Livestock and Climate Change

Written by Gillian Hardy, ESLLC 2018-2019

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 2.34.34 PMWhen most people think of the causes of climate change they often think of planes, trains, and automobiles not livestock. Animal agriculture is responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than all transport combined, coming in at 14.5% according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Not only does the animal agriculture industry produce tremendous amounts of greenhouse gasses it takes up one-third of the Earth’s ice-free land surfaces, is the leading cause of deforestation, uses nearly 16% of the world’s freshwater,  takes a third of the world’s grain production to feed the livestock, and is the leading cause of water and air pollution according to Climatenexus, The world’s current dependence on meat and animal byproducts is destroying us. It is not sustainable at all, and if we don’t change the animal agriculture industry and our reliance on it, then climate change will continue to impact us heavily.

This is not an issue that has been swept under the rug completely. While it has not been handled as well as it should have been, there are many individuals, organizations, and groups working to solve this problem. Two founders of companies pursuing plant-based alternatives to meat were recently recognized by the United Nations Environmental Programme. Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat were the winners of the Champions of the Earth Award, in the science and innovation category. Beyond Meat focuses on breaking down the chemical components of meat and extracting them from plants. The University of Michigan researched just how environmentally friendly a Beyond burger was and found that it requires 99% less water, 93% less land, generates 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions, and uses 46% less energy to produce. Impossible Foods does things a little bit differently and focuses instead on an iron-rich molecule called heme- which occurs naturally in the cells of plants and animals, giving meat its unique flavors and aromas. The Impossible Burger is not quite as environmentally friendly as the Beyond Meat burger, requiring 75% less water, 95% less land, and generates 87% lower greenhouse gasses than a normal burger, but better resembles the taste and texture of meat that so many westerners are used to. These two companies are fighting climate change through innovation and are attempting to eliminate the animal agriculture industry almost completely using plant-based alternatives.

Climate change is a serious problem that affects everyone in the world. Unfortunately, not a lot of people know of the significance of the animal agriculture industry within the issue of climate change. Educating the world’s population of the effects of the animal agriculture industry and the alternatives to meat and animal-byproducts is very important in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. Policy change must also happen across the board at the national and international level. All of this is very difficult though since meat has become ingrained in Western culture and is a staple of wealth in lower income countries, but hopefully through education and the advancement of meat alternatives that people who love meat can enjoy, we will be able to fully fight climate change. Hopefully one day soon when people think of the causes of climate change they will think of cows, pigs, and chickens.

Works Cited

“Animal Agriculture’s Impact on Climate Change.” Climate Nexus, 29 Mar. 2017,

“Key Facts and Findings.” International Rice Commission Newsletter Vol. 48, FAO of the UN,

Pierson, Jimmy. “Animal Agriculture’s Environmental Impact Is Still Being Ignored.” HuffPost UK, HuffPost UK, 4 June 2017,

“Tackling the World’s Most Urgent Problem: Meat.” UN Environment, 26 Sept. 2018,



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