By Morgan Bennette-Eaton:
Usually when we think of going vegetarian it’s for moral or health purposes. It has been shown that reducing meat intake and switching to eating more vegetables and grains can reduce the chance of heart disease and help you to shed those pesky extra pounds. But did you ever think that switching from a meat-based diet could help reduce water consumption and curb climate change? I myself am I meat eater and never even considered being a vegetarian until I found out that one of the most significant contributors to environmental damage is not SUV’s or Aerosol cans, but the process that occurs to get that T-bone steak on to your plate.
While the United States does not eat the most (that title is held by Luxembourg) we do produce the most beef (25%) and third most pork in the world (11%). There are 17 Billion Livestock in the world; that is about three livestock for every 1 person, and maintaining these livestock can have significant environmental damage on the planet for 3 different reasons: contributes to the depletion of clean drinking water, contributes to the depletion of land, and contributes to climate change.
Living in the US you may not know it but around the world and even here humans are draining water aquifers while water tables and wells are drying up and every time you eat meat you are contributing to the continuing water shortage. The majority of clean drinking water in the US and in many countries actually goes to livestock production.
· About 40% of water in the US goes to irrigating crops that feed livestock, where as 13% went to domestic use (flushing toilets, shower, washing cars, etc.)
· It takes 2,464 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of beef in California. That’s about the same amount of water it takes if you took a seven-minute shower every day for six months.
· It only takes 25 gallons of water to produce 1 pound of wheat
· On average it takes 990 liters of water to produce 1 liters of milk; drinking milk instead of water requires almost 1000 times as much water.
Land and Soil
Another significant environmental effect of meat production is the effect it has on topsoil and land. Every year topsoil is lost due to livestock feed production and razing land for the production of more livestock. Since 1970 more than 90% of Amazon rainforest that has been depleted was due to converting it to land for livestock production and it is also affected here.
· It is estimated we lose 7 billion tons of topsoil a year; much of this is due to the production of livestock feed crops like corn and soybeans.
· Soil used for growing these crops are sapped of nutrients and cannot be used for growing crops again for seasons.
· Most of this topsoil is eroded away. About 60% of soil that is washed away ends up in rivers, streams, and lakes causing more flooding and contamination to occur due to pesticides and fertilizers present in the soil.
· Livestock accounts for 70% of all agricultural land and 30% of the land surface of the planet.
The smell from all that livestock isn’t just unpleasant it is also extremely harmful to the planet. Livestock give off many harmful gasses like hydrogen sulfide, methane and ammonia that can have irreversible effects on climate change.
· It takes 11 times more fossil fuels to create one calorie of animal protein than it does 1 calorie of plant protein.
· In the US animal farms are responsible for 73% of the ammonia released into the air. Which can react with other gasses in the air and result in repository issues for people as well as contribute to smog and acid rain.
· The meat industry releases more than 100 million tons of methane gas throughout the world a year; it has been said that methane gas is 21 more times powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide.
· Livestock production is responsible for about 18% of all greenhouse emissions per year; that’s about 40% more than all cars, trucks, planes, trains and ships combined.
What Can You Do and How Will it Help?
So think about making a change and going vegetarian for a while, it doesn’t have to be forever but even not eating meat for a month can actually have a significant effect on the environment. Eat tofu instead of meat and you could reduce your fossil fuel footprint by 11 times and save 260,444 gallons of water a year. Go to your local butcher or farm and don’t buy meat from super farms that produce meat as they are the key contributors to environmental damage. Remember that buying that Prius might be helping the environment but a way to do even more is to simply stop eating meat.