What is the Carbon Footprint of the Money Saved by Going Vegetarian?

There was something else that grabbed me about Jason Lusk's recent study on food spending: the allegedly lower carbon footprint of eating vegetarian:

"If a vegetarian spends less on food, what do they do with their remaining income? And do those other purchases have higher or lower carbon impacts? If vegetarian diets have both a lower carbon footprint and a lower price-tag, then one cannot really determine the carbon impact of becoming a vegetarian without accounting for how those food savings are spent. If vegetarians spend 15% less on food but use those savings on a plane flight, then their overall carbon footprint might rise. Indeed, Grabs (2015), who labels this a 'rebound effect', found that half of the carbon footprint reduction attributable to a vegetarian diet actually disappeared after accounting for the carbon effects of the remaining expenditures."

It's an interesting set of questions. And yes, if I save a fifty bucks this month by switching some meals to vegetarian, but then I use those fifty bucks to buy ten thousand plastic bags and set them on fire in my backyard… well, I can't exactly go around smugly virtue-signalling my reduced carbon footprint, can I? So, yes, it's entirely valid to carefully consider any possible second-order effects of money saved from going vegetarian. Especially if you have a plastic bag-burning habit.

But then again, there's an implicit assumption here: It's an assumption an economist[*] would definitely make, but an assumption we frugality geeks don't have to: why assume that money saved has to be spent at all?

After all, a frugal Casual Kitchen reader who read this far would probably think, "Who needs plastic bags? I’m going to save that money, dummy! I’m not going to spend it."

So, what actually is the carbon footprint of money not spent? Pretty low, I'd guess.

Or, to take things even further and consider the question from the standpoint of an early retirement extreme devotee, what's the carbon footprint of money not spent, but rather invested in, say, dividend-paying consumer products stocks funding your retirement, so you don't have to hop in your car and "carbon footprint" your way to work every day?

For Further Reading:
If you're interested in reading more on this topic, see Lusk's post on Environmental Impacts of Vegetarianism.

Finally, if you haven't read Jason Lusk's book The Food Police or his latest book Unnaturally Delicious, please RUN to Amazon and get them. Jason is an important and alternative voice in the food debate, and you simply cannot consider yourself a balanced thinker on food industry issues if you haven't read his books.

[*] Not to pile on and tease economists too much in this week's post, but everybody knows this joke, right?

An engineer, a lawyer and an economist were stranded on a desert island with only a can of beans between them.

The engineer began building a tool to open the can.
The lawyer said, "Let's sue the bastards who made this unopenable can!"
The economist said, "Okay: assume we have a can opener..."

READ NEXT: Attack of the Cheaps! Eight Great (And Temporary) Ideas to Save $500-$700 a Month

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