Written by Lindsey Brand, ESLLC 2015-2016
Classically speaking, there are four basic necessities in human life: shelter, water, clothing, and food. There are choices one can make in the pursuit of all these needs that are more environmentally sustainable and responsible than others. For example, you can build your home using recycled steel and plant-based insulation foam, and use a solar panel array to produce electricity and heat water. You can make sure the water you drink comes from a responsibly constructed-well or municipal source, and help create other responsible water systems in other communities. You can buy clothes made from organic cotton, linen, and bamboo that lasts many wears to reduce the need to rebuy. And lastly, you can buy and consume food that is grown locally with minimal pesticides, and consume a low-meat diet. I will focus on just that last detail: “low-meat”. Eating a low or no meat diet can have a substantial impact on the environment.
The meat problem is multi stranded. One prominent issue is the feed required for the animals. Growing the food for livestock requires significant amounts of land. A meat eater in the U.S. requires about 20 acres of land to sustain their diet, while someone with a plant-based diet requires about one acre of land. According to The Guardian, thirty percent of the ice-free land on earth is used for either livestock or growing their feed. Some studies indicate that if we fed the crops used to feed livestock directly to humans, we could feed at least twice as many people as we do now. Right now, approximately one billion people go hungry every day, and this number will only grow as the human population continues to rapidly increase.
Meat production is also a large contributor to greenhouse gasses. The combination of gasses actually released from the animals, electricity associated with cooling and cooking, and other processes necessary to production account for somewhere between eighteen and fifty-one percent of the global total of greenhouse gasses released. For practical reference, the UN states that meat production accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than all the cars and trucks globally combined.
Another large impact of meat production is on water systems. Meat production requires large amounts of water, and also pollutes natural waterways. Manure, a heavy byproduct of livestock farming, severely pollutes river ecosystems. Manure, along with pesticides and antibiotics, enters river systems through runoff, choking waterways of their nutrients and effecting life for both the fish and plants in those watersheds, as well as human life downstream.
Choosing to eat a low or no meat diet reduces the demand for meat production, halting some of these environment-destroying practices. Eating responsibly is a small choice that can make a big difference on your personal effect on the environment.
This is just a small snapshot of some of the effects of meat production. For more information, check out chooseveg.com, Down to Earth at downtoearth.org/go-veggie, or the Vegan Society at vegansociety.com/go-vegan/why-go-vegan. Low-meat diets are also just one option in the pursuit of an environmentally responsible diet. Eating local, organic, and low-impact crops are all also great options to explore!