Earth Day is a time to reflect on our behavior and how we treat our planet. Some of us will go out into nature and plant trees or pick up litter. Many others will turn out the lights and take shorter showers. Our planet is in desperate need of change, and each good deed for Mother Earth does not go unnoticed. But how much of an impact does this really provide? Should we be looking at other avenues for bettering the health of the Earth? It’s time to take a different approach and look at our dinner plates. Is it possible that what we eat daily contributes to wreaking the most havoc on our planet? Let’s rack up the statistics.
Animal Products and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Most people would be incredibly surprised to know that the production of animal products, that being meat, dairy, and eggs, is the largest contributor to global warming and climate change. How is this possible? What about the millions of cars on the road? How about fracking and fossil fuels? What does meat have to do with any of this?
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. This is more than the combine exhaust from all transportation (13%).
This means that the production of all animal products globally, creates more greenhouse gas emissions than all cars, trucks, buses, trains, boats, and planes combined. This astounding number makes Animal Agriculture the leading contributor to greenhouse gasses worldwide. To put things into perspective, if today, every single person on this earth ceased to use any method of transportation, it still wouldn’t have nearly as great an impact as if we were to significantly reduce animal agriculture production and consumption.
Greenhouse gasses trap heat in the atmosphere, which creates a greenhouse effect, and makes the earth warmer. Through our different industries and as individuals, we are constantly adding several types of greenhouse gasses to the atmosphere, and each type’ effect on climate change depends on 3 major factors: How much we are emitting, how long these gasses stay in the atmosphere, and how powerful they are. Measuring the amount we are emitting is one very important step, but there’s more to it. Some greenhouse gasses stay in the atmosphere for only a short time, but others can stay in the atmosphere and affect the climate for thousands of years. Also, not all gasses are created equal. Some trap more heat than others. For example, methane is more destructive than carbon dioxide.
These gasses don’t just stay in one place after they’re added to the atmosphere. As air moves around, they become globally mixed, so the concentration around the globe is about the same everywhere. Even though some countries produce more greenhouse gasses than others, emissions from every country contribute to the problem. This is one reason why climate change requires global action.
It all comes down to a few major factors.
- Cows eat, A LOT of food.
- Tons of water is needed to grow food for animals.
- Cows and other livestock need a lot of land to graze.
- Animals, especially cows, produce a LOT of methane gas.
Cows Eat A LOT – As Well As Chickens, Pigs, Etc…
70 billion farmed animals are reared annually worldwide.
Cows, pigs, chickens, goats, lamb… they all have to eat over the course of their lives. There are so many of them – 70 billion annually – and they eat A LOT. From the production of the grain to feed these animals, to the water it takes to grow the food, to the rain forests and other land destroyed to grow the food and graze these animals, it takes a TON of resources to produce enough food to feed farm animals. Think about how much a cow eats in the course of it’s lifetime. Think about how much land and water it takes to produce this food. Each time we eat meat, we are also taking up the responsibility of the resources that it took to grow this animal. It’s a heavy footprint.
1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food.
1.5 acres can produce 375 pounds of meat.
Worldwide, cows drink 45 billion gallons of water and eat 135 billion pounds of food each day.
But I Take Short Showers!
Animal Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of US water consumption.
477 gallons of water are required to produce 1lb. of eggs. Almost 900 gallons of water are needed for 1lb. of cheese. 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce 1 pound of beef.
Again, this is all attributed to the amount of water it takes to feed the billions of farm animals and to grow their food. These are outstanding numbers that cannot be ignored. Eating 1 hamburger is the equivalent of taking a shower for 3 months straight! Congratulations if you can cut back your shower by 2 minutes. But how much of an impact does it really make? It’s sad to think that the animal agriculture industry uses so many gallons of water daily to grow the crops to feed animals, when we could be using that water to grow food for our people. No wonder the cost of produce is constantly rising and the amount of droughts increasing. Should we really be surprised?
How Much Space Can A Cow Really Take?
Then there is another factor that most people don’t think about. Forests need to be clear cut, in order for animals to graze and so that we can grow the grains (corn, soy, etc…) to feed these animals. 1-2 acres of rainforest is cleared every single second of every day for animal agriculture, whether that be for land to grow crops or graze animals. . That is essentially 1 football field every second. As of 2013, 136 million acres of rainforests had been cleared for agricultural, and that number is higher now. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 91% of total Amazon destruction. Our global rainforests are essentially the planet’s lungs. They breathe in CO2 and exhale oxygen. Through animal agriculture, not only are we adding emissions, but also reducing our world’s method of getting rid of them.
Livestock or livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land.
2-5 acres of land are used per cow.
Cow Poop Is Killing Our Planet
A farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people.
