On the Impacts of Consuming Animal Products & Tips for Going Green.
I’m about to challenge you on what could very well be one of your most near and dear everyday, lifelong habits. But it’s for very good reason, I assure you. And I do this for the sake of our planet. Hey, I wouldn’t really be that crunchy if I didn’t offer an Earth Day post, now would I?
So, today is Earth Day. To me, it’s a wonderfully joyous day celebrating our planet and the beings which inhabit it. And while it’s a most appropriate day to volunteer time and energy toward caring for our environments, many (myself included) recognize the need to be stewards of the Earth 365 days in a year—24 hours a day/7 days a week.
That’s a lot of time to be concerned about caring for the environment! But truly, the Earth needs our care. The question, then, is how can we be the most effective stewards? We could take shorter showers, reduce our waste, or bike instead of drive—but surely there’s more!?
Is it easy being ‘green’ after all?
What if I told you that the most ignored solution address to environmental devastation is also one of the simplest? And what if I told you that not pursuing this solution is actually one of the leading causes of harm to the planet? The disregarded solution I’m referencing, of course, is changing your diet and becoming vegan.
I’m not going to tell you that you can’t be an environmentalist until you go vegan. I’m not even going to argue that you can’t be an effective environmentalist at all unless you’re vegan. Further, I wont try and say that all vegans are the best environmentalists. What I am going to say, however, is that disregarding veganism as one of the most effective strategies for conserving our planet and its resources is a detrimental mistake with serious ramifications. If you choose to be an environmentalist yet deny the impact of the consumption of animal products, you’ll simply have to come to terms with the fact that you are willfully causing unnecessary harm to the planet.
Of all the activities in which we participate and the exploitation we do of this planet, “[m]eat production is a leading cause of every significant form of environmental damage: air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, erosion, deforestation, greenhouse gas emissions, and depletion of fresh water” (Livestock’s Long Shadow, as quoted in Joy, p. 86). According to a 2009 United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organization report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, a sustainable future is only possible if we shift our nutritional consumption patterns with “a worldwide diet change, away from animal products.” At the same time, while trends like “meatless Mondays” are indeed encouraging, they’re insufficient. They are, as Dr. Richard Oppenlander explains it in the film Cowspiracy, a “false justification” to continue participating in environmentally destructive habits.
1,600 Trees in the Amazon Rainforest are chopped down every minute to clear room for producing meat (One Green Planet).
45% of Global land is occupied by the livestock system…and that number is growing (One Green Planet)!
70% of previously forested land in the Amazon is now pasture for feeding livestock (Joy, p. 86).
“It takes 2,000 pounds of grain to produce enough meat and other livestock products to feed a person for a year. However, if that person ate the grain directly, rather than via animal products, it would take only 400 pounds of grain” (Joy, p. 86). (Meaning the same amount of grain could feed 5 people!)
“…animal agriculture [is] responsible for about one-fifth of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide” (Boehrer).
Eating 1 hamburger is the equivalent of showering for 2 straight months (Cowspiracy).
“…approximately 75% of the world’s fisheries are either exploited or depleted due to fishing, which will likely lead to the complete depletion of currently fished fish stocks by 2048” (Hyner).
“…red meat such as beef and lamb is responsible for 10 to 40 times as many greenhouse gas emissions as common vegetables and grains” (Scheer & Moss).
Meat-eaters’ dietary greenhouse gas emissions are twice as high as vegans’ (Zelman).
If all Americans chose a vegetarian diet, the environmental impact would be equivalent to removing 46 million cars from the road (Environmental Working Group).
- 1,100 gallons of water
- 45 pounds of grain
- 30 square feet of forest
- 10 pounds of CO2
- 1 animal’s life
In the film Cowspiracy, Howard Lyman, former cattle rancher and author of Mad Cowboy, states, “you can’t be an environmentalist and eat animal products—period.” That’s a sensational statement, indeed. Are there non-vegan environmentalists? I say yes, sure there are. But are non-vegan environmentalists ignoring the fact that they contribute significantly to the widespread devastation of our planet? Absolutely. Do I think that anyone who truly cares for the planet should make the transition to a plant-based diet and vegan lifestyle? Without a doubt, I feel that is the minimum. Changing light bulbs, shorter showers, and all those minor adjustments will never be enough. We need actual, impactful changes here. And as Lyman’s discussion comes full circle, he affirms:
“You can change the world. You must change the world.”
This is a controversial stance, to be sure. I appreciate that you’ve read through to the end, but I’d like to emphasize that what I’ve provided above is just the surface of knowledge, study, and analysis on the subject. In addition to the references and resources provided below, I strongly encourage you to continue your research into the topic and identify strategies for removing animal products in your life. And I’m excited to hear about your transition into veganism, if you’re not yet already there!
- Boehrer, K. (2014). Study: to Cut down on environmental impact, eat less beef. Huffington Post.
- Castel, V.; de Haan, C.; Gerber, P.; Rosales, M.; Steinfeld, H.; & Wassenaar, T. (2006). Livestock’s long shadow, executive summary. Food and Agriculture Organization.
- Hyner, C. (2015). A Leading Cause of Everything: One Industry That Is Destroying Our Planet and Our Ability to Thrive On It. Retrieved April 21, 2017 from Georgetown Environmental Law Review.
- Joy, M. (2010). Why we love dogs, eat pigs, and wear cows: an Introduction to carnism. San Francisco: Conari Press.
- Scheer, R; Moss, D. (n.d.) How Does Meat in the Diet Take an Environmental Toll? Scientific American, Earth Talk.
- Zelman, J. (2014). Vegetarianism cuts your dietary carbon footprint a ridiculous amount, study finds. Huffington Post.
- 5 Ways Being Vegan Saves the Planet | Veg News
- Eat for the Planet | A Campaign from One Green Planet
- Go Vegan, Save the Planet | CNN Article
- Livestock’s Long Shadow | A report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
- Veganism Could Save the World, New Study Shows | Sciencemag.org
- Reducing Your Footprint | Environmental Working Group