Food for Thought

There are several benefits associated with vegetarianism. Nutritionists claim that it is a healthier option and it acts as a protest against animal cruelty, but everyone fails to mention the effect it has on the environment. Polls show that there is widespread concern about climate change, but on an individual level, people feel like there is little they can do besides purchasing fuel efficient appliances, or turning off their lights. Though it may seem helpless, the official handbook for Live Earth (the anti-global warming concerts that Al Gore helped organize) says that not eating meat is the ‘single most effective thing you can do’ to reduce your climate change impact.

Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together are the main cause of global climate change. And the livestock industry is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions. According to this article, if society had started the transition to a vegetarian diet in 2010 and completed it by 2030, the pastures now meant for grazing would have the opportunity to regrow into forest area. When the carbon reduction effect of the forest is combined with the reduction of methane from the animals, by 2050 the effect would result in a 70% drop in the mitigation costs of climate change.

Agricultural production contributes to excessive consumption of resources. Livestock production accounts for 70% of agricultural land use and occupies 30% of the world’s land surface. An area the size of Russia and Canada combined could be freed from use as pasture or cropland used to grow animal feed, if people switched from current levels of meat consumption to a diet based on plant-based protein. The process also involves a majority of the country’s water supply and 5-7 kilograms of grain for every 1 kilogram of beef.

Methane is produced in the digestive processes of animals and their manure. The accumulation of animal waste is often stored in massive cesspools and is a leading source of water pollution. Methane contributes to tropospheric ozone, a pollutant harmful to human health and agriculture and is 23 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a greenhouse gas. Nitrous oxide is also a potent greenhouse gas, about 300 times more powerful than carbon dioxide with the meat, egg and dairy industries accounting for 65% of emissions.

I wonder if future generations will look back at us and think we were savages for consuming animals in the first place. Maybe people will radically change their attitudes to meat-eating over time. But that is not likely to happen anytime soon. Global meat consumption has increased five-fold in the last fifty years and is expected to double by mid-century. Any attempts to slow the effect this growth will have will be beneficial. The strain that the livestock industry has on the environment is an enormous factor of climate change that is often overlooked. Though vegetarianism is a step in the right direction, veganism is a better option because it reduces the impact from dairy cows as well.

Recommendations:

–       Environmental organizations should advocate vegetarianism as an option for those seeking to reduce their impact

–       Governments should add an environmental tax on meat, and shift farm subsidies towards plant agriculture

–       Buy local and organic foods to minimize the impact of transportation, soil erosion and the effect of pesticides and fertilizers

–       Half of all food ready for harvest never gets eaten and the average family of four throws out $600 worth of good food every year; so try to minimize waste!

–       Eat low on the food chain

–       Make it a gradual process! Start off with not eating meat one day a week, then two, etc.

And check out these sites!

David Suzuki’s Food and Climate Change

Climate Change: The Inconvenient Truth About What We Eat

Vegetarianism and Climate Change

A Journal Article on Climate Benefits of Changing Diet

Peta’s Fight Global Climate Change By Going Vegetarian

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