by Michele McKay
Many readers care deeply about the health of our planet – you make an effort to recycle, to cut energy and water use, and to protect the Earth’s air, water, and ecosystems. But are you aware that your choice of food is the single most important decision you make for the Earth? Eating meat supports the very industry that is causing the greatest environmental destruction worldwide! In choosing a plant-based, vegetarian diet you can elect to:
Help reduce global warming
Raising animals for food generates more ‘greenhouse gas’ than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.1 In addition to CO2, the livestock industry produces other greenhouse gases with even higher global warming potentials: methane (23 times that of CO2), nitrous oxide (300 times that of CO2), and ammonia. And, methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just 8 years, as opposed to 100 years for CO2. Reducing the demand for meat would rapidly lower atmospheric methane, a key contributor to global warming.2
Save vast amounts of water
Producing one pound of beef requires approximately 2,500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water, and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons.
Avoid pollution of waterways
Farmed animals produce about 130 times as much excrement as the entire human population of the US, yet factory farms don't have sewage treatment systems. Manure, antibiotics, growth hormones, fertilizers, pesticides, and other livestock-related pollutants foul our rivers and streams, and enter the human food chain through water supplies.3
Reduce the loss of biodiversity and wildlife habitat
30% of the earth’s entire land surface (or, put another way, 70% of all agricultural land) is used for livestock.4 In the Amazon region, rainforests are being cut and burned to create pastures, thus releasing CO2 and causing incalculable loss of plant and animal species.5
Ensure environmental sustainability
Demand for meat is expected to double by the year 2050. Producing animal flesh requires up to three times as many resources as producing plant-based food.6 Do the math! Pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, species loss, demand for water, and strain on land use will only get catastrophically worse. A vegetarian diet is our best step toward environmental sustainability.
What you can do
Shrink your ecological footprint by going veggie! You will be doing something nice for the planet – and the animals that share it with us – every time you eat.
- “Livestock a major threat to environment,” United Nations FAO Newsroom, Nov. 29, 2006: http://www.fao.org/newsroom/en/news/2006/1000448/index.html
- EarthSave, “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
- Ed Ayres, "Will We Still Eat Meat?" Time, 8 Nov. 1999: http://content.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,992523,00.html
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome. http://www.fao.org/docrep/010/a0701e/a0701e00.HTM
- White, T. 2000. Diet and the distribution of environmental impact. Ecological Economics. 34, 145-153.
- Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006. Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. Rome: ftp://ftp.fao.org/docrep/fao/010/a0701e/a0701e00.pdf