In 1987, I read Diet for a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappé and—primarily for human rights and environmental reasons—went vegan. Two decades later, I still believe that—even leaving aside all the animal welfare issues—a vegan diet is the only reasonable diet for people who care about the environment or global poverty.
This past November, the environmental problems associated with eating chickens, pigs, and other animals were the subject of a 408-page United Nations (U.N.) scientific report titled Livestock’s Long Shadow.
The report found that the meat industry contributes to “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity.” The report concludes that the meat industry is “one of the ... most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
Eating Meat Is the Number One Consumer Cause of Global Warming
Al Gore, Leonardo DiCaprio, and others have brought the possibility of global cataclysm into sharp relief. What they have not been talking about, however, is the fact that all cars, trucks, planes, and other types of transportation combined account for about 13 percent of global warming emissions, whereas raising chickens, pigs, cattle, and other animals contributes to 18 percent, according to U.N. scientists. Yes, eating animal products contributes to global warming 40 percent more than all SUVs, 18-wheelers, jumbo jets, and other types of travel combined.
Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide together cause the vast majority of global warming. The livestock sector is one of the largest sources of carbon dioxide and the single largest source of both methane and nitrous oxide emissions. In fact, according to the U.N., eating meat “accounts for 9 per cent of CO2 deriving from human-related activities, but produces a much larger share of even more harmful greenhouse gases. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the Global Warming Potential of CO2. Most of this comes from manure.”
The Live Earth Global Warming Survival Handbook explains that “refusing meat” is “the single most effective thing you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” (emphasis in original).
Eating Meat Wastes Resources
It takes more than 10 times as many calories of feed given to an animal to get one calorie back in the form of edible fat or muscle. In other words, it’s exponentially more efficient to eat grains, soy, or oats directly rather than feed them to farmed animals so that humans can eat those animals.
When you factor in everything else, the situation gets much worse. Think about the extra stages of production that are required to get dead chickens, pigs, or other animals from the farm to the table:
1. Grow more than 10 times as much corn, grain, and soy (with all the required tilling, irrigation, crop dusters, and so on), as would be required if we ate the plants directly.
2. Transport—in gas-guzzling, pollution-spewing 18-wheelers—all that grain and soy to feed manufacturers.
3. Operate the feed mill (again using massive amounts of resources).
4. Truck the feed to the factory farms.
5. Operate the factory farms.
6. Truck the animals many miles to slaughterhouses.