When we think about our environmental impact, we tend to consider factors like how much gas our cars use, or what percentage of our disposable goods can be recycled or composted rather than thrown away. But the choices we make regarding the food we eat actually have a far greater impact than any of these other factors. The production, processing, and distribution of meat for human consumption significantly accelerates nearly every major category of environmental damage, including global warming, deforestation, and water scarcity.
How Eating Meat Hurts the Planet
Temperatures here on Earth are growing hotter at an unprecedented rate. “In the last 30 years we’ve really moved into exceptional territory,” Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, told The Guardian. “It’s unprecedented in 1,000 years…There’s no pause or hiatus in temperature increase.”
|Statistics released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) indicate that the production and distribution of red meat generates 10 to 40 times more greenhouse gases than that of vegetables and grains.|
While methane emissions draw less attention than carbon dioxide, they have the capacity to be even more destructive. According to Pete Hodgson, the New Zealand Minister for Energy, Science, and Fisheries one ton of methane has the global warming potential of 23 tons of carbon dioxide! The highest annual methane emissions come from Latin America, where large tracts of land have been given over to beef production.
The amount of land required to raise animals for food also causes environmental damage. A study published in 2009 showed that 80% of the razing of the Amazon rainforest could be linked to cattle farming. Over the last 40 years, close to half of all rainforests in Central America have been cleared or burned down, primarily to clear land for pastures where cows can graze.
Not only does deforestation quash biodiversity and disrupt the rain cycle worldwide, but it also exacerbates the issue of greenhouse gas emissions. Tropical forests absorb a significant portion of gas emissions – the less forests we have, the more gas enters the atmosphere, and the hotter the planet gets.
To Save Water, Skip the Beef, Not the Shower
Extreme drought conditions in the Southwestern United States and elsewhere have highlighted our dwindling supply of fresh water. You may be aware of water-saving techniques like limiting your shower time and turning off the faucet while brushing your teeth … but did you know that you can save more water by not eating a pound of beef than you would be skipping showers entirely for 6months?
- Providing food for a person eating a standard American diet—which contains a high quantity of meat—requires 4,200 gallons of water daily.
- Providing food for a person eating a vegan diet requires only 300 gallons.
It’s All Interconnected
The ways that eating meat negatively impacts the planet are numerous and interconnected. Choosing ethical, free-range, organic meat can mitigate some, but not all, of the damage. Many of us have the ability to eat a plant-based diet if we so choose. Making the switch won’t just improve your health, it will improve the health of the planet, too. If you would like support, encouragement, recipes, ideas, and great input from an active, enthusiastic community, come join our brand-new Plant-Based Wellness Facebook group! We would love to see you there.