Animal agriculture contributes five times more to greenhouse gas emissions than airplane travel
By Alex White
Eight out of ten Americans say climate change is a major problem or a crisis. If you’re not one of them, focus on the health reasons for eating more plant-based foods. Otherwise, you may want to know how eating this way can help preserve our planet for future generations, so here goes.
Nearly twice as many of Americans think that airplane travel is a ‘major contributor’ to climate change as think animal agriculture is. In fact it accounts for about three percent of global greenhouse gas emissions while raising livestock accounts for about fifteen percent, or five times as much. What is more, nearly half the emissions from livestock are in the form of methane which lasts longer and does more damage than carbon dioxide. So, cutting back on meat can have at least as much, if not more, impact than cutting back on travel, although both are needed.
An area of the Amazon rainforest larger than a football field is destroyed every second. Over a quarter will be gone by 2030 and it could all be gone in our lifetime. If worrying about that seems like a luxury you can’t afford, we get it. We all have our own problems, and this can seem like somebody else’s. Sadly, it isn’t. We rely on rainforests to absorb carbon dioxide but their ability to do so is shrinking fast. Without it we will all suffer. Luckily you’ll be making a huge difference by eating less meat because it is the biggest cause of rainforest destruction.
It takes 119 gallons of water to grow a pound of potatoes but 1,799 gallons of water to make a pound of beef? That’s the same as taking a five-minute shower every day for about four months! That’s because producing any form of meat is hugely inefficient. When we eat plants, we go straight to the source of the energy and protein and cut out the middleman. When we eat meat, we are keeping another animal alive for months or years. That requires masses of land, energy, food, and water. So, eating less meat is probably the single biggest thing you can do to help save our rapidly shrinking rivers and other fresh water supplies.
By eating more plant-based whole foods you will be helping ocean life in two important ways. First, you’ll be helping to avoid the spread of the world’s more than 400 ocean ‘dead zones’. These are areas of the sea where pollution – largely from factory farms – has left too little oxygen for sea life to survive. Second, you’ll be helping slow the loss of our fish stocks. Many of these are at risk of collapsing completely within the next ten to twenty years. Sadly, there’s no sign yet that fish farms will be able to fill the gap in a sustainable way so — if we want to avoid leaving future generations with empty seas — the best thing to do is eat fewer fish.
In May 2019, a UN report by over 450 scientists and diplomats warned that a million species are at risk of extinction. If that happens it could rock our society like nothing before, not even the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also be irreversible.
Animal agriculture takes up 77 percent of our farmland while producing just 18 percent of the calories we get from food. As a result, the UN and other authorities have warned that we will literally run out of land if the population continues to grow and we don’t start to farm and eat differently.
Rearing and selling animals for food – often in cramped and unsanitary conditions – led to COVID-19 and several earlier epidemics including the Spanish flu of 1918-1920 (which killed 50-100 million people) and the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 (which killed 18,000). To avoid future outbreaks, we should act on the advice experts have being given for decades and get serious about regulating factory farming. You can also help to protect yourself and your family by reducing the demand for meat.
About 80 percent of the antibiotics drug companies produce are given to livestock. There’s no evidence to support claims some have made about these drugs contaminating our food, but they do play an important role in the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. This contributes to another major public health crisis we face – the fact that these crucial drugs are steadily losing their potency, putting us at risk.
When we grow up eating meat, fish and dairy products we tend to ignore where they came from. We enjoy these foods and they are part of our traditions. As a result, we are wired to look for reasons to keep eating them, not reasons to stop. We say things like: ‘animals are bred for this’, ‘they had a good life’, ‘I only buy organic’ or ‘humans have always lived this way’. By doing so we avoid changing old habits or going against the crowd.
Despite all this, two things happen to many people who start eating less meat for health or environmental reasons. First, they realize they don’t need animal products to survive. And second, they start to question the things being done in their name. In other words, they open up to the animal welfare side of plant-based eating – even if they can’t relate to the typical image or methods of animal rights protestors. If you think you’re at this point read the facts below. If not, forget this bit and focus on the many other reasons to eat more plant-based foods.
Intelligence. Pigs, cows and sheep and are as intelligent as dogs and show similar emotions. Chickens are also highly intelligent with an ability to solve problems, form relationships and care for their young.
Life. Mother pigs are kept in seven-by-two-foot pens too small to turn in. Turkeys are overfed to the point of organ failure. Chickens routinely have their beaks cut off. Cows cry out when separated from their calves.
Death. Many dairy cows are killed before age five, a quarter of their natural lifespan. Cows and pigs are often dismembered while fully conscious. Seven billion male chicks are suffocated, ground up alive or gassed each year because they’re not needed for making eggs.
Our aim in sharing these facts is not to shock or guilt you into changing your mind about plant-based eating. Instead, it is to offer you another way to strengthen your resolve about sticking to a healthier way of life.
If you’re like us, there will be times when the long-term health benefits of eating this way simply aren’t enough to conquer your cravings for old favorites. At times like that, thinking about the violence you are no longer a part of can be the difference between ordering a bacon double cheeseburger or a salad.