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. 

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Comments (24) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
Mike Crosby - November 29, 2010 11:01 PM

Thanks Talia. I'm sure on this blog just about all will be in agreement with you. I myself do not believe in global warming.

It's interesting to me how most people who are vegan are politically left. I'm on the other end of the political spectrum. I believe my health is a matter of personal responsibility.

I'll never forget a few years ago the hatred Matthew Scully, (President Bush's speech writer and author of Dominion), for writing a speech for Sarah Palin. It's seems if one doesn't toe the party line, one's persona non-grata.

Molly - November 29, 2010 11:37 PM

Excellent post, Talia. Please do share everything else you learned. Sharing these statistics is very important, and we appreciate everything you are doing to help spread the message of saving our planet.

Amy - November 30, 2010 10:12 AM

Thank you for sharing Talia.

greg Kaler - November 30, 2010 10:45 AM

Great job Talia. You rock! I and so many like you who "get it" are right there with you!
I am wondering if your dad's first talk at Parliament will be available for viewing. I tuned in live and the feed was not good- kept going in and out. What I heard was wonderful. Would love for your dad to post the video of his talk on drfuhman.com, either just for members, or ideally for everyone to view for free. This is such an important topic. For those believing that the food you eat does not affect the health of the earth, all I can say is, "you'll find out someday." To those people, have you ever driven past a feedlot and smelled the ammonia? Does that smell "wrong" to you?

Conor - November 30, 2010 11:07 AM

Is Dr. Fuhrman's talk from that global conference available online? Or any of the other talks? Thanks. Conor

Angela - November 30, 2010 11:30 AM

Thanks for sharing! I don't believe in global warming either, but I do believe that the choices all of us make collectively will affect certain aspects of our environment and the extent to which we can enjoy nature. I used to love meat and said I'd never give it up, but now I don't even really want it anymore. It just doesn't make sense to eat as much meat as people in the US and other developed countries do.

In my opinion, it certainly does make sense to put the wellbeing of human children above cattle, and I think it would be great if more of them could have food instead. Meat used to be a luxury and eaten in small amounts--wouldn't it be great if it still was? I guess we'll just have to keep telling people about ETL so they can make their own choices like we have :) If demand for meat decreases, so will supply!

Jean Myers - November 30, 2010 11:42 AM

Thank you, Talia, for sharing this vital info. Changes are desperately needed in our lifestyles but probably will not come from our governments and corporations as they are too entrenched in the status quo (at least here in the US).

The evidence of a deteriorating environment is becoming too rampant to ignore - thank you for helping to spread the word that individuals can make a difference, just by choosing to eat healthy, plant-based foods!

jwescher - November 30, 2010 12:04 PM

One of the things that I have appreciated about Dr. Fuhrman has been his teachings on health without the interference from animal rights activists and global warming. I believe there to be greater evidence for global warming being a cyclical event. That being said, I do appreciate the wonderful gift Dr. Fuhrman's healthful contribution to society truly is. After all there are still many people who don't believe that you are what you eat.

Stephanie - November 30, 2010 12:31 PM

For anyone who's interested, there's an excellent movie by John Robbins (of the Baskin Robbins family, and author of Healthy at 100) called Diet for a New America; it deals in depth with most, if not all, of the things Talia's talked about here. (Thanks, Talia!)

Bill - November 30, 2010 12:32 PM

I always enjoy comments about not believing in global warming as if it's akin to not believing in the Easter bunny. Wouldn't it be nice to hear a denier cite facts to refute the overwhelming evidence of the increasing carbon emissions that are affecting the environment. Too bad it's degenerated into a political instead of scientific discussion.
Politics aside, though, less meat consumed means better health for humans and the environment.

Nathan Kapner - November 30, 2010 1:11 PM

I'm glad you got this experience, but I to do not believe Global Warming is man-made. Climate change is cyclical. I do agree that the world would be a better place is countries/businesses would put more value in feeding the starving people/children than in feed stocks for the profits of the animal protein companies. It would also be good if the government would end the farm subsidies that make these products look more economical than fresh vegetables. It would be good to have more locally owned farms. I to believe that fresh water is going to be our biggest concern in the near future. Thanks again for your post and interest in our planet and in humanity.

Helen Day - November 30, 2010 2:23 PM

Talia, I found this very good reading and excellent info. I, too, am using less meats, if at all, and learning to enjoy vegetables and fruits. I just celebrated my 85th birthday and feel terrific, have lots of energy and very little aches and pain. I feel it has so much to do with my diet.

Monty - November 30, 2010 2:23 PM

The only reason for consumption of animal products is for primitive societies in cold climates or deserts to survive the winter or dry season when plant foods are not available. The problem is that animal products have become commercialized.

