In 2015, the OECD estimated that Australians ate 100 kilograms of meat per person in a year. We’re routinely ranked among the top consumers of meat worldwide. Our carnivorous habits affect the environment, but you’d probably be surprised at just how much of an impact a burger has.

“We really can’t have a safe climate unless we consider livestock agriculture,” says Mark Pershin, founder and CEO of Melbourne based not-for-profit Less Meat Less Heat. His research suggests that as much as 50 per cent of Australian greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to our love of meat, and 58 per cent of our land mass is used to satisfy it.

“I had a hunch [meat consumption] would have a big impact but had no idea until I did graduate studies at the University of Melbourne and took some climate science subjects,” he says. “I realised the gravity of the impact and what would be likely to happen if we didn’t take this into account.”

He came up with a novel way to try to help us reduce the amount of meat we eat – The Climatarian Challenge. The app lets you track your meat consumption over thirty days, and assigns each portion “carbon points” from a budget of 8000 – equivalent to 80 kilograms of carbon, which is about half the average Australian output each month.

“I saw this rising trend around people measuring different aspects of their lives, whether it be their steps, calories, the carbs they consume, or exercise. I thought this is a great way of tapping into this market.” (Pershin’s background is in “the dark side of the Force – marketing and advertising”.)

The challenge is built around smaller, incremental changes over 30 days, such as saving the biggest climate offenders, beef and lamb for special occasions and adding a meat-free meal to your week.

“It’s a way of getting people to engage with the idea in a fun and real way. The great success of the app – whether people complete the challenge or fail it – we plant the seed of awareness.”

The app was also born out of Pershin’s frustration with climate activism, something he’s been involved in for years, and in which he says there’s a gap between attitude and action.

“Around the non-for-profit sector, there’s a lot of organisations that pursue the ‘awareness game’ – if you get people aware of x issue, they will change their behaviour correspondingly. Unfortunately, this has been proven not to be the case.”

Less Meat Less Heat has opted out of the all or nothing approach, and doesn’t ask users to become a vegan or vegetarian.

“I personally believe, and the research supports this, that a more moderate approach will get far more buy-in and more support from the mainstream audience,” Pershin says.

Since the app (made possible by a successful crowdfunding campaign) launched in November of last year there have been a little more than 3000 downloads – a potential saving of up to 240,000 kilos of CO2 emissions.

“We want to avoid a climate crisis in the fastest way possible,” says Pershin. This might be a good place to start.

lessmeatlessheat.org