Meat, Dairy and Dead Fish: What a Gas!
We’ve all heard cars and industry cause a lot of air pollution. Quite true. Yet, as the United Nations announced in November 2006, animal agribusiness is the major cause of greenhouse gas emissions, causing almost a fifth (18%) of the total warming emissions. That gas is direct -- methane from animals’ digestion process and nitrous oxide from manure and chemicals -- and indirect, through tree-cutting to expand pastures and clear land for feed crops. Further indirect emissions arise from the energy used to produce fertilizers and pesticides for feed crops, and to pump water, run slaughterhouses, and refrigerate flesh, egg, and dairy products.
The need for land is tremendous. 70% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed for agriculture, primarily cattle grazing and feed crop production. Called deforestation, this dynamic causes 13% of the global warming effect, through the release of carbon dioxide that was once absorbed and stored in trees.
Producing one calorie of animal protein releases more than 10 times as much carbon dioxide as a calorie of plant protein! Why? First, vast fields of single feed crops are grown for the animals. The balance of the biocommunity is severely disrupted, so companies step in with sales of chemical fertilizers and pesticides. This requires fuelling large machinery; and the chemicals sprayed on the crops produce nitrous oxide, an especially deadly greenhouse gas.
While CO 2 is by far the largest culprit in global warming contributions, methane and nitrous oxide (present in animals’ digestive gases and excrement) have a far greater global warming potential than CO 2 – methane having over 20 times and nitrous oxide close to 300 times the warming potential over 100 years. All in all, the combination of direct emissions from animals we breed to consume and the fossil fuels from production are damaging our atmosphere to the point that we are now facing an emergency. So are all the animals living, or yet to be born, on this planet.
Veganism is direct action for our Earth and all its life.
A recent study conducted at the University of Chicago found that, compared to an omnivore’s diet, a vegan diet effectively reduces the production of greenhouse gas by 1.5 tons a year! The production of flesh of cows, and fish as well, will cause the highest overall emissions. Most sealife undergoes energy-intensive long-distance travel from ocean to market, usually in refrigerated vessels.
And 11 kg of corn is used to produce 1 kg (one kilogram equals 2.2 lbs) of beef. Think about what a lot of extra energy and water that means!
What’s more, producing 1kg of beef results in more CO2 emissions than going for a three-hour drive while leaving all the lights on at home, an article in New Scientist magazine said in 2007. So, in addition to supporting mass transit, changing to a plant-based diet will have a huge impact on greenhouse gas levels.
Why wait for the government (which continues to subsidize the trade in cattle products) to figure out it must tell us to change? Our governments are fiddling as Rome burns. In refreshing contrast, vegans are leading by example today. Would you care to join us?
This article was researched and reported by Lee Hall and Heather Steel for Vegan Means, and relies on the following references:
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options” (Nov. 2006).The University of Chicago, “Study: Vegan Diets Healthier for Planet, People Than Meat Diets” (press release; 2006).
David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, “Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment” - American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78.3, (2003).
Food, Farming and the Environment: The Development of Sustainable Agriculture, in The State of the Environment in Asia (Springer Tokyo; 2005).
Ian Sample, “Meat Production 'Beefs Up Emissions'” - The Guardian (reporting on a study in the New Scientist, 19 Jul. 2007).