Category Archives: Environment

The New Normal – a hotter earth

We knew it was coming. It had to happen. On May 4, the hotter Earth will officially become the new normal. That’s when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) releases its once-a-decade update to “climate normals.”

“It was a very substantial upward trend in temperature, especially along the West Coast, in the South and along the East Coast,” says Mike Palecki, with NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information. Globally, the decade ending in 2020 was the hottest decade recorded since 1880. “We’re not aware of how much warming is happening on a regular basis,” says Bernadette Woods Placky, chief meteorologist with the nonprofit Climate Central. “It’s that slow grind that’s eating away at the changing normal that doesn’t give you the opportunity sometimes to sit back and look at what it used to be.”

That raising meat was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, culprit should come as no surprise.  According to a UN study, raising meat causes more global warming than all the cars, trucks, trains, boats and planes in the world all put together. A study conducted by the World Bank went further, stating that raising meat causes more global warming than all other causes put together. Even former vice president Al Gore has gone vegan, and says he’ll do it for the rest of his life.

We raise staggering 60 billion farm animals every year for meat. That’s an awful lot of animals, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that it has a big effect on the environment. Learn more about how raising meat causes so much global warming.

Sound the alarm for the rainforest

Fire! Sound the alarm!

Yes, sound the alarm. It’s even worse than we thought. Scientists warn that the situation in the Amazon rainforest is, “worse than we realize. The rainforest’s climate is changing fast and in alarming ways.” Someone should sound the alarm before it’s too late!

According to scientists, the Amazon as a whole is now actually really warming the global climate. Not long ago, the Amazon was one of the best protections against global warming, but we’ve ruined that now and the Amazon has started to flip.

Animal agriculture and meat consumption are widely blamed by scientists and environmentalists worldwide for causing deforestation and fires across the region. Brazil is now the world’s largest exporter of meat. The rainforest is burned down to clear land to raise cattle and cattle feed. Simply put, the meat we consume is burning up our future on this beautiful planet. If this continues, large parts of the Amazon could permanently become drier savannah lands in only 15 years. The earth would lose a friend, and the many animals who live there will lose their lives.

Tropical forests such as the Amazon are very humid and under natural conditions they rarely burn – unlike many forests in the western USA where fire is a natural part of the forest’s life cycle.

After intense fires in the Amazon captured global attention in 2019, fires again raged throughout the region in 2020. According to an analysis of satellite data from NASA’s Amazon dashboard, the 2020 fire season was actually more severe by some key measures. The fires in the Brazilian Amazon were up by 13% this year, making 2020 the worst fire season in the area in a decade. At the start of last October, there were a staggering 28,892 active fires active in the Brazilian Amazon

The fires are so bad the astronauts can seed them from space. But there’s a way you can help put out the fires. Meat production is very sensitive to consumer demands. Brazil will stop exporting meat when people stop eating it. Every time someone orders a veggie burger, the demand for meat on the world market goes down a little, and every little counts.

We’re Ruining the Planet

Sir David Attenborough is blunt in his view of the state of the planet.  “We’ve not just ruined the planet, we’ve destroyed it” he said.  “Our species has cleared 3 trillion trees, cultivated half its fertile land and now fishes across most of the ocean,” he explained in Our Planet. “In the last 50 years, the populations of wild animals have reduced by 60%. We’ve replaced them with ourselves and our domesticated animals and plants. Today, we, plus the animals we raise, account for 96% of the mass of mammals and 70% of the birds on Earth. There’s very little wild left.”

Let’s take a look at why these shocking statistics are occurring. The world’s 7.8 billion people, plus all the livestock we raise, now account for 96% of all the mammals on Earth.  Only 4% are wild animals. Humanity has caused the loss of 83% of all wild mammals and half of the plants, while livestock kept by humans abounds.

There are several major factors at work here. The first factor is that the earth’s human population is now at 7.8 billion.  All those people need food on a daily basis to survive.

The second factor is that the amount of meat each human consumes has risen steadily over the past 60 years, although last year there was a slight decrease for the first time, possibly due to Covid-19 reducing income levels. While the production of beef has been slightly declining since 1975, the consumption of pork and especially chicken has risen dramatically. As long as people choose to eat meat, farmers will continue to raise the animals needed to produce it.

The third factor is that around 85% of the world’s production of soybeans go to feed animals, and farm animals use almost 40% of the world’s grain for feed as well.  In the US, this last figure rises to 70% of grain, since rice and corn aren’t the staple foods that they are in other countries.

