There are a lot of reasons to stop eating meat. Improving our health is a large one given the association between meat consumption and chronic, life-threatening diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease and various cancers. Every time we choose to fill our plates with plant foods instead of animal products, we are doing our bodies a huge service both in the short and long term. However, most people don’t realize how forgoing a steak, hamburger or piece of chicken is enormously protective against the warming of the planet and the destruction of the rain forests. The evidence has become overwhelming that global warming is happening and it is happening fast, and we humans are largely responsible. Limiting meat consumption around the world is the number one solution recommended by scientists to slow and potentially tackle this issue that will undoubtedly impose devastating consequences if we do not take realistic actions to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The World Preservation Foundation is an organization based in the United Kingdom devoted to researching the most effective means to reduce global warming urgently. The primary conclusion of the prestigious scientists studying this issue is that over fifty percent of all human caused greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock raising (and the dietary patterns that drive it). This figure was derived from a 2009 report from the Worldwatch Institute in addition to the United Nations’ famous report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, which argues that livestock farming is one of the most significant contributors to this serious environmental problem.1 This means that a 50 percent reduction in livestock products worldwide could result in a minimum 25 percent reduction in GHG emissions.2 Those are huge figures! Imagine what we could accomplish if we all ate less meat. Unfortunately meat consumption is still rising throughout the world.
Why is the production of animal meat from factory farms so detrimental to our planet? Livestock farming contributes methane, ozone, black carbon and nitrous oxide to the environment, as well as carbon dioxide. These gases warm the planet rapidly, which will result in ever more challenging environmental problems if we do not take action to limit emissions. For instance, methane interacts with aerosols in the atmosphere and becomes 28 times stronger than carbon dioxide over the course of a century to increase the global warming process. Additionally, the potency of methane to carbon dioxide increases over time, trapping 100 times more heat over 5 years. Also note, scientists have shown that black carbon (aka soot) is responsible for 45 percent of the warming of the Artic. Black carbon is 680 times as heat-trapping as carbon dioxide and it causes ice sheets and glaciers around the world to melt even faster.3 Brazilian researchers have found black carbon in the most rapidly warming areas of Antarctica, where 50 percent is related to the burning of trees in the Amazon, and 40 percent to the livestock industry.4
How does livestock create black carbon? It actually comes from animal waste produced on factory farms, waste processing, and the burning of vegetation to accommodate crops used to feed livestock. NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies reports that cutting black carbon produced from biofuels like wood or dung could help reduce the estimated 1.5 million premature deaths per year attributed to biofuel soot.5
In addition to the above statistics, there really are so many environmental consequences to eating meat that we don’t think about as we peruse the aisles of the grocery store. For example, the raising of animals for food production sacrifices much more land than would the amount of land used to grow fruits, vegetables, and other plant crops. We are now clearing acres upon acres of the rainforest to feed the growing demand for animal products in developing nations. Not only does this cleared land sacrifice the original forest and its capacity to sequester carbon in trees or in the soil, but these lost trees sacrifice a tragic amount of plant and animal species. It is truly sad to imagine the loss of life in the rainforest due to human inflicted degradation. Statistically we are talking big numbers: two thirds of the plant and animal species on earth reside in tropical forests, of which 5 million acres are destroyed every year releasing 2 billion tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, contributing 20-to 25% of global warming.6 These dense forests are the “lungs of the earth” and our healthy survival is potentially dependent on their existence.
Not eating meat or reducing our consumption is highly protective to our health, but we all should take note that we are doing a huge service to the planet and posterity by avoiding meat and sharing meat-free meals with our families and friends. Check out www.worldpreservationfoundation.org for more information.
1. Livestock’s Long Shadow, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2006.
2. Livestock and Climate Change, Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, Worldwatch Institute, November/December 2009
3. A number of studies have addressed this issue, particularly those by Professor Heitor Evangelista and colleagues of Janeiro State University in Brazil, Professor Mark Jackson of the University of California at Berkeley, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth. See news reports by Lauren Morello, “Cutting Soot Emissions May Slow Climate Change in the Arctic,” Scientific American, August 2, 2010,http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=cutting-soot-emissions-may-slow-climatechange-in-the-arctic as well as by Randy Boswell, “Soot Is Second Leading Cause of Climate Change: Study,” Ottawa Citizen, August 1, 2010,http://www.ottawacitizen.com/technology/Soot+second+leading+cause+
4. Aerosols May Drive a Significant Portion of Arctic Warming,
Adam Voiland, NASA’s Earth Science News Team, August 2009
The Cattle Realm report, Roberto Smeraldi, Amzônia Brasileira (Friends of the Earth– Brazilian Amazon) 2008
5. Jacobson, M. Z. (2010), Short-term effects of controlling fossil-fuel soot, biofuel soot and gases, and methane on climate, Arctic ice, and air pollution health, J. Geophys. Res., 115, D14209, doi:10.1029/2009JD013795.
6. Statistic from: www.worldpreservationfoundation.org