This time I decided to write about something risky. Something that gets people annoyed, emotional, or defensive pretty easily. Despite all these emotions that might arise, the solution I am about to introduce has impressive scientific proof behind it. Can you guess what I am talking about and why I am walking on my tiptoes?
Plant-based, vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian… Do these sound familiar? Regardless of which version we choose or how we want to determine ourselves, the fewer animal products we consume happier the Earth. So let’s leave all the ethical and emotion-triggering health aspects out for now and think why do meat and dairy production destroy the planet?
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. 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 here, here, here, and here.
So what is the problem with the meat and dairy industry from Earth’s perspective?
Water. 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 also 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, while the amount of water needed for 1g off egg protein is 29 liters, protein from chickens 34 liters, and protein from bovine meat 112 liters. The difference is impressive! You can read more about water footprints and researches from here.
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 lands. 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. Now marine animals suffer and lose their habitats. Read more here, here, here, and here.
Erosion and poor soil.
Mostly because of agriculture, Earth has lost half of its top-soil 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 with out taking care of the earth itself. You can find more here and here.
Agriculture causes CO2 (Carbon dioxide), N2O (Nitrous oxide), and CH4 (Methane) emissions, and it is responsible for one-quarter of all the 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, so buying local should not offer us too much comfort from that point of view.
Read more: here, methane in the US, N2O in the US, and some methane.
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 the consumption of meat? 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.