Want To Save The Planet? Eat Less Meat, Say Environmental Experts
If meat glue, pink slime, and Mad Cow Disease aren't enough make you consider adopting a more Mark Bittman-esque approach to your diet, maybe this will: according to a recent report by two environmental experts, more than half of the world's greenhouse gas emissions come from the meat industry. Yup, if you want to cut back on your carbon footprint, the single biggest change you can make is to eat less meat. Easy, right?
This may seem like a pretty simple situation–obviously, raising livestock requires expansive land and a lot of resources–but the fact is that many people still shrug off the effect that daily meat consumption has on the environment. But when, as co-author Robert Goodland (who worked with environmental specialist Jeff Anhang, of World Bank Group’s International Finance Corporation on this study) points out, 45% of the earth's land is being used either to raise livestock or to grown the necessary cash crops to feed them (mostly GMO corn, soy, etc.), it's more than just a fringe concern for hippies. It's a real problem.
It's important to point out that this isn't a crazy band of PETA activists trying to steal your meat and push their agenda. No one is saying that an omnivorous diet is unnatural, unethical, or otherwise forbidden. Humans have been eating meat for eons, and that's not up for debate. What this report (and others like it), have argued is that meat, and the way in which we get meat today isn't natural–and it isn't harmless. Huge portion sizes, fast food, and farm subsidies have all led to an increase in meat consumption, and, by extension, factory farming of livestock. And where there are cows, pigs, chickens, and sheep, there are CO2 emissions. From the report:
…[L]ivestock (like automobiles) are a human invention and convenience, not part of pre-human times, and a molecule of CO2 exhaled by livestock is no more natural than one from an auto tailpipe.
According to the study, livestock animals are detrimental to the environment in a number of ways. Aside from the carbon they exhale with ever breath, they also produce high amounts of methane (yup, cow farts are killing the planet), require a lot of oil and energy (for shipping, for slaughtering, and for growing their food), and contribute to deforestation as farms get bigger and bigger. Basically, more than cars, coal mining, or almost any other “environmental evil,” animals raised for the purposes of meat at a perfect storm of eco-damage.
What's also interesting in this report is that, despite environmental concerns regarding meat-replacements (like soy and wheat-based alternatives), they are still preferable to factory-farmed livestock. Are they a perfect solution? No. But according to Goodland and Anhang, reducing the amount of land used for cows and chickens, and replacing it with farms for fake meat products would immediately cut back on the carbon emissions of that plot of land.
Factory farming–whether it be for meat, produce, or anything else–is unnatural, and must be expected to have some form of environmental impact. But the fact is that cutting out meat just once a week (yay, it's Meatless Monday!) is statistically one of the most highly-effective environmental changes that you, personally, can make. So just make it already!
Image: Rudchenko Liliia via Shutterstock