It’s commonly understood that installing solar panels on your roof and driving electric cars will best combat climate change and address our ever-rising CO2 emissions — I thought the same thing not too long ago. I kept asking myself existential questions like: “Should I take shorter showers to save water? Ride a bike to work to reduce emissions? Compost all of my coffee grounds, eggshells, and food waste in my backyard? Cancel my Amazon Prime membership?”
All of these ideas are great. But by far, the most important thing you can do is shockingly simple; stop eating meat.
A 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations found that the meat industry soaks up more than 8% of the water used by humans globally and that there are more than 1,800 gallons of water behind every pound of meat produced.
Animal waste, hormones, antibiotics, fertilizers, pesticides, bacteria, viruses, and sediments from eroded land wash into our waterways. The livestock sector is suggested to be the largest source of water pollution across the globe; and this is all not to mention the meat industry’s impact on global warming.
There is absolutely no scenario to prevent the ever so present worldwide catastrophe of climate change that doesn’t involve a vast reduction in the scale of animal agriculture.
That may seem like a bold statement to make but let’s put it into perspective… The total greenhouse gas emissions from the entire transportation sector — that’s all the cars, trucks, planes, and ships combined — is LESS THAN the total greenhouse emissions from the livestock sector.
The Environmental Defense Fund reported back in 2007 that if each American replaced meat with plant-based foods for just one meal each week, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more than half a million cars off U.S. roads. A HALF A MILLION CARS!
In 2018, the United Nations Environment Programme named meat “the world’s most urgent problem.” And study after study after study support this claim. Not only does reducing animal agriculture combat the issue of climate change and pollution; it tackles many of the health risks people face and addresses the issue of world hunger head on.
The research is clear — a diet heavy in meat increases the risk of obesity, cancer, and heart disease. Yet people are led to believe “you need to eat meat to get enough protein,” and “meat is good for you.” The World Health Organization has actually classified processed meats — including ham, salami, bacon, and hot dogs — as a Group 1 carcinogen, which means that there’s strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer group of 22 experts from 10 countries found that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day (which is less than just two slices of bacon) increases the chance of developing colorectal cancer by 18%. And believe it or not, the majority of farmland (83%) is used for livestock, yet only provides roughly 37% of the protein in which we consume (not to mention that things like beans, lentils, and nuts provide way more protein per serving than meat). So those two statements — two my family specifically said when I became a vegetarian — are immediately debunked and dismissed.
Livestock also serves as an “energy and resource middleman.” Factory farming adds an intrinsic inefficiency to the food chain. The fact that globally 8.9% of the world’s population (690 million people) go to bed hungry, yet we feed half the world’s grain crop to animals—raised for meat, eggs, and milk—instead of directly to those humans is jarring. If you apply a critical eye to the situation, you begin to question why we use so many resources, kill so many animals, and create so much pollution and waste when we can just eat the plants and grains in the first place.
Globally, only about 59 percent of the calories that are produced end up as food for people to consume. In the U.S. specifically, an astounding two-thirds of calories are used to feed animals. If these calories were instead directed toward humans, the U.S. could feed nearly three times as many people as it currently does.
It is not only a significant waste of natural resources, including fossil fuels, water, and land, but it is an absolute ethical crisis. But don’t just take it from me, take it from the lead researcher Joseph Poore who stated that, “a vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use, and water use.”
There are three areas of concern for most in reducing (or cutting out) animal products: health, the environment, and ethics. For me, it was a combination of all three. I always felt slightly off enjoying a meal that was once alive. I would stare down at my plate and picture chickens too big to walk, pigs in 6 inches of their own feces, and cows with exhaust holes in their stomachs. I don’t want to overwhelm you too much with the unethical aspects of the livestock sector, but you can view this eye-opening paper if you want to learn more about the inhumane conditions animals are put through.
Once you get past the realization that the “farms” in which you get your meat DO NOT look like they do on the packaging (or in commercials), the sooner you realize the sad, disgusting, cruel but true reality and its connection to larger societal and environmental issues. America’s food giants have swallowed up the majority of family farms, turning them into factories set up to benefit corporations and their shareholders at the expense of animals, family farmers, our environment, and our health.
We have the power to show the world that we don’t need to wait for Washington in the war on climate change. As citizens…people…HUMANS, each of us can rise up to meet the challenges of climate change by simply adjusting our own habits to create a cleaner world.
The point of me writing this and sharing a little of my story is not to force my vegetarianism on you or to make you never eat animal products ever again; it is to shed a light on the impact that slight changes in your diet can have on the entire planet. We all must develop “meat consciousness,” and deliberately reduce the amount of meat we have at the dinner table and during the day. It won’t only save the animal’s lives, and your own — but the world.