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.
Vegetarians may be cooler than ever, in light of another record-breaking year for global warming. With 2014 now on the books, it’s officially taken the title of hottest year on record. That ranking comes courtesy of data released Monday by the Japan Meteorological Agency, the first of four major global temperature record-keepers to release their data for last year.
The world is heating up, and meat is a prime driver, and maybe even the largest driver, behind the crisis. We have written in the past of the connection between livestock agriculture and global warming, and we have been encouraged by Vice President Al Gore becoming a vegan in recognition of that connection.
Closer to home, greenhouse gas emissions in Washington state dropped by about 4.6 percent between 2010 and 2011, led by reductions in emissions from the electricity sector, a new state report shows. However, as good as this is, it’s clear that this is still only nibbling around the edges of the problem, when we stop to consider that the World Watch Institute has determined that livestock agriculture causes 51% of greenhouse gas emissions.
A state law requires Washington to reduce overall emissions to 1990 levels by 2020, make a 25 percent cut in 1990 levels by 2035, and make even greater reductions by 2050. According to Hedia Adelsman, special assistant to the state Ecology Director, “We still need to take action. We are making a lot of progress but there’s still work to do. We need comprehensive policies to make sure we not only get to 2020 but 2035.” We agree. Comprehensive policies are needed. But that means, now more than ever, we can’t “forget about food” when it comes to global warming and other environmental problems. Offering and promoting vegetarian options in the state cafeterias, and in state-run and supported institutions, would be a great way to start.
The message is clear, the best way to keep cool in the long run is to eat and drink cool vegetarian food, for both you and the world we live in.
The world is eating too much meat, and that’s bad news for the earth’s forests, arable land, and scarce water. That’s the conclusion of a report released this week by the Washington-based Worldwatch Institute.
Global production of meat hit a new high of 308.5 million tons last year, up 1.4 percent, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the report says. “In response to growing purchasing power, urbanization, and changing diets, meat production has expanded more than fourfold over just the last fifty years says the new report, entitled “Peak Meat Production Strains Land and Water Resources.” Read more