by Mark Fergusson, Down To Earth CEO

Everyone is talking about so-called “green” solutions. It is a lucrative business for many companies. Not all these solutions are as useful as one would think.

The World Bank stated last week that the massive switch to growing corn for ethanol is a "significant contributor" to soaring food prices around the world,1 as land that used to grow food crops is now being converted to growing “fuel” crops. The trend towards plant-based plastics is also taking up farmland, putting additional pressure on food supply.

The Bottle Bill, which created new taxes and unreasonable burdens on consumers, has not been cost-efficient in any way and has had a limited impact on recycling. Energy-efficient light bulbs contain mercury, so they cannot be disposed of easily. Other examples abound. As we think about going “green,” many people would be surprised to learn that adopting a vegetarian diet is the single most important thing a person can do to reduce their personal impact on the environment. It is the fastest path to reducing global warming with no negative impacts.

In its stunning 2006 report on global warming, the United Nations stated that raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.2 When emissions from land use are included, the livestock sector accounts for 9 percent of carbon dioxide (CO2) from human-related activities, but produces a larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases.3

Livestock generates 37 percent of the total methane, which is 23 times as warming as CO2 produced by human activity.4 It also generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 300 times the global warming potential of CO2. Most of these gases come from animal manure!5

Adopting a vegetarian diet could reduce greenhouse gases from this source by 100 percent with little negative impact.6 Similar cuts in carbon dioxide are virtually impossible without having a potentially devastating impact on the economy. Even with implementation of the most ambitious strategies, emissions would be cut by less than half. Furthermore, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just eight years so lowering methane emissions would translate to cooling the earth quickly.

The root issue causing global warming is overconsumption. A modest American household consumes [as a standard] far more natural resources than the world can support on a sustainable basis.7 The spread of such a lifestyle to the rest of the planet is not feasible. This is particularly true of a meat-based diet, which damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do.

Whether it's unchecked air or water pollution, soil erosion, or the overuse of resources, raising animals for food is wreaking havoc on the Earth. In contrast, plant-based diets have a low environmental impact because they use fewer natural resources, so they are better for the environment. Nature has provided ample vegetables, fruits, grains, legumes and dairy products for human sustenance, so eating meat is an unnecessary luxury rather than a necessity.

The single most important thing an individual can do to reduce global warming—and to do it faster and more efficiently than by any other means—is to adopt a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet contributes to a cleaner and safer environment and better health while causing less pain and suffering for the innocent animals.

Footnotes: 

Article originally published in Pacific Business News (Honolulu, April 18, 2008)

References:

  1. “World Bank Chief: Biofuels Boosting Food Prices,” National Public Radio, April 11, 2008: https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=89545855
  2. “Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
  3. “Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
  4. Ibid
  5. Ibid.
  6. Earth Save, EarthSave Report: A New Global Warming Strategy: How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes,” Noam Mohr, Aug. 2005: http://earthsave.org/globalwarming.htm
  7. “Energy and Sustainable Development,” Berkley Energy Center, City of Berkley, CA: http://www.ci.berkeley.ca.us/energy_and_sustainable_development/