Global warming is a gradual increase in the overall temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere, attributed to the greenhouse effect caused by increased levels of carbon dioxide, chlorofluorocarbons, and other pollutants. Global warming is also responsible for the melting ice caps, the rising sea levels, and the extinction of species. The biggest contributor to greenhouse gases, you ask?
The burger you just ate.
Yes, your beloved Big Mac. More specifically speaking, the cow from which the ground beef in that patty came from.
Planes, trains, automobiles, hydraulic fracturing, and the burning of fossil fuels typically take the blame for climate change. While it is true that these factors play their part in the destruction of the planet, the idea that they are the primary cause is false.
According to the World Bank, animal agriculture alone is guilty of 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. The environmental destruction attributed to the production of meat and dairy is not limited to methane and carbon dioxide accumulation either: the industry consumes an average of 55 trillion gallons of water each year—an amount that is 520 times greater than that used in hydraulic fracturing.
Most of the Brazilian Amazon rainforest, 90 percent, is gone, along with almost one third of the world’s biodiversity. If fisheries continue to be overfished relentlessly and exploited, by 2048, there will be no more fish in the ocean. Wildlife such as wolves are being hunted and killed and horses are being round-up, all because cattle ranchers seek to expand to meet the ceaselessly growing demand for meat.
Truth be told—you can reduce, reuse, and recycle all you want.
You can buy low-pressure spouts and take shorter showers to limit water usage.
You can drive hybrid or electric cars, or even ride your bike to your heart’s content.
Perhaps this will take a fraction of the edge off the problem. However, unfortunately for you and your environmental conscience, so long as you’re consuming meat and dairy products at a steady rate, you’re actively contributing to climate change.
The core of the issue can be exemplified with very simple math. It takes water and land resources to grow crops used to feed and bulk up cows until they are prime for slaughter. The livestock in turn produce incredibly high levels of carbon dioxide, methane, and excrement that pollute both the air and waterways. In fact, the cattle produce seven to nine times more untreated waste than humans do. Keep in mind, that’s cows alone. Altogether, an estimated 70 billion livestock animals live on this planet. It’s both difficult and frankly disgusting to fathom the amount of excrement produced by 70 billion animals.
The numbers and evidence are staggering. However, public knowledge would indicate that this is hardly a concern—how could it be, when there are no billboards, no advertising campaigns, no heart wrenching infomercials? The only way to be truly informed is to watch documentaries or otherwise consciously conduct research. How is it that the leading environmental conservationist groups focus on fossil fuels and fracking when animal agriculture is so much more hazardous?
The enforcement of sustainable farming practices would mean substantial economic loss for the industry. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has failed to place concrete regulations regarding sustainability for this very reason. Instead, the USDA suggests the deployment of anaerobic digesters, lagoon covers, composting and solid separators as *voluntary* environmental-friendly action. These are steps no business-minded person is willing to take. The cost of the technology and loss of profit that come as a result will set any company back financially. Even the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan lacked any real mention in regard to the issue.
According to Georgetown Law Review, the document only stated that climate change “may relate to ‘agricultural activities’ in the release of nitrous oxide.” The utter lack of attention paid to the burgeoning threat has resulted in a so-called “green-washing” of the public conscience; a term defined as the “disinformation disseminated by an organization so as to present an environmentally responsible public image.”
We think we are being environmentally friendly by recycling plastics and cardboard, picking up litter, and reducing water use, but in reality, we’re doing the exact opposite every time we sit down to a meal composed of animal products.
The human population’s consumption of meat, dairy, and fish needs to be reduced or even eliminated in order to stem the demands on the industry. The human body’s protein needs can be readily satisfied by a number of plant-based alternatives. If you can eat a plant-based protein that looks, feels, and tastes like chicken without harming the environment, why wouldn’t you? Plant farming requires 126 cubic meters for every 1,273 needed for cattle ranching. It could also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90 percent.
Methane gas is only retained in the atmosphere for 12 years, making it possible to reverse the damage done. Imagine the land that could be reclaimed by forests and repopulated by species. The oceans could recover; dolphins and sharks would no longer end up as collateral damage at the hands of fishing nets. It could happen. But we need to act now. Between you and me, we needed to act yesterday.