18% of greenhouse gas emissions come from grazing cattle alone. This is because cows produce a substantial amount of methane from their digestive process. Methane gas from livestock is 25-100 times more destructive than carbon dioxide from vehicles. There is more to climate change than simply fossil fuels. Methane has a global warming power 86 times that of CO2. 116 000 pounds of farm animal excrement is produced every second in the United States alone. That is enough waste per year to cover every square foot of San Francisco, New York City, Tokyo, Paris, New Delhi, Berlin, Hong Kong, London, Rio De Jeinero, Delaware, Bali, Costa Rica, and Denmark combined. Cows and other livestock produce 130 times more waste than the entire human population of over 7 billion people. That is a lot of methane. And aside from methane, raising animals produces other major greenhouse gasses. Livestock is responsible for 65% of all emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas 296x more destructive than carbon dioxide and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years. Also, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year.
What About Organic, Local, Sustainably Raised Animal Products?
Local and organic meat, dairy, and eggs is hands down the more compassionate choice, as well is better for the environment and your local economy. Organic products alone are far more sustainable due to the lack of pesticide use in growing crops. Supporting small farms overall is a more compassionate choice with regards to the treatment of animals vs factory farms.
The issue at hand is the amount of animal products we consume. If everybody were to switch to eating grass fed, organic animal products, yet still eat the same amount they consume today, the earth would physically not have enough surface area to support the amount of land needed to graze all free-range animals.
The average American consumes 209 pounds of meat per year.
With the amount of space typical grass fed-beef farms use, 4500 acres of land produces 80 000 lbs of beef per year. Since the average American consumes 209 lbs of meat per year, this equates to 382 people fed per year on this amount of land. This equals 11.7 acres per person. Multiply this by 321 million Americans, this equals over 3.7 billion acres of grazing land. There are only 1.9 billion acres in the USA’s lower 48 states. And currently almost half the USA’s land is already dedicated to raising and grazing animals for food. It takes 23 months to grow a grass fed cow to the point in it’s life where it is ready to be used to meat. It takes 15 months for a grain fed, or factory farm raised cow. This results in an additional 8 months of water use, land use, feed, and waste. Which in a way, makes it even more unsustainable. The math is plain and simple. There is no way to sustainably raise the world’s current demand on animal products, organic or not.
Why Doesn’t Anybody Talk About This!?
This is all very shocking information. You must be wondering, “Why don’t we all know about this?!”. The world’s largest environmental groups don’t mention these facts to us anywhere! Many of these organizations such as Greenpeace, Sierra Club, and Oceana don’t advocate any ways we can change these issues. This is one of the reasons we don’t hear about this type of information. They do not want to address these issues because at the end of the day they are businesses and they want to ensure they have reliable funding. The animal industry is one of the leading industries worldwide. Environmental groups won’t be getting the sponsors they need if they anger the animal industry.
What Can We Do?
It is plain truth that not every single person on this earth will stop eating animal products all together. But if you are concerned, and want to reduce your impact while still consuming animal products, each individual would need to consume around 2oz of organic animal products per week. This includes cheese, milk, etc… not just meat.
The statistics can no longer be ignored. The world’s population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by the year 2050. The world simply cannot physically sustain the amount of animals products that are in demand daily. It’s time to take this earth’s environmental state seriously. We can no longer rely on big corporations to change their ways. We must act as individuals to take a stand in the most impactful way possible.
So in the end, what can we do? It may seem like the issues are so big and we don’t have any control or power over these industries. The world’s climate scientists tell us that the highest safe level of emissions would be around 350 parts per million of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and we’re already at 400. Climate change affects all life on this planet. Results can range from monster storms, raging wildfires, record droughts, icecaps melting, acidification of the oceans, to entire countries going underwater. This can all be caused by human’s demands on the earth unless we take drastic measures to correct our environmental footprint. 75% of Americans consider themselves to be environmentalists. If this was true, don’t you think we could have solved this problem in a heartbeat? All we would need is for the environments to live what they profess, and we’d be on a new course in this world. We need to act now.
Not everybody has to go vegan. But it is time that we all adopt a diet that is geared more towards plant-based options. A person consuming a fully plant-based diet uses 1/6 of an acre of land per year. A vegetarian uses 3x as much, and a meat eater uses 18x as much. It is clear that focusing on adding more plant-based proteins into your diet can make a tremendous impact.
The food possibilities are endless – beans, lentils, quinoa, rice, buckwheat, fruits, veggies, seeds, superfoods, nuts, tubers, microgreens, etc… There is so much flavour and bounty in this beautiful world we live in. Mother nature provides for us and it is time that we start giving back to her.
A Few Final Words
Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, and habitat destruction.
Animal agriculture contributes to species extinction in many ways. In addition to the monumental habitat destruction caused by clearing forests and converting land to grow feed crops and for animal grazing, predators and “competition” species are frequently targeted and hunted because of a perceived threat to livestock profits. The widespread use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilizers used in the production of feed crops often interferes with the reproductive systems of animals and poison waterways. The overexploitation of wild species through commercial fishing, bushmeat trade as well as animal agriculture’s impact on climate change, all contribute to global depletion of species and resources.
Worldwide, at least 50% of grain is fed to livestock.
82% of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and the animals are eaten by western countries.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – Martin Luther King Jr.