.
“For each food product, we need arable land and water resources, domestically and abroad, we consume energy through production and transport and the applicable fertilizers and pesticides, which harm the environment,” Krautzberger said. “Avoiding waste from groceries is therefore an important contribution towards the preservation of our livelihood.”
Buying items that have a long journey before they reach the store, such as strawberries in wintertime or fish from the other side of the country, also has an impact on the environment due to the energy and emissions spent on transportation.
Solitary living drives up costs
More and more Germans are also living by themselves, which can drive up energy consumption and emissions as well. About 40 percent of households consist of just one person, according to 2014 data. And that means single Germans are also taking up more space for just themselves, which in turn means less sharing of heating and electricity and therefore more consumption.
Additionally, more single households means more individual cars, washing machines, refrigerators and computers – all of which require more energy to run. Germans in general are also buying more of these products. Another recent study showed that Germans are reluctant to go green and change their habits, despite an overwhelming majority saying climate change is a threat to humans and nature.
Chancellor Angela Merkel emphasized on the first day of the COP 21 climate change conference on November 30th that world leaders owe future generations a solution to stop global warming.