Rising methane levels may be thwarting climate change efforts. A 2017 study attributes about half of the increase to cows and other ruminant livestock which produce methane as they digest food.
These animals host microbes in their stomachs, gut filling hitchhikers that help them break down and absorb the nutrients from tough-to-digest grasses. Those microbes produce methane as their waste, which wafts out of both ends of cows. The manure that cattle and other grazers produce is also a site for microbes to do their business, producing even more methane. Now consider that there are 1.4 billion cattle in the world. You can see why so much of the methane being produced is from livestock.
“Methane emissions are a big deal. About a sixth of the warming that we’ve had since the start of the Industrial Revolution has been caused by methane,” said Stanford University professor Rob Jackson, who chairs the international emission tracking organization known as the Global Carbon Project.
Methane is a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a molecule of methane will cause 28-36 times more warming than a molecule of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period. Recent data shows that methane concentrations in the atmosphere have risen from about 1,775 parts per billion in 2006 to 1,850 parts per billion in 2017.
So, one way to reduce that is to just stop eating beef, right? That’s what researchers near and far believe, including Paul West at the University of Minnesota.
“As an individual, one of the biggest effects that we can have [to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture] is changing what we’re eating to eating a smaller amount of beef,” said West.
Why stop there? we ask. To have the greatest impact, we all need to cut out animal products from our diets as quickly as possible. We can’t afford to only take small steps anymore.
To learn more, see our article: Cows Gas the Planet.
The following is an excerpt from our book “Say No to Meat“, by Amanda Strombom and Stewart Rose, published by Healthy Living Publications. This book includes answers to all the questions you may have about becoming a vegetarian, and is invaluable to new and existing vegetarians alike!
How does the use of water to produce meat cause problems?
The meat industry is being blamed for largest ever ‘dead zone’, the size of New Jersey, in the Gulf of Mexico. A new report shows that pollution from feed suppliers and companies like Tyson Foods are pouring into waterways, causing marine life to leave or die. The meat industry, already implicated in driving global warming, soil erosion and deforestation, has now been blamed for fueling what is expected to be the worst “dead zone” on record in the Gulf of Mexico.
Here’s what’s happening. Pollutants flowing into waterways from agriculture and wastewater accumulate, where they stimulate an overgrowth of algae, which decomposes and takes up all the oxygen in the water. This results in hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, in the water, causing marine life either to flee or to die. When this happens the region of water is known as a dead zone.
The pollutants come not only from manure (Tyson alone generated 55 million tons of manure last year), but also from the runoff from farms that produce the vast amounts of feed necessary to feed the many millions of animals raised for meat. Included in this runoff are not only plant matter and eroded soil, but also the fertilizers used to grow them. In fact, 70% of all the crops raised in the United States goes to feed farm animals.
These pollutants make their way into rivers, lakes and streams and eventually into the Gulf, where they accumulate and ultimately kill off the marine life. But dead zones can be brought back to life. With the adoption of a vegetarian diet the pollution will be dramatically reduced, and the Gulf of Mexico Dead Zone as well as other dead zones around the world can once again become teeming with life.
The report was issued by Mighty, an environmental group headed by former Congressman Henry Waxman.
In polling, 94% of Americans agree that animals raised for food deserve to live free from abuse and cruelty. Yet the majority of the nearly 10 billion farm animals raised each year in the U.S. suffer in conditions that consumers would not accept if they could see them. Most of our meat, milk and eggs come from industrial farms where efficiency trumps welfare—and animals are paying the price.
A factory farm is a large, industrial operation that raises large numbers of animals for food. Over 99% of farm animals in the U.S. are raised in factory farms, which focus on profit and efficiency at the expense of animal welfare.
While most Americans expect our laws to protect farm animals, the reality falls far short. Animals raised for food are among the least protected class of animals in our nation. Farm animals are not the only ones suffering because of these unnatural, inhumane conditions. Human health, the environment and farmers are being hurt by the intensive farming systems employed on factory farms.
The best way to help farm animals is to follow a plant-based diet. There’s never been more foods to choose from and saving the animals never tasted so good.
When it comes to pork, there’s a high price to be paid by the workers, by the environment, and perhaps worst of all, by the pigs themselves. The scale of the problem is enormous. We raise 120 million pigs each year in the US, and many millions more are raised around the world.
The environment pays a high price for concentrated factory-style pig farming. Factory pig farms produce huge amounts of manure – much more than can be used as fertilizer. This manure is stored in lagoons that can leak or break open after a good rain, and cause massive amounts of water pollution as the runoff enters the lakes and streams. This results in massive fish kills and food chain disruption. Methane, a greenhouse gas much more damaging than carbon dioxide, is given off from these lagoons, contributing to global warming, and the intense smell reduces the air quality in the surrounding neighborhood to an often unbearable degree. Read more
There’s a popular kids movie out at the moment called “The Secret Life of Pets.” It’s about the adventures and the misadventures of our pets, when we’re not around to see what they’re up to. It’s cute. However, it would be very different if this movie were for adults, and if it were about the lives of farm animals that we don’t see.
Farm animals also lead lives that are secret from most of us. They’re secret because the livestock industry worries that their sales would drop like a ton of bricks, if we all knew how most farm animals really have to live. Most farm animals today are raised on factory farms, where they are treated as if they were objects in a factory. This results in very harsh conditions, including extreme overcrowding, and other unnatural and unsanitary conditions. Chickens are packed into cages so tightly that they can’t even turn around much less spread a wing. Veal calves are chained by the neck so they can’t move around, and are deliberately fed a bad diet so that their meat will taste different. Pregnant pigs are kept in a cage so tight they can’t move. They also suffer in cramped trucks on the way to the slaughterhouse, with no food or water. When they arrive at the slaughterhouse, it gets even worse. We’ll skip the gory details, but we can assure you this is no cute children’s movie, so the details are kept from public viewing.
Let’s also not forget about fish. Most commercial fishing vessels use very long nets, sometimes as long as a mile or more. When the fish get caught in the nets, at first they experience being crushed as the net is brought into the ship, and then they are left to suffocate until they die. Making the situation worse is the fact that these long nets also catch other fish which have no commercial value, plus sea mammals such as dolphins and porpoises, all of which are needlessly killed. Aquaculture, or fish farming, results in massive overcrowding, unsanitary conditions and the suppression of almost every natural instinct a fish might have. This is another movie not meant for children.
We’re not naïve. We know nature can be tough, but we’ve created a situation on factory farms much harsher than nature would ever provide. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It’s time to make a new, happier movie with a good ending, suitable for people of all ages. This happier movie has a happy diet associated with it. That diet is a plant-based one. If we followed a plant-based diet, the animals could live more natural lives and we could live much longer lives in a more sustainable environment.
A recent Oxford University study highlights the human, environmental and economic cost the world faces if we don’t go veg. On the health side, the report shows that millions of lives will be lost due to meat, dairy and egg-related diseases. From an environmental perspective, eighty percent of agricultural greenhouse emissions come from livestock. While the economic cost is already high, Oxford University estimates that by 2050, raising and consuming meat will cost the world as much as $13 trillion per year in increased medical costs and environmental damage. They say the most effective diet to stem this rising tide of pollution and illness is the plant-based or vegan diet. Read more