Environmental reasons to go vegetarian
Author: Evan Keraminas
There is a saying that a meat-eating environmentalist is a walking oxymoron. If the actual cost of meat production were not subsidized and externalized -- particularly if the environmental tolls were calculated and added in -- the true price of meat would cause consumers some severe sticker shock. Waste and water
While the Earth's surface is approximately 75% water, humans and most other terrestrial beings count on fresh water for survival. Many scientists blame the American West's water crisis on livestock production, and a similar phenomenon is being seen all throughout the world, particularly in developing countries. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, growing crops for farm animals constitutes nearly half of U.S. water use. The production of one pound of beef requires anywhere from 5,000 to 12,000 gallons of water. (For comparison, the production of one pound of soybeans requires about 240 gallons.) Skipping a hamburger saves about as much fresh water as taking 40 showers with a low-flow nozzle.
While laws governing disposal of human waste are very strict, regulations for animal waste are lax or nonexistant Factory farms, feedlots, and slaughterhouses produce extraordinary amounts of manure which often find their way into waterways, polluting lakes, rivers, and human drinking supplies. The typical hog farm, for instance, produces about as much waste as a city of 12,000 people. Also, the few lax laws on the use of pesticides for crops grown for human consumption do not apply to crops destined to become livestock feed. This means that far more pesticides can be used, increasing the rate at which synthetic pesticide residues leach into ground water and the rest of the environment. (It also increases the amount of pesticide residue in the meat itself.
Soil erosion and habitat destruction
Meat production also has detrimental effects on the land itself. Modern industrialized agribusiness damages soil and contributes to the accidental introduction of commercial pesticides into ecosystems, but particularly when one considers that approximately three-quarters of U.S. crops go to feed livestock rather than directly feeding humans, it is clear that animal agribusiness greatly multiplies these effects. Cattle and sheep frequently overgraze land and contribute to soil erosion and desert formation. Dust storms in Africa, China, the Middle East, Australia, and the western United States have been linked to livestock grazing. Paradoxically, soil erosion doesn't just increase dust storms and desert formation, but also contributes to severe flooding during the rainy seasons. Soil, unlike fresh water, is considered a renewable resource, but it is considered nonrenewable at the current rate of erosion versus soil formation. In the time since non-natives settled the American West, nature could have created an additional two inches of topsoil. Instead, cattle culture has stripped the land of a full six inches worth.
When ranchers waste valuable fresh water for livestock use, they do not stop at tapping into precious aquifers. They also drain ponds, streams, and other wetlands, destroying these habitats and threatening the species therein. In the American West, cattle have displaced native populations of bison, elk, deer, antelope, bighorn sheep, and moose; species such as these have been reduced to as little as 1 to 3 percent of their primeval populations. Studies in Oregon have also shown that fish and bird populations are also adversely affected in grazing areas. Cattle and sheep also spread disease and parasites to wildlife through manure and infected water. The U.S. government's so-called "Animal Damage Control" kills an estimated 250,000 wild animals every year to protect ranchers' livestock. (Arguably, if they really wanted to do "damage control," they would instead phase out intensive ranching all together.)
The Rainforest Action Network estimates that fifty-five square feet of tropical rainforest are destroyed for the production of every hamburger made from rainforest beef -- the kind of cheap meat typically found in fast food hamburgers or processed beef products. The burning of plant life is like a one-two punch to the environment. Burning biomass (living organisms) produces carbon dioxide, and also kill the plants so that they are no longer to serve as "Nature's air filter," making air breathable for animals (including humans) by converting carbon dioxide into oxygen during the photosynthetic process. What's more, the habitat of countless species is destroyed in the process. The world's tropical rainforests are rich havens of biodiversity; a great portion of the species therein have yet to even be "discovered" by scientists.
Energy and global warming
Most animal-derived foods require anywhere from 10 to 90 kilocalories of fuel (usually fossil fuels) to yield just one kilocalorie of edible food; producing meat requires burning about forty times more fossil fuels than producing protein-yielding crops such as soybeans. Jeremy Rifkin has estimated that it now takes the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef in the United States. This wanton waste of energy and burning of fossil fuels is not only impractical due to the nonrenewability of these resources; it also threatens our planet and every living being on it with contributions to global warming.
As previously shown, when rainforest habitat is destroyed, it lessens the planet's ability to "recycle" carbon dioxide into oxygen, and greatly increases the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, thereby contributing to global warming. Livestock also produce waste high in nitrous oxide and methane, two more greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming. The 1.3 billion cattle of the world produce about twenty percent of the methane that emitted into the atmosphere. A recent study by the University of Chicago found that the average American diet produces about 1.5 tons more greenhouse gases than does a plant-based diet.
Plundering the seas
Aquafarming or aquaculture has a detrimental effect on the world's oceans, especially when antibiotics, hormones, and genetically modified fish escape into the surrounding waters. Certain methods of obtaining wild-caught sea life aren't much better. Paul Wilson, cofounder of Greenpeace, has deemed seafood "a socially acceptable form of bush meat." Many commercial shrimping practices destroy coral reefs and other marine environments; for every pound of shrimp caught, seven pounds of other sea life are killed. Commercial fishers often inadvertently net whales, dolphins, turtles, and other "unwanted" sea life along with their intended catches in practices such as trawling. Our seas have also been drastically over-fished; the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that over 70% of the world's fish species are either fully exploited or depleted.
Bibliography and suggested further reading:
Another Inconvenient Truth
Berril, Michael -- The Plundered Seas: Can the World's Fish be Saved?
Coats, C. David -- Old MacDonald's Factory Farm\
Cousens, Gabriel -- Conscious Eating
Eldredge, Niles -- Dominion
Fox, Dr. Michael W. -- Agricide
Fox, Dr. Michael W. -- Eating With Conscience: The Bioethics of Food
Hill, John Lawrence -- The Case for Vegetarianism: Philosophy For a Small Planet
Jacobs, Lynn -- Waste of the West
Jensen, Derrick -- A Language Older Than Words
Jensen, Derrick -- The Culture of Make Believe
Lappe, Francis Moore -- Diet For a Small Planet
Lyman, Howard -- Mad Cowboy: Plain Truth from the Cattle Rancher Who Won't Eat Meat
Marcus, Erik -- Vegan: The New Ethics of Eating
Reinhardt, Mark Warren -- The Perfectly Contented Meat Eater's Guide to Vegetarianism
Riebal, Linda and Ken Jacobsen -- Eating to Save the Earth: Food Choices for a Healthy Planet
Rifkin, Jeremy -- Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of Cattle Culture
Robbins, John -- The Food Revolution
Stepaniak, Joanne -- The Vegan Sourcebook