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.
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.