How Reducing Meat in the Diet Helps the Environment

 In Food supply, Intentions
How Reducing Meat in the Diet Helps the Environment

Many people can feel helpless when they look at the extent of the environmental issues that are facing the world today and realize just how big the problem is. Along with that feeling can come a sense that one person or one family cannot do much to change these problems for the better. That is simply not true. There are, in fact, many things that someone can change about his or her lifestyle that can have a dramatic impact on environmental health. One of the simplest changes is to reduce meat consumption in the diet. This reduction has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, save water and prevent deforestation, especially of the precious Amazonian rain forests.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction
When most people hear the phrase “greenhouse gas”, they automatically think of polluting factories or emissions from automobiles. However, the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization has found that fully 1/5 of greenhouse gas emissions comes from the 9-billion-dollar-a-year meat industry. It is, in fact, responsible for a higher rate of emissions than the transportation industry.

The connection between agriculture and air pollution is not immediately obvious. The problem lies partly in the heavy amounts of fertilizer that are used to raise crops to feed livestock and partly in the manure from the livestock itself. Both release high amounts of nitrous oxide, one of the most notorious greenhouse gases. Therefore, if people reduce the amount of meat they consume in their diets, the fierce global demand for meat would be lessened and the decrease in fertilizer and manure would lead to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and a healthier planet.

Water Conservation
As many people are aware from news of droughts such as the one which is wreaking havoc in California, water conservation is becoming more and more of an issue. The fact is that most of the water on Earth is salt water from oceans and seas and desalinization remains expensive and inefficient, which means that it is very important to take care of the small amount of natural freshwater that we do have.

Reducing meat consumption can help greatly for this because of the massive amounts of water it takes to feed and care for livestock. The water need for animal-based agricultural vastly outweighs the needs of plant-based farming: it takes an incredible 1,800-2,500 gallons of water to produce a single pound of beef. When that is compared to the 220 gallons of water which it takes to produce a single pound of tofu, the difference becomes obvious. Including more plant-based protein in the diet is simply a more efficient use of water.

Preventing Deforestation
Most people are aware of the fact that the massive deforestation which has taken place in recent times as the world’s population continues to grow can lead to habitat loss for hundreds of species, increased soil erosion and increased runoff of pollutants into our waterways. It also has an impact on climate change, as forests act as a sort of sponge for carbon dioxide, which would otherwise go into the atmosphere and add to the greenhouse effect.

What most people are not aware of is the link between deforestation and meat consumption. The sad fact is, however, that the meat industry is largely the sector which is driving massive deforestation, especially the highly destructive slash-and-burn agriculture that is devouring so much of the Amazon. Roughly 70% of land which used to be rainforest is used for pasturing animals, with most of the rest going to cropland to help feed that livestock. The equation is simple: reduced meat consumption equals reduced rates of deforestation.

In conclusion, this is not an argument for having to go vegan or vegetarian. Even a reduction in the amount of meat consumed can have a huge beneficial impact. There are many great sources of plant-based protein which people can take advantage of throughout the week: this is good for a person’s health and also easier on the budget since meat tends to be the most expensive item on most people’s shopping lists. The Meatless Mondays movement has a variety of great vegetarian recipes and can be found at www.meatlessmonday.com. So try some meatless meals: you will be doing the earth and yourself a huge favor!
by The Great Gathering
Copyright The Great Gathering 2014©

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