How Much Rainforest Do You Eat?

Although vegetarians and vegans all have the avoidance of meat eating in common, their reasons for eschewing animal products are diverse. After all, in addition to the health benefits from abstaining from meat, many are motivated by animal suffering and certainly there are compelling environmental reasons. Meat-free followers of Dr. Fuhrman obviously do it for health reasons or a combination of health reasons and other motivations. I respect my father for providing information on nutrition and nutrition alone, without animal welfare or environmental motivations, as that is not his field of expertise.

However, I think it would be wonderful, perhaps even a necessity, if everyone understood the powerful connection our own health has with the health of the planet and the animals we share it with. My last post discussed the relationship between meat production, global warming, and world hunger. I learned much of this information at a global warming conference conducted by the World Preservation Foundation based in London. Let’s all open our eyes to the possibility here that this information may be critical for all of us.Rainforest.  Flickr: Webbaliah

It is no secret that the rainforests of the Earth are a truly magical, natural wonder. It also happens to be a place that we are massively, rapidly, and irreversibly destroying. The rainforest is home to intricate ecosystems and more unique plants and animal species than anywhere else in the world.

Amazingly, two-thirds of all known plant and animal species are found in the rainforest while rainforests themselves cover just 2 percent of the Earth’s surface. Not only are rainforests home to countless plants and animals, but they are literally the “lungs of the Earth”. Rainforests are the single greatest terrestrial source of the oxygen in the air that we breathe. Keep this information in mind while reading the following statistics about how quickly we are destroying it to meet global demands for meat:

  1. We are currently facing one of the greatest mass extinctions ever to occur on Earth. Over 30 percent of the biodiversity on this planet has been lost since 1970. In the tropics, we’ve already lost over 60 percent of its biodiversity. A study conducted by the United Nations found that the rate of current plant and animal extinctions is over 1000 times the natural rate of extinction. This is by no means a natural phenomenon. The majority of these extinctions are due to abolition of the rainforest in order to grow soy and corn to feed livestock.
  2. Brazil is the largest beef industry in the world; the country produces roughly 7 million metric tons of beef every year from a total population of 165 million cattle.
  3. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 91 percent of the Amazon rainforest that has been destroyed since 1970 can be attributed to cattle raising, including the growing of feed crops
  4. Rampant deforestation for cattle-raising is becoming popular in Central America. Since 1960, more than 25 percent of the area’s rainforests have been cleared for pastures alone.
  5. The United States is the largest beef importer in the world, importing beef from Uruguay, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Brazil and most recently, Costa Rica. Many US livestock companies are reported to have purchased tracks of rainforest in Costa Rica for cattle-raising, which is sold back as beef to the United States.
  6. The Cerrado, or Brazilian Savannah, is home to 5% of global biodiversity, but is being rapidly converted into farmland used to produce soy to feed agricultural animals. 400 square kilometers of the Cerrado is cut down each year to meet beef demands in the UK alone.
  7. Overstocking and overgrazing leaves the land depleted of most nutrients, which accelerates desertification. Chopping down the irreplaceable and wonderfully gargantuan rainforest trees results in the abolition of our huge carbon dioxide conversion tank and the world’s primary oxygen supply.
  8. If global warming rates continue as they currently are, within a few decades the earth’s temperature will rise 3.5 degrees C. This will be enough to complete destroy the Amazon Rainforest and further accelerate the rate of global warming, the melting of the ice caps and the rise of sea level, obliterating costal human habitats.

For those of you who have commented, “I don’t believe in global warming.”
I wish you could have been there to see live satellite photos of thousands of square miles of the forest up in smoke, with huge clouds of black soot rising into the clouds. The amount of oxygen-producing forests that already have been decimated is clearly measurable and not a belief option. Why would one deny this exists, that humans contribute to it or that the ice masses are melting? It is not a myth that humans are destroying the natural habitats, and the species of plant life that are important for the health of our planet and that this, among other human activities, contributes to global warming.

