As a percentage of our total greenhouse gas emissions, cars, trucks and power plants seem to be the biggest contributors to climate change. But the elephant in the room is that our consumption of meat is actually the leading cause. When its effects and bi-products are taken together, animal agriculture accounts for about half of global emissions. On average, each American eats 275 pounds of meat a year. That’s like every man, woman and child eating a quarter pounder every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.\ There are over 1.5 billion cows on Earth, and each one emits 65 gallons of methane a day as they digest their food. And methane is a potent greenhouse gas, trapping 25x more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide. And when it just comes to sheer waste, 2,500 dairy cows are equivalent to a city of over 400,000 people. Every minute, the animals raised for food in the U.S. produce 7 million pounds of waste.
But where does it all go? Into our waterways and oceans of course, creating gigantic dead zones. To make room for all these farm animals, we’ve had to remake our planet. In Brazil, this means clearing the Amazon at an astounding rate. Every second, another acre of the world’s rainforests are cleared. As our most diverse biospheres disappear, every day another 110 animals and insect species go extinct. Taking their place, livestock now covers 45% of the total land on our planet and uses ⅓ of our freshwater supply. To produce just one pound of beef takes over 2,000 gallons of water. And because we’re so inefficient — growing food to feed to our food — in many countries people are starving, as vegetables that are grown all around them and should go to feeding them, are instead fed to animals for wealthy people to eat. And it’s not just land animals, we’re pulling 90 million tons of fish from our oceans each year. For every 1 pound of fish caught, 5 pounds of unintended marine species are brought up along with it and discarded as “by-kill.” So how can we, as individuals, solve this massive problem? Simply put, we can eat a lot less meat and dairy.
Every acre of land gives us a choice: we can either use it to grow 250 lbs of meat, or 25,000 lbs of plant based food. Even though it’s too extreme for most of us, it’s worth considering that a person who follows a vegan diet — meaning they eat no meat and dairy — produces 50% less CO2 and uses 1/11th the amount of oil, 1/13 the water, and 1/18th the land compared to a meat eater. Of course, going completely vegan is really hard. I love a good burger, chicken breast, or cheese pizza every once in a while, but by becoming more educated and mindful about the costs to our environment, I’ve significantly cut down on the amount of animal products I consume. The side benefits are that I’m healthier and I’m not contributing nearly as much to the inhumane treatment of animals. The majority of Americans consider themselves environmentalists. But as more and more of us learn that our animal consumption is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, habitat destruction and climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions, are enough of us really prepared to make necessary changes to our daily lives to truly protect our environment? Thanks for watching.
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