Wednesday, June 07, 2006
If you've been paying any attention to the news for the past year, you've no doubt heard about the major shift American consumers are making towards more fuel-efficient vehicles and what a benefit that could have for the environment. While this is true, there's another change that consumers can make that would have an even greater benefit for the environment while at the same time improving their own health and reducing global suffering, and it costs a lot less than buying a new car. That change is a move to a meat-free diet.
Greenhouse Gasses: Carbon Dioxide
According to the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, producing one calorie of animal protein requires more than 10 times as much fossil fuel input, releasing more than 10 times as much carbon dioxide, as producing one calorie of plant protein.
According to researchers at the University of Chicago, the average meat eater causes 1.5 more tons of CO2 to be released into the environment every year than a person who doesn't consume animal products, whereas switching from a conventional gas-guzzler to a Prius Hybrid saves 1 ton of CO2 emmissions per year.
Greenhouse Gasses: Methane
Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled. Whereas human sources of CO2 amount to just 3% of natural emissions, human-controlled sources produce one and a half times as much methane as all natural sources. The number one source of all methane production in the world is factory farmed animals.
Moreover, factory farming consumes 50% of the national water supply, 70% of all wheat, corn and other grains grown in the U.S., and 1/3 of all raw materials used in the U.S. annually. One half of the entire United States landmass is dedicated to producing meat.
More than 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to grow grain to feed farmed animals. According to scientists at the Smithsonian Institute, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals. Each vegetarian saves an acre of trees per year.
Land and Water Pollution
Farmed animals produce 87,000 pounds of excement per second that is dumped into the land and water.
The much-publicized 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska dumped 12 million gallons of oil into Prince William Sound, but the relatively unknown 1995 New River hog waste spill in North Carolina poured 25 million gallons of excrement and urine into the water, killing an estimated 10 to 14 million fish and closing 364,000 acres of coastal shellfish beds. Hog waste spills have caused the rapid spread of a virulent microbe called Pfiesteria piscicida, which has killed a billion fish in North Carolina alone.
A gallon of oil weighs 6.84 pounds, so the Exxon Valdez oil spill released the weight-equivalent of the amount of feces produced by factory farming in the U.S. every 16 minutes. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the run-off from factory farms pollutes our waterways more than all other industrial sources combined.
Many leading environmental organizations, including the National Audubon Society, the WorldWatch Institute, the Sierra Club, and the Union of Concerned Scientists, have recognized that raising animals for food damages the environment more than just about anything else that we do.
Then there's the whole world hunger issue. With 870 million people going hungry right now, meat production is the most inefficient use of resources for food possible. It takes up to 22 pounds of grain and 2,500 pounds of water to produce just one pound of edible meat. The world's cattle population consumes the equivalent number of calories as would feed 8.7 billion people, far more than the entire population of the Earth. About 20 percent of the world's population, or 1.4 billion people, could be fed with the grain and soybeans fed to U.S. cattle alone. If Americans cut their beef consumption by just 10%, they would save enough grain to feed 60 million people.
Diet For a Small Planet author Frances Moore Lapp proposes the following thought experiment: Imagine sitting down to an eight-ounce steak. Then imagine the room filled with 45 to 50 people with empty bowls in front of them. For the 'feed cost' of your steak, each of their bowls could be filled with a full cup of cooked cereal grains.
Making a Difference
In the world today, it's impossible to effectively boycott the oil industry. Even if you got rid of your car, you have to power your home, your office, etc. However, it is entirely possible, in fact it gets easier every day, to boycott the meat industry and do the most you can to save the environment and reduce the suffering of almost a billion global poor.
Article in The Guardian
GoVeg.com on Environment
EarthSave on Global Warming
E, the Environmental Magazine
The Global Benefits of Eating Less Meat (pdf)
Written by the brilliant authors at: http://home.austin.rr.com/ankh/weblog/index.html