The result of these 3 problems is that we are clearing land to raise livestock or to grow crops to feed them on a massive scale.  That’s leading to deforestation, soil degradation, loss of habitat, water pollution and ocean dead zones

The destruction of wild habitat for farming, along with deforestation and development, has resulted in what many scientists consider the sixth mass extinction of life to occur in the Earth’s 4 billion year history. About half the Earth’s animals are thought to have been lost in the past 50 years. This biodiversity loss is not just a tragedy, it’s the single biggest problem we face, according to David Attenborough.

By choosing to avoid consuming animal products, we can reduce the level of this devastation, and help the world’s animal and plant populations to recover their diversity.

Monoculture: yet another way meat hurts the ecology

The majority of vegetation crops grown in the United States are used to feed animals not people. To grow sufficient crops as efficiently as possible, many farmers resort to monoculture.

Monoculture is the agricultural practice of growing a single plant species across a vast land area. Instead of growing a variety of crops, as farmers have done throughout most of human history, they instead choose to farm land in such a way that it produces only a single type of crop. Monoculture farming has become more common over the last few decades, and while it can improve yields, sometimes with the help of genetically modified organisms, artificial fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides, it is causing great harm to the local ecology and environment, as well as the world as a whole. Because monoculture involves the farming of a single species, it can drastically reduce the biodiversity necessary for a healthy ecology.

Healthy ecologies may be home to many species of plants and animals. These diverse collections of species help to protect the habitat, as each of the species fills a different niche and provides different environmental services. Deer and other herbivores help keep plant populations in check, while mountain lions and other predators prey on these herbivores and keep their populations in check. Bacteria and fungi, for their part, help to break down the dead plants and animals, thereby releasing the nutrients they contain back into the soil.

But monoculture farms lack this type of diversity. Because they are aiming to raise only a single species, these areas don’t support a diverse collection of animals or other plants. This throws the ecosystem out of balance and makes it susceptible to serious problems including plant diseases. While some farmers practice crop rotation year to year, this only replaces one monoculture with another, so doesn’t allow for a wide diversity of species.

Cornborer – larval stage

Another risk of monoculture farms is that if an insect pest likes the crop, that insect has a large food supply to draw from all in one place, leading to that insect multiplying rapidly. Conversely, a field containing a variety of plants doesn’t provide such a large block of food for the insect, so it is less likely to find the nutrients it needs to survive and thrive. Left to its own defenses, a farm field growing a variety of plants tends to attract fewer insect pests than a field growing just one type of crop. The result of this is that monocultures require the use of more pesticides, further reducing the biodiversity.

If we stopped eating meat, we wouldn’t have to resort to raising monoculture crops so often, and our food system could be more in harmony with nature, allowing many more species to flourish.

Paying for meat’s damage to the environment

The production of meat and dairy products are causing a fortune’s worth of damage due to their effect on global warming. While estimates vary, up to 51% of all greenhouse gases are said to be produced as a result of animal agriculture.

Here’s something to think about. What would happen to the price of meat and dairy products if we included the cost of the damage done by the greenhouse emissions generated from raising meat and dairy? It turns out that the prices would go sky high. It’s estimated that the price of meat would increase by 146% and the price of dairy would rise by 91% if we charged food production companies for their impact on climate change, while the cost of plant-based foods would increase by only 6%. As you can see there’s a big difference.

Read more

The damage caused by fish consumption

Fishing and fish farming are damaging the ocean’s ecology. More than a third of the fish stocks around the world are being overfished and the problem is particularly acute in developing countries, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a recent report. “While developed countries are improving the way they manage their fisheries, developing countries face a worsening situation,” the FAO said. In 2017, 34.2% of the fish stocks of the world’s marine fisheries were classified as overfished, a “continuous increasing trend” since 1974 when it stood at just 10%.

This is not surprising since worldwide per capita fish consumption set a new record of 20.5 kg (45.2 pounds) per year in 2018. This compares with 9kg (20 pounds) per person in 1961. The scope of this problem can partly gauged by the fact that there are now over four million commercial fishing vessels combing the world’s oceans, depleting fish at a rate that’s considered much faster than is sustainable.

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Grass-Fed Beef – bad for us and for the planet

Recently, some people have been touting grass-fed beef as eliminating all the problems associated with meat, or as an equivalent alternative to going vegetarian. Don’t fall for it. Grass-fed beef is still bad for us, the environment and, of course, the cows.

