by Michael Bond

It is difficult to ignore the grave threats that global warming may someday cause ( coastal flooding, increases in extreme weather, spreading of diseases, and mass extinctions). Yet the mainstream public has managed to ignore the simplest and most practical way to curve global warming – adopting a vegetarian diet.

Contrary to popular belief, CO2 emissions are not the main cause of observed atmospheric warming. There are many other greenhouse gases that trap heat far more powerfully than CO2. Methane is by far the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas, causing nearly half of the planet’s human-induced warming.

Worldwide, one of the biggest sources of methane is animal agriculture (producing more than 100 million tons of methane a year). About 85 percent of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of cows. While a single cow only releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the world's 1.5 billion cattle is enormous. And meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, with no reduction in sight.

A large scale shift to a plant-based diet would lower greenhouse gas emissions more quickly than shifts away from the fossil fuel burning technologies that emit carbon dioxide. Unlike carbon dioxide which can remain in the air for more than a century, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just eight years. This means that lowering methane emissions may quickly translate to the cooling of the earth.

So what can you do on a practical level?

While polls show that concern about global warming is widespread, most people feel there is little they can do to make a difference. Reducing or eliminating meat consumption is something everyone can do to help reduce one of the largest sources of methane emissions. Vegetarian foods are readily available, and cuts in agricultural methane emissions are achievable at every meal.

The environmental benefits don’t stop there. The same factory farms responsible for these methane emissions also use up most of the country’s water supply, are a leading source of water pollution in the U.S., require a huge amount of fossil fuels to operate, and contribute to deforestation and desertification in order to make range land for cows to feed. If you want to actually do something about global warming, and be a true environmentalist, become a vegetarian, and encourage others to do the same.

Footnotes: 

Don’t let nutritional concerns stand in your way, Down to Earth offers a free Vegetarian Nutrition Class to get you started in the right direction.