You may not associate vegetarianism with environmentalism, but studies prove there is a correlation. The Sierra Club reports that compared with a burger, having a peanut butter and jelly sandwich saves as much as 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, 280 gallons of water and 50 square feet of land. It should be a no-brainer that eating from the bottom of the food chain is more environmentally efficient than eating from the top. Unfortunately, even some of the most outspoken environmental advocates don’t seem to grasp this concept. As much as I respect Al Gore for his documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, I find the hypocrisy of his meat-eating habits to be totally inconsistent with his eco-philosophy.
Even if you don’t agree with the message, you can’t argue with the facts. The United Nations has even published a report stating: “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” Countless studies show that raising animals for food contributes to global warming, causes air pollution, water pollution and land degradation.
According to the environmental group “Earth Save”, methane emissions cause 50 percent of the planet’s human-induced global warming. Most of this methane - 100 million tons of it - is produced by animal agriculture every year. By reducing your consumption of meat, one of the major sources of methane emissions can be minimized. The good news is that methane reduction results in a cooler earth in a shorter time frame. Experts say that methane cycles out of the atmosphere in just 8 years, as opposed to carbon dioxide, which can take over 100 years. Plus, methane is 21 times more potent a greenhouse gas than CO2, so it makes sense to put our efforts towards methane reduction.
Aside from methane, the United Nations reports that the livestock sector generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of carbon dioxide. Studies have shown that eating 1 pound of meat emits the same amount of greenhouse gasses as driving an SUV 40 miles!
Last year, researchers at the University of Chicago reported that the average American could do more to reduce global warming by switching to a vegetarian diet than by switching to a Prius. The study proved that it takes ten times as many fossil fuels to produce a calorie of meat protein than it does to produce a calorie of plant protein.
Air and Water Pollution
Factory farms produce massive amounts of contamination that pollute the air and water. Five million tons of manure is churned out by modern American farms each day. That’s more than 100 times our human population and way more than our planet can possibly absorb over a long period of time.
According to the Environmental News Network, chicken, hog and cattle excrement have polluted 35,000 miles of rivers in 22 states and contaminated groundwater in 17 states.
The EPA reports that roughly 80 percent of ammonia emissions in the United States come from animal waste; the main contributor to acid rain
Scientists at the Smithsonian Institute reported that on a global basis, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute to create more room for farmed animals. According to the U.N., this is a major contributor to deforestation, especially in Latin America where 70 percent of the Amazon has been turned over to grazing.
Not only is land being cleared to raise livestock, but even more land is needed to grow the millions of tons of grain to feed the livestock. Jeremy Rifkin, the author of Beyond Beef: The Rise and Fall of the Cattle Culture, states: “People go hungry because much of arable land is used to grow feed grain for animals rather than food for people. In the U.S., 157 million tons of cereals, legumes and vegetable protein – all suitable for human consumption – is fed to livestock to produce just 28 million tons of animal protein in the form of meat.”
Aside from saving the environment, going vegetarian will spare the lives of animals. According to the organization Choose Veg, the average vegetarian saves over 50 animals each year. That helps put a dent in the 50 billion animals that are slaughtered every year for food consumption.
Try Going Vegetarian one Meal per Week
Just substituting one meat meal a week for a vegetarian meal can make a difference to the environment. The Environmental Defense Fund states that if every American had one meat-free meal per week, it would have the same environmental impact as taking more than 5 million cars off our roads!
Many environmental organizations believe that government policy should promote vegetarian diets. I’ve read extreme ideas such as taxing meat, to simpler options like including more vegetarian foods in government sponsored programs such as school lunches and food stamps. At the very least, the government should consider impose strict environmental fines on animal agriculture polluters. If these fines could somehow subsidize vegetarian-friendly foods, that would be a bonus. It is my belief that the easier (and cheaper) it is for Americans to become vegetarian, the more likely they will be to convert.
The good news is, these days it is easier than ever to be a vegetarian. When I first converted, over 30 years ago, there weren’t many products on the market. Now there are countless options. Morning Star Farms makes vegetarian buffalo wings, BBQ ribs and meatless meatballs. Boca makes vegetarian breakfast patties, chicken nuggets and Italian sausages that are great on the grill. These meatless products are high in protein, low in fat and more importantly, they taste good! I have an uncle who will leave the dinner table if there isn’t meat on his plate. Yet this same uncle sat through my entire vegetarian wedding without a complaint! If he can do it for one meal, so can you.
Even though Al Gore continues to eat meat, the Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook he helped promote states: “refusing to eat meat is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint.” Now if only Gore would follow the book’s advice and put down his prime rib and grab a Boca burger.