First, allow me to re-iterate some of the facts from my last year’s Earth Day post:
- The livestock industry is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire world’s transportation industry combined.
- Researchers at the University of Chicago found that going vegan is more effective in countering climate change than switching from a standard American car to a Toyota Prius.
- If every American ate meatless for just one day per week, the effect would be the equivalent of taking 8 million cars off the road.
- The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook states that “refusing meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.”
Some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation is intuitive.
It’s more resource and energy efficient to grow grain and feed it directly to people than it is to grow grain and turn it into feed that we give to calves until they become full-grown, that we then slaughter to feed to people.
- It takes 1,800 gallons of water to produce a pound of beef, 468 gallons to produce a pound of chicken, or only 132 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.
- Producing 2.2 lbs of beef emits the same amount of carbon dioxide as driving for 3 hours in a car that emits average vehicle carbon emissions.
- The amount of land required to feed one meat-eater could feed 15 – 20 vegetarians. One acre of agricultural land can produce 165 lb of beef or 20,000 lb of potatoes.
Some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation is gross.
“Manure lagoons” are the acres of animal excrement that sit in the sun steaming toxic gasses like nitrous oxide, ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, and methane into the atmosphere. These cesspools often break, leak or overflow, sending dangerous microbes, nitrate pollution, and drug-resistant bacteria into our water supplies.
- A report for the U.S. Geological Survey documented over one thousand spills and dumps of animal waste in the ten Midwestern states it surveyed over the course of three years.
- Antibiotics are routinely fed to farm animals and enter the environment through animal waste and manure lagoon spills. This is contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and making it harder to treat human diseases.
- Manure runoff in our waterways also contributes to the 230 Ocean Dead Zones, areas where the water is so deprived of oxygen that no creatures can survive. The largest Dead Zone is in the Gulf of Mexico, at the mouth of the Mississippi River, and is the size of New Jersey.
- Manure pits have claimed the lives of farm workers due to asphyxiation by manure gases or drowning while trapped in manure lagoons.
And some of meat’s contribution to environmental degradation might make us chuckle.
Cow gas is a real contributor to global warming. (It’s mainly burps, not farts.) Ruminates (like cows, sheep, and goats) give off methane when they chew their cud and belch.
- Methane, while less prevalent in the air than carbon dioxide, is 23 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas.
- The world’s per-capita meat consumption has more than doubled in the past 50 years. And it is expected to double again by 2050, resulting in a relentless growth in livestock production (and methane burps).
- Americans eat more than double the global meat consumption average. At about 5% of the world’s population, we raise & kill nearly 15% of the world’s livestock total (That’s 10 billion animals per year in the US alone, that are contributing to global warming.)
But here’s the Meat of It…
If ditching the meat is the best way to save our planet, why aren’t environmental groups telling people to do it? Because it doesn’t poll well! I know better than anyone that people don’t like being told that they should eat less meat. I don’t know why there is such a strong visceral reaction to this one particular issue (as compared to being told you should drive a Hybrid instead of an SUV), but it’s there and it’s severely hindering the cause.
And the real pity of it is that compared with buying a Hybrid vehicle, or buying Energy Star appliances, or installing insulation in your house to reduce heating leakage, or making a tedious commute on the bus every day, or riding your bike to the grocery store, or basically any other green thing you could possibly do, eating pasta on a night when you’d otherwise have made fajitas is pretty much the easiest, and it could have the largest impact if you did it just once a week! Given that eggplant parmesan, bean burritos, and vegetable stir-fry are all delicious, this is not the world’s most onerous commitment.
For the sake of the planet, don’t ignore the impact of what’s on your plate.
For lots of delicious vegetarian recipes check out my recipes page, and this list of really quick and easy vegan and vegetarian meals.
Happy Earth Day!