This subject is something that gets people annoyed, emotional, or defensive pretty quickly. It triggered me a lot even a year ago. Despite all these emotions that might arise, the solution I am about to introduce has impressive scientific proof behind it. It is a highly efficient way to help the Earth.
Plant-based, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian – Do these sound familiar? Regardless of which diet we choose or how we want to determine ourselves, the fewer animal products we consume happier the Earth. Let’s leave all the ethical and emotion-triggering health aspects out for now and think about why meat and dairy production destroy the planet?
The reasons why consuming animal products is not sustainable
The human population
The problem begins here. There are over 7.8 billion people on this planet. Hundred years ago, the number was less than 2 billion. Earth cannot support this number of people consuming meat and dairy. The biomass of humans and our livestock on Earth grows, while the biomass of wild animals goes down. The biomass of plants has decreased by 50% since the beginning of human civilization. We are taking over and not in a positive way. You can read more of these numbers and the phenomenon from EcoWatch, Guardian, New Scientist, and PNAS.
Imagine growing vegetables, fruits, and legumes for humans to eat. How much water do we need for that? Then think about growing crops for cattle to eat, watering those plants, and using water for animals to drink. How much does one cow need water?
The water footprint for vegetables is 322 l/kg, while for bovine, it is 15 415 l/kg.
But what about the protein – we are always interested in that? To get:
-1g of protein from legumes takes 19 liters of water,
–1g of egg protein takes 29 liters,
-1g off chicken meat protein requires 34 liters of water,
-1g protein from bovine meat needs 112 liters of water.
The difference is impressive! You can read more about water footprints and researches from the water footprint network.
Land areas and biodiversity.
Animal agriculture is the leading reason for destroyed habitats and the extinction of species. Cattle need a space to live but also growing food for the animals takes a lot of land. So when the growing population of people demands more meat, we need more cattle, more crops for it, and more land to grow and farm those. This day the area required is 40 million km2. While we seek all this for our twisted food industry, we destroy forests, fields, prairies, and any habitable land.
And it is not only about the land but also the waters and oceans. The added fertilizers and the manure from animals bring more nitrogen and phosphate to the environment. Those are beneficial for the fields but harmful to the rivers, lakes, and oceans. There these ingredients cause eutrophication, dead zones, and algae blooms. Additionally, marine animals suffer and lose their habitats.
Read more about this from EPA, IPBES, Vegan Australia, and World animal foundation.
Erosion and poor soil
Primarily because of agriculture, Earth has lost half of its topsoil in the past 150 years. Why? Think about what happens when we cut the trees and bushes, let the animals stomp and mix the soil and eat all the grass away before it has time to grow back? What happens when we grow only one type of plant without giving any thought to mixed-cropping or polyculture? The soil dries, and its pH changes, as well as the capability to drain water. Then wind and water wipe it out. The quality of it gets weaker with fewer nutrients, and it cannot support vegetation properly. We take too much, too fast, and without taking care of the one that provides all this to us – the Earth.
Agriculture causes CO2 (Carbon dioxide), N2O (Nitrous oxide), and CH4 (Methane) emissions, and it is responsible for one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions. For example, in 2018, 82% of the N2O emissions in the USA were caused by agricultural soil and manure management. The more animal products, the more emissions. Additionally, it seems that what we eat matters much more than whether the food is local or not. Buying local should not offer us too much comfort from that point of view.
Read more from EPA, Inside Climate News, and Table.
There are many impacts and consequences of the meat and dairy industry, which I did not mention in this post. Yet, I believe the already mentioned ones are alarming enough to get us thinking about this whole situation more. What kind of thoughts arise when you read about the benefits our planet would achieve if humans remarkably reduced meat consumption? Are you interested, or do you feel threatened or annoyed, perhaps? More about the arguments and the possible reasons behind the resistance in the next post. This article in The Guardian sums this up nicely.