There’s a silent crisis that threatens us all. It’s much more serious than most people realize and if we don’t do something about it we’re all in trouble. This crisis is soil erosion.
As with many other environmental problems, it’s caused by raising farm animals for meat. It turns out that 85% of all the soil erosion in the United States, and 55% around the world, is caused directly by the livestock, and by growing the fantastic amount of feed the 60 billion farm animals around the world consume. Unfortunately, most environmental organizations aren’t paying too much attention to it and the media almost completely ignores it. After all, it’s hard to get excited about dirt!
We need to take it more seriously. Soil is where food begins. Humanity depends upon the soil for its food, and if enough of the soil goes, humanity will go with it. Without soil, not only will the crops we plant not grow, but other vegetation will die as well. Read more
Students aren’t learning what they need and want to know from their high school environmental science curriculum. The massive impact that raising meat has on the environment is either totally missing, or gets only passing mention in the classrooms and textbooks.
We’ve had many requests from both students and teachers for lectures and ancillary materials suitable for classes given to high school seniors. We answered the call with a presentation and background materials that covers important environmental topics such the impact of raising meat on global warming, water pollution, soil erosion and ecological destruction. We’ve developed both 60 and 90 minute presentations and have been giving them to some regional high schools over the past year, to an enthusiastic reception.
If you’re a student or a teacher, and would like us to give this presentation at your school or college, please let us know. The environmental case for considering going veg is very compelling. To learn a little more about the impact of raising meat on the environment yourself, see our newly updated Eating Green brochure.
When it comes to the environment, the public’s attention has been understandably focused on global warming. However, the water pollution problem hasn’t gone away. While many people are aware of the water pollution caused by raising cattle, few are aware that raising chicken is just as bad if not worse. Sure, a cow produces more manure than a chicken does, but there are far more chickens in this country. In fact, we now raise over 9 billion chickens every year compared to only 90 million cows.
In addition to the water pollution that results from agricultural runoff from fertilizer while raising feed crops for all those chickens, the waste products from raising chickens cause an enormous amount of pollution. In fact overall, raising chickens results in more nitrogen and phosphorus pollution in our waterways than raising cattle. Read more
The grand strategic narratives around the COP21 conference in Paris will barely touch on one crucial aspect – meat and the massive greenhouse gas emissions that come from producing the livestock needed for it.
The Paris talks are of vital importance, not just for climate change itself but for framing what kind of food policy follows. Why does food matter for climate change? Well, it’s a major driving factor. The UN’s own Special Rapporteur, Olivier de Schutter says it well, “There is no doubt in the scientific community that the impacts of livestock production [on climate change] are massive.” In fact, a study written by two senior economists at the World Bank showed that the livestock-meat sector of the economy is responsible for 51% of greenhouse gas emissions. But for some reason it barely gets a mention in Paris. It seems that in at least this one respect, the conference is in denial.
Don’t hold your breath for the conference to recognize this, much less use the feared “V word”. While sobering evidence like this has mounted for years, climate change policy makers have focused their attention on energy rather than food. This policy blind spot is because tackling the emissions from producing food means tackling consumers’ food choices, and they’re simply afraid.
The livestock sector’s impact on climate change has been persistently neglected – in both policy and practice – for a long time. Unlike other sectors such as waste, transport and energy, in which greenhouse gas emissions reductions have been attempted through varying means such as taxes, incentives or subsidies, the livestock sector has enjoyed an unprecedented freedom to carry on with “business as usual.”
But the environment simply can’t stand business as usual and demands courage from us all. Without tackling the problem of animal agriculture, we will not be able to solve the climate change problem.
To learn more about the meat connection to global warming, see our Global Warming Flyer.
Planet Earth crossed into the ecological red last Friday. Thursday August 13 marked Earth Overshoot Day, the day when the world’s population officially exhausts all the natural resources the Earth can generate in a single year, as defined by the sustainability think tank, Global Footprint Network.
In daily life when we overspend our income we have to dig into savings. It’s no different when we outspend the earth. We currently spend 60% more of the earth’s resources than it can regenerate. When this happens we start to dig into the saved resources of the planet. Since the earth’s resources are limited, we are on the road to environmental bankruptcy. The problem has been getting worse each year. For instance, in 2000, Earth Overshoot Day landed in October. Its occurrence in August this year reflects the rapidly expanding demands placed on the planet’s natural resources.
What can we do about it? The most powerful thing we can do is change our diet. We are literally eating the earth broke. Many people are very surprised to learn that the growing global desire for meat is behind much, if not most, of the ecological challenges facing us today. Consider that we use 1/3 of the earth’s usable landmass directly or indirectly (such as growing feed) just to raise meat. According to the WorldWatch Institute, raising meat causes more greenhouse gas emissions than all other causes put together. Raising meat is also the single largest cause of soil erosion and rainforest destruction. And if all that weren’t bad enough, it’s also a leading cause of water pollution, and fishing is a leading cause ecological destruction in the ocean.
The Feds have finally admitted that veg diets are better for the environment. The USDA Advisory Committee tried to slip it into their 571 page recommendation: “The major findings regarding sustainable diets were that a diet higher in plant-based foods, such as vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts,and seeds, and lower in calories and animal-based foods is more health-promoting and is associated with less environmental impact than is the current U.S. diet.”
This sounds like real progress to us, but don’t look for this statement to make it into the final recommendations. Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack won’t allow it and the meat industry, described as livid, vowed to block it in Congress. Still, just the fact that it was recommended in the first place is real progress.
While it’s a start, the world needs much more progress on this issue. Consider that raising the 60 billion livestock we now have on the planet earth uses, directly for themselves and indirectly to grow their feed, one third of all the arable land on the planet. It is also one of the leading causes of water pollution, the number one cause of tropical rainforest destruction, soil erosion, and, according to researchers from the World Bank, the number one cause of global warming.
Since we last reported on the drought in California and how a vegetarian diet could help, the drought has only gotten worse. As Californians cut residential water use by 25 percent under Governor Jerry Brown’s unprecedented mandatory restrictions, pressure on the drought-stricken state’s water resources continues to come from its robust agriculture industry, which accounts for about 80 percent of the state’s total water consumption, with livestock claiming the lion’s share.
Some of the vegetarian naysayers complain that since so much of California’s meat is eaten around the country, it would take a national effort to save California’s water. To this we reply, good idea! Let’s all do our part and go vegetarian to save California from an all-too-thirsty fate. Others point to global warming as the main culprit. Maybe so, but we have a diet for that as well.
While we are happy to get the word out about the environmental benefits of going vegetarian, we really wish the environmental organizations would join us. So far only a very few do. However, since even the government is starting to talk about the environmental impact of animal foods, we have high hopes that this omission will change in the not too distant future.