We often take for granted how absolutely perfect the conditions on earth had to be for life to exist: life requires carbon, energy from the sun, water, oxygen, gravity, atmospheric gases, and neighboring moons. As far as we know, life is unique to our home planet. The earth existed in relative harmony for 4.6 billion years, however, humans managed to wipe out half the wildlife on this planet in less than a century. The demands humanity has placed on the earth is starting to exceed its capabilities. Why aren’t we taking the necessary steps to protect and preserve our planet?
This post is not meant to scare you about the next mass extinction. My aim is to shift your perspective. We are in need of a massive culture shift towards resource preservation and sustainability. Environmentalism can no longer be practiced exclusively by tree huggers, hippies and off-the-grid environmentalists. EVERYONE must participate. Preserving the earth is a global mission.
Putting an End to Speciesism
Humans tend to devalue the lives of nonhuman living things. I don’t believe that humans are purposely cruel or uncompassionate, however, humans unconsciously discriminate against all other forms of life. Humans are dependent on animals for food, clothing, and labor, and in this process, humans undoubtably steal the moral rights of animals, such as the right to life, shelter, and freedom. Some animals are treated worse than others- humans consume some animals and keep others as pets. Of course this discrimination differs in severity from country to country. The very animals that are worshiped in some countries are vigorously eaten in others. This idea, that we discriminate against nonhuman animals is called speciesism. We need to break this habit.
The fact is, all life is essential to keep the planet in balance. Biodiversity is important for combatting pollution, preserving clean water resources, maintaining healthy soils, etc. It’s time to put the planet’s needs ahead of our own. We must set aside our speciesist ways and commit to environmental veganism. Yes, a vegan diet. At this point you might be asking, “how will adopting a vegan diet save the earth from human destruction? ” Hang with me for a paragraph or two…
Animal Agriculture is the World’s Largest Contributor to Global Warming
A vegan in a hummer has a lighter carbon footprint than a beef eater in a Prius.
The public is generally unaware that animal foods have a devastating environmental impact on our planet. Most people are under the impression that transportation, such as cars and planes, is the biggest contributor. To my surprise, it is the food that we consume that is the biggest culprit.
Let’s examine the facts:
- Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. (WorldWatch, November/December 2009. Worldwatch Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Pp. 10–19.)
Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. )“Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options.” Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.)
- Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption. Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of water in the US. 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef. (“USDA ERS – Irrigation & Water Use.” United States Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service. 2013.)
Are you shocked? I was.
How does animal agriculture contribute to global warming?
Most are unaware of livestock’s contribution to water pollution, deforestation, energy resources and greenhouse gas emissions. Well, it’s time we start acknowledging the reality of this industry. While the Food and Drug Organization reported that livestock contributes 18% of the world’s greenhouse emissions, experts from other organizations such as Livestock and Climate Change claim that livestock is actually responsible for a staggering 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. Whichever number is more accurate, the percentage contributed by livestock is still higher than that of the entire transportation sector.
Let’s take a look at why factory farming is so detrimental to the environment.
1. Deforestation: significant amounts of land are set aside to raise farm livestock and to grow the food that livestock consume. 70% of the grains grown in the United States is not consumed by humans, it’s consumed by livestock.
2. Water resources: livestock not only need tons of food but also need a ridiculous amount of water. This is where we tend to mismanage our water resources. Currently, agriculture, particularly meat and dairy products, account for 70% of the world’s freshwater consumption. Livestock need more fresh water than just about anything else. In a world with water shortages and droughts, preservation of clean water resources will become a turmoil issue in the years to come.
CNN called beef the “new SUV”. Beef specifically requires significantly more resources such as land, fertilizer, and water than chicken, pigs, dairy or produce. So if you’re looking for a place to start, eliminate beef from your diet.
3. Greenhouse gasses: Lets not forget, animal agriculture is also a significant source of the greenhouse gas, methane, which is 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Ruminant animals emit massive amounts of methane from belching and flatulence, comparable to the amount produced by a car in a day! The livestock sector is responsible for 37% of methane emissions (UN FAO). Methane does not linger in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide, however, it is a far more devastating to the environment because is absorbs heat more efficiently. By emitting small amounts of methane, we are greatly accelerating climatic change.
4. Transportation: After the cow you want to eat consumed large amounts of water and grains, it needs to be transported, slaughtered, refrigerated, shipped to the grocery store and transported to your home. By the time the meat reaches your dinner table, you’re looking at one environmentally exhaustive meal.
We are so desperate to hang on to our meat. Scientists are even looking in to ways to grow a less noxious cow though genetics, experimental vaccines and antimethane additives. This has gone way too far. It’s clear that as the population grows an animal heavy diet will be unsustainable. The only option is to cut down on the animals products that we consume. After all, it’s more efficient to eat the grains that we grow than to grow grains, feed it to animals, and eat the animals for energy.
What would happen if the world adopted a vegan diet?
What if the convincing was the easy part and all 7 billion of us decided to drop the meat?
The Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency predicted that veganism would reduce carbon emissions associated with agriculture by 17% by 2050. Methane emissions would drop by 24% and nitrous oxide by 21%. The report predicted that going vegan would be much more efficient than implementing carbon taxes or renewable energy technology. Researchers calculated that a vegetarian diet would produce similar numbers, indicating that a small decrease in animal product consumption will be beneficial. Not to mention going vegan could save $1 trillion annually on health care costs!
Going vegan was the best decision I’ve every made but it’s not a decision I made over night. I contemplated veganism for 3 years before I made the full transition and I needed that time to mentally prepare myself. Instead of taking the full plunge I would start by eliminating red meat or dairy from your diet. Another approach you can take is going vegan 1 or 2 days a week. Once you start down this path, you will feel a sense of relief- like a weight has been lifted off your shoulders. You will develop compassion for all living things and you will never look back.
Do your part- join the movement to save the planet and go vegan.