Erin Michaud - November 30, 2010 2:44 PM

Thank you for writing this. It's such important information. Rarely do we have the opportunity to take an action that benefits our health, our planet, and our fellow animals. Eliminating animal products provides just that opportunity and it should be shouted from the rooftops.

lionel j. soracco jr. - November 30, 2010 3:13 PM

thanks for the data from the conference. although i knew large resources in land and food were devoted to animal production i didn't realize it was so great. when one adds to this the greatly increased health risks which accompany the consumption of these animal products, not to mention the attendant costs, dr.fuhrmann's diet becomes not only a personal benefit but a survival requirement for humanity.

as to those who do not "believe" in global warming, global warming is not a religion, it is the overwhelming conclusion of scientists based on measurements being taken constantly at thousands of sites throughout the world, below, on and above the ground and the seas. these measurements are not the kind we can observe individually, but that does not negate them.

one can only hope that there are a sufficient number of people who understand the twin problems (animal production and global warming) to move the governments of the world to take meaningful steps before the inevitable catastrophes force the truth upon us all---hopefully before it is too late to change course. meanwhile, we must do what we can to increase awareness. the conference report is one such action.

lionel soracco

nora manwiller - November 30, 2010 4:01 PM

I wanted to throw my opinion in here as well. I also do not believe that global warming is a man made issue. I have read a great deal of convincing scientific evidence pointing me to this conclusion. Of course this would not be the place to cite it all, but it is readily accessible. I have appreciated that Dr. Fuhrman's focus on health and diet has generally steered clear of the left's political agenda. Like one of the other comment writers, I am in favor of people taking personal responsibility for their health and many other decisions. I believe world hunger is more a political problem than an inability to produce enough food to feed the earth's population. Nevertheless I think a plant based diet is in most people's best interest.

Talia - November 30, 2010 9:44 PM

Conor, a segment of Dr. Fuhrman's talk can be found at: http://worldpreservationfoundation.org/events.php?id=16

Brodrick Kent - November 30, 2010 10:00 PM

Fantastic!!!

How many more facts do people need to get this...........

Thanks.

Brod

carfree - November 30, 2010 11:46 PM

Many people will refuse to "believe in" anything that will cause them any inconvenience. But for those of you who are conservative, does that not also include conserving the earth? Must we be gluttons just because we can?

LaurieInOklahoma - November 30, 2010 11:49 PM

Talia, as much as I generally try to look on the bright side, I am quite pessimistic about the future of this planet. I think your article was spot on, filled with critically needed information.

But I have seen too many friends unwilling to change their diets even to save their own health. Given all the people who don't belive global warming is caused by human actions and others who won't change diets for any reason whatsoever, not to mention the contention between nations over proposed fixes --- I just can't be optimistic about the earth's future.

Unfortunately, if scientists are right about some possible scenarios, it is many of the most innocent who will perish first.

To people who don't believe in global warming, my question is "Do we really want to run that experiement on our only atmosphere?". What if we gamble and lose?

Amy - November 30, 2010 11:59 PM

Lionel - sadly I agree with you, there are many politicians who would like us all to not believe in global warming or in evolution no matter what the science says - they have turned it into a Democrat vs. Republican issue instead of trying to figure out how we as humans can tread most lightly on the earth... I'm an independent and I think it is depressing. It isn't about the left having an "agenda" as much as it's about the right's agenda to blow smoke and mirrors in all of our faces to keep the real environmental issues from being discussed. It makes me cringe to hear people say that God will protect us and the environment! Let's not forget the gigantic amounts of waste (i.e. animal poop) that gets into our and and groundwater and pollutes the communities where factory farms exist. That is also a real problem.

greg Kaler - December 1, 2010 8:53 AM

Regardless if you believe that global warming is man-made or cyclic, what we eat does affect our health, and the health of the earth. It is hard to understand people not understanding this. How about this- that maybe global warming IS cyclic but that mankind is also CONTRIBUTING! Have you seen the sky above Bejing, or LA, Denver, etc.?! How much fun would it be to always have to be breathing THAT air?! We're polluting the earth's air with our cars, coal plants, animal agriculture, and so on.
In our world, there are people who are concerned for the environment but not for their own health. There are people concerned with their health but not the health of the earth. They are both connected whether people want to believe this or not.
And please don't label people "left or right" as it offends. i want to be known as a good person, period. Taking care of your health means eating plants, raw and cooked in a healthy way. A transition to a world plant based agriculture would have a definite positive impact on the earth's health, and the health of animals. If you don't care about the welfare of animals you are mistaken. The purpose of an animal is not to feed a person. The purpose of an animal is to be an animal. It's time we realize we don't need animals to survive anymore. Let's stop exploiting them. Win, win, all around. And by the way, I for one DO appreciate it anytime someone in an important position takes a stand re: what we eat is connected to the environment. Bravo Dr. Fuhrman for being involved in the summit in London. Kudos also to John McDougall, MD in this same regard.

js - December 1, 2010 9:22 AM

I am confused about some of these comments. Taking care of the planet and being concerned about world hunger are "the left's political agenda"? Really? I believe in personal responsibility, too, but I have a lot more options for exercising that responsibility because I live in a first-world country and have a job that pays me enough to choose what kind of food I eat. Western gluttony (and I'm not being holier-than-thou or exempting myself because I don't eat meat: I still drive a car, etc.) of animal products, fossil fuels, and natural resources directly takes away the choices of people in other parts of the world, affecting their ability to survive, let alone have the freedom to exercise personal responsibility for their health.

David Griffin - December 1, 2010 12:21 PM

Wow Talia this is great!!! Please don't let the political comments (like Mike Crosby's) discourage you from continuing these types of articles. Some people are just so caught up on treating everything as a political issue, rather than becoming a free thinker and looking at the facts and science for what it is. Usually these same people get their "science" from political news sources. I've found its best just to ignore them. We are so polarized by politics right now, it's awful. Can't even have a discussion based on science or facts without someone accusing you of being married to a political agenda.

Anyway, this is wonderful - the world needs to know the facts and the damaging effects of mainstream's current lifestyle. Keep up the great work!!!

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