Let’s take a look and see what some leading veg-authors have to say on the subject and then make a few observations of our own. Read more

Putting the carbon back where it belongs

There’s an extra benefit to the environment when we go veg that’s not often talked about. We’ve written in the past about how much global warming gases are emitted by the animal agriculture, but there’s more good news. Once we stop raising animals for meat, the land they were using, directly and indirectly, could be allowed to return to its natural state and start absorbing carbon.

The extensive amount of land used to raise meat incurs a carbon opportunity cost, given the potential for carbon sequestration through ecosystem restoration. Soil carbon sequestration is a process in which CO2 is removed from the atmosphere and stored in the soil carbon pool. As the ecosystem recovers, the native plants absorb carbon dioxide through photosynthesis, and store carbon in their roots, thus increasing organic carbon in the soil.

This would have a huge impact. Raising meat has had a particularly detrimental impact on land since half the land on earth is used directly or indirectly for raising meat. A recent study showed that if everyone in the world went vegan, we could remove 16 years of fossil-fuel-based carbon emissions from the atmosphere by the year 2050. That’s enough to really turn around the levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere and start to reduce the rate at which the climate is changing.

Another factor not talked about is that the mass of animals raised for slaughter on Earth now outweighs all wildlife by a factor of 15-to-1. This causes massive damage to world’s ecology and leads to a reduction in biodiversity with the extinction of many species. With the land freed up from raising animals, wildlife would have a chance to recover increasing the chances of species survival. This would provide a broad benefit to the ecology and help normalize the natural food chain, making the soil and plant life healthier, which could then absorb further carbon from the atmosphere.

So a global switch to a vegan diet would both reduce the emission and increase the absorption of greenhouse gases, and enable the ecology and especially the soil to recover, creating a virtuous circle instead of a vicious decline in the health of our planet.

Veg diet needed to prevent ecological disaster

Sir David Attenborough is urging people to go vegetarian to save species from dying out, and to produce more food.

Sir David Attenborough at the Great Barrier Reef

In a new Netflix documentary, A Life On Our Planet, the veteran naturalist says: “We must change our diet. The planet can’t support billions of meat-eaters. “If we had a mostly plant-based diet, we could increase the yield of the land”

The growth of animal farming worldwide and the rise in demand for meat and dairy are considered key factors in deforestation, which is threatening the extinction of many wild species in the food chain, from insects to elephants and big cats.

According to Attenborough, “Our planet is headed for disaster. We need to learn how to work with nature rather than against it.”

Sir David Attenborough is an English broadcaster and natural historian. He is best known for writing and presenting the nine natural history documentary series forming the Life collection that together constitute a comprehensive survey of animal and plant life on Earth. In 2017, Sir David revealed that he had stopped eating meat.

Learn more about the environmental cost of eating meat and animal products.

Why does animal agriculture use so much oil?

This is an extract from our book, Say No to Meat, the 411 on Ditching Meat and Going Veg.

It’s amazing how much oil is used to produce meat. In fact, agriculture uses 17 percent of all the fossil fuel (oil, coal and natural gas) in the United States, with meat production responsible for the majority of that portion. There are several reasons for this. One reason is that most animals are raised in so-called factory farms, where their feed is grown elsewhere and shipped in. These animals consume enormous quantities of crops – in fact about 70 percent of all the corn and 80 percent of all the soybeans grown in the United States are fed to farm animals. When we consider the fossil fuel used for meat production, we also have to take into account all the fuel used to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides, and to water, harvest, and ship those crops throughout the animal’s entire lifetime, as well as that required for the transportation and slaughter of the animals, plus the shipping and refrigeration of the meat. All that fuel adds up. Grass-fed animals use less fuel, but these animals use so much land that it’s not practical to feed America’s meat habit this way.

Going vegetarian saves oil. Plant based foods are simply grown, harvested, shipped and eaten directly rather than wastefully being funneled through a farm animal first. Much less refrigeration is usually required for plant foods than animal products. But the big advantage is that it takes only a pound of grain to make a loaf of bread, whereas it takes over 17 pounds of grain to make a pound of beef, requiring much more fossil fuel. We’re not kidding when we say that if you are still eating meat we would rather you drive your car to get places rather than walk! 

Professor David Pimentel of Cornell University explains it this way, “It is actually quite astounding how much energy is wasted by the standard American-style diet. Even driving many gas-guzzling luxury cars can conserve energy over walking—that is, when the calories you burn walking come from the standard American diet!”

So if you are an environmentally-conscious consumer looking to cut down on your use of fossil fuel, a non-renewable resource, switching to a vegetarian diet is a great place to start.

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