Everyone is talking about "sustainable" solutions for a better planet. It has become a lucrative business for many companies to offer "sustainable" or "green" solutions. However, not all these solutions are as useful, or "sustainable" as one might think.
According to the World Bank, for example, the massive switch to growing corn for ethanol, which is believed to be a more sustainable fuel, is driving up food prices around the world. Land normally used to grow crops for food is being converted to grow crops for fuel. Increasing amounts of farmland is also being switched to grow crops for plant-based plastics, which puts additional pressure on food supply.
From a more basic perspective, consider that over 70% of the world's agricultural land is used to raise animals for food, much of this land being used to grow animal feed crops. These crops are then fed to livestock animals that often live under insufferably crowded, filthy, and torturous conditions. A question for society to consider is whether cycling food (which could be eaten by humans) through animals to then feed humans animal flesh is sustainable, or whether it makes sense at all.
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. Most of it is carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide coming from manure.
The meat industry is also a major cause of fresh water depletion. As more water is diverted to raising cattle, pigs, and chickens instead of producing crops for direct human consumption, millions of wells are going dry. India, China, North Africa and the U.S. are all running freshwater deficits, pumping more from their aquifers than rain can replenish.
The fact is that it takes thousands more liters of water to produce a kilo of beef than to grow the same quantity of grains or vegetables. In the United States, the great Ogallala aquifer, a resource that took a half million years to accumulate, will be depleted in less than 40 years. It is being used to water corn crops for animal feed and ethanol. Manure, antibiotics, and hormones all find their way from livestock farms into our water system, while fish farms release chemicals and parasites that threaten wildlife.
Another concern is topsoil erosion. In the United States, 85% of it is due to raising animals for food.
The root cause of society’s sustainability is overconsumption. A modest household consuming a meat-based diet uses far more natural resources than the world can support on a sustainable basis. Worldwide, an estimated 2 billion people live primarily on a meat-based diet, while an estimated 4 billion live primarily on a plant-based diet. The spread of a meat-based lifestyle from western society to everyone else on the planet is simply not sustainable.
A meat-based diet 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 support our planet's sustainability 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.