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Why Eating Meat is Bad for the Environment

“Nothing will benefit human health and increase chances of survival of life on Earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.” (Albert Einstein)

Vegetarians and vegans have generated widespread criticism in the media for “preaching” their opinions on the meat and dairy industries to a population so accustomed to a diet of meat and dairy that we are arguably desensitised to the realities of their production. Many people feel that attempts to make meat-eaters feel guilt for their dietary choices are unjustified. They perhaps have a negative attitude towards activists because they threaten the life of ignorance that allows us to eat meat without really considering how it has come to be on our plate.

As climate change becomes a desperate concern, perhaps we should put aside differing views on the issues of the meat industry relating to animal welfare, and think about the environmental impact that concerns our entire planet. We live in a world where people are increasingly concerned about global warming, and yet meat consumption still isn’t widely discussed as a way of tackling these issues.  People seem to be becoming more and more aware of the need to reduce their carbon footprint through recycling, reducing water and energy consumption, walking instead of driving etc –  yet reducing meat within your diet can have more of an effect than any of these things. Animal agriculture produces greenhouse gases and is responsible for deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. I wish to highlight the negative repercussions of meat consumption in the hope that more people will realise the significance of reducing how much of it you eat.

 According to “Drivers of Deforestation and Forest Degradation”, a report funded by British and Norwegian governments, agriculture accounted for 80% of tropical deforestation. Huge amounts of rainforest are destroyed for cattle farming but also for growing the crops to feed the animals that are farmed. This shows that the breeding and feeding of cows etc contributes to the threat of extinction of other species.  The US Census of Agriculture found that while 56 million acres of U.S. land are producing hay for livestock, only 4 million acres are producing vegetables for human consumption. We are wasting huge amounts of land to grow crops for livestock that we humans could directly eat Instead. If the land used for farming animals was instead used to farm crops to feed people, a much greater amount of food could be provided using a smaller area of land. This would help to deal with world poverty, as well as having a lesser impact on the environment.

Farming also uses huge amounts of water. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat, but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat. “The Food Revolution” by John Robbins discusses conserving water through reducing meat consumption in relation to reducing time showering. The book reveals that you can save more water by not eating a pound of meat (or four burgers) than by not showering for a whole year. As well as wasting water, animal farming pollutes the water in its surrounding environment through the large amounts of waste produced. The Environmental Protection Agency found raising livestock for food to be the number-one source of water pollution. PETA claims that a typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. This waste can contaminate water and in turn create ocean dead zones – areas within the ocean where no aquatic life can survive.

A huge environmental concern at the moment is the use of transport, and the need to convert to electric cars. Reducing meat consumption would significantly decrease fossil fuel consumption, considering that the Worldwatch Institute found that at least 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions were emitted through animal farming. Cattle produce a considerable amount of methane, one tonne of which has the same effect in terms of global warming as 23 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

This is a lot of information to take in. Essentially, the consumption of meat is not sustainable. We do not have the land, water or fossil fuels to continue to consume meat at the current rate. And we need to consider the consequences of our omnivorous diet, such as habitat reduction, species endangerment and global warming. In a modern world with so many vegetarian and vegan products available, it seems a simple task to at least reduce the amount of meat we consume. If everyone took the responsibility to do so, the impact would be huge.

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