I realize there are people who have an opposing view, but the increasing demands for meat-eating by formerly underdeveloped, highly populated nations, could dramatically increase the rate of destruction of the forest, over-utilize limited fresh water supplies, and dramatically add to pollution, in addition to increasing carbon dioxide and the gradual warming of the planet.

As I write this, I think of the movie Wall-E, in which the Earth became one big wasteland and the obese, lazy humans of the future have to move to a spaceship because planet Earth is no longer hospitable. I do not speak for my father, but as a young adult interested in the future of this world, clearly, saying no to meat-eating is a simple change that we can all make to protect the world’s precious natural resources. Maybe we’ll save a few human lives too in the process.

The environmental consequences of our dietary choices

Earlier this month I was given the opportunity to accompany my father (Dr. Fuhrman) to an international global warming conference held by The World Preservation Foundation in London. I knew that attending the conference would enlighten me about how the food choices we make influence not just our own health, but in a much broader sense, contribute to the earth’s “well-being”. At the conference, members of British Parliament convened with scientists, physicians and experts from around the world to share their expertise and enlighten attendees, and people tuning in on the internet and their television sets about measures we can take to preserve the earth’s resources and avert global warming. It was clear from the outset why my father was invited to speak, for those organizing the conference were well aware of how minimizing or eliminating the consumption of animal foods is essential to save the planet from the daunting environmental catastrophes we currently face. If these sobering statistics touch you the way they touched me, they will make you even more impassioned about making the choice to eat predominantly vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nuts and seeds and avoid animal products. The foods you put in your mouth today really do influence the world of tomorrow. Here are some of the facts about meat production I learned at the conference: 

1)     Raising livestock and their by-products account for at least 32.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalents per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide green house gas (GHG) emissions. 

2)     Thirty percent of the entire land surface of Earth is devoted to livestock production, including plants used to feed the livestock.

3)     Replacing meat with plant-derived sources of calories and protein could reduce the land area required to feed the human population by more than 80 percent and recover about 25 percent of the landfor restoration, solar energy capture, or other eco-friendly purposes.

4)     Between 23-30 percent of our global ecological footprint comes from agriculture, primarily livestock production.

5)     Beef takes 70 times more land to produce than vegetables.

6)     80 percent of the world’s soy production is consumed by livestock.

7)     About 50 percent of the world’s grain supply is used to feed livestock. This is while almost 11 million children who live in the countries where these feed grains are grown, die ironically of hunger each year.

8)     In 2009, for the first time, the number of people suffering from hunger exceeded 1 billion. This doesn’t include people facing hunger shortages from natural disasters.

9)     If all 6.78 billion people on Earth began consuming as many animal products as residents of the United States, we would need over 3 planet Earths to meet the demand. If all people on Earth became vegetarians, less than one Earth would be needed to meet food demands.

 

The land and resources required in the production of animal products is startling.   It is sad to think about how many people are starving in the world, while most of the soy, wheat, and corn grown around the globe are fed to livestock.

Earth

I learned so much more at the conference, such as how global warming is melting the ice caps and raising ocean levels and the destruction this will have on our world in the future. I learned more about the essential nature of the Amazon Rainforest as the “lungs of the earth” and how livestock production is fueling continual and rapid deforestation via burning of the rain forests to prep the land for animal feed crops, and how this contributes to the emission of black carbon (soot) in the air that is deposited via wind currents in Antarctica, accelerating the melting. I also became aware of the world’s current water shortages, how much water is used in the production of meat and how our oceans are rapidly being depleted of fish. I began writing about many of these things to include in this post, but this resulted in pages and pages of jaw dropping facts.   I hope to include more about what I learned at the conference in future posts. 

Even though I learned that much land, water, and energy is used to produce meat and the destructive affects this has on our environment, I remain hopeful that the accelerating destruction of our world’s ecology can be turned around. If people understood the big picture: how animal products contribute to chronic disease, is torturous to animals, and hurtful to our planet I think most would willingly make the change to a plant-based diet. The key to solving this problem, just like solving most health problems, is knowledge.