‘Pope Francis has already highlighted [it]’

British members of the Catholic Church have returned to the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays — and the positive environmental impact is substantial.

A new study by the University of Cambridge and collaborators indicates that, by cutting or reducing meat from their diet one time per week, practicing Catholics in the United Kingdom, about 10% of the total population, saved the equivalent of more than 55,000 tons of pollution each year, according to Phys.org. That’s roughly the pollution produced by 82,000 people flying from London to New York, according to the same source.

In September 2011, bishops in England and Wales announced that they would call Catholic churchgoers to revive the centuries-old tradition of fasting from meat on Fridays.

Research shows that although only about 28% of the country’s Catholic population shifted their dietary habits based on the bishops’ statement, 55% of those who changed their diet attempted to eat less meat on Fridays, substituting meat for other proteins like fish or cheese, while 41% cut meat out altogether on Fridays, according to Phys.org.

“The Catholic Church is very well placed to help mitigate climate change, with more than one billion followers around the world,” said professor Shaun Larcom, the lead author of the study. “Pope Francis has already highlighted the moral imperative for action on the climate emergency, and the important role of civil society in achieving sustainability through lifestyle change.”

The researchers also said that if American Catholics upheld the same meatless Friday tradition, we’d see more than 20 times the environmental impact in the United States as shown in the U.K. study.

“Meat agriculture is one of the major drivers of greenhouse gas emissions,” Larcom told Phys.org. “If the Pope was to reinstate the obligation for meatless Fridays to all Catholics globally, it could be a major source of low-cost emissions reductions, even if only a minority of Catholics choose to comply, as we find in our case study.”

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