I was really disappointed when – on Blog Action Day of all days – real life once again disrupted my usual posting schedule. It has been a really crazy couple of days, so my entry is a depressing three days late, but I have been determined to post something about it anyway.
The official statistics from Blog Action Day have been released. I encourage you to look at their full report – it’s very inspiring!
At the end of the day…
20,603 blogs had participated.
23,327 posts about the environment had been made as a result.
The posts reached an estimated RSS readership of 14,631,038 subscribers.
You can see the rest on their site.
I thought for a long time about what I should say about the environment in this post, and decided on something that Wikipedia apparently likes to call “environmental vegetarianism”. It matters a lot to me, personally, because I consider myself one of those environmental vegetarians. It wasn’t the reason why I first became a vegetarian, but since then, it’s become my most important motivation for remaining a vegetarian.
Most people don’t usually associate vegetarianism with being good for the environment – if the two are ever associated at all, it’s because of the stereotype of environmentalists as tree-hugging, animal-loving vegetarian hippies. The truth is that not all vegetarians are in it for the animals, or even the ideology against eating meat. Some people become vegetarians for the health benefits, religious reasons, economic reasons, ideologies against how animals are raised in farms, and, yes, concerns about the environment. The latter will be my focus.
Here are just three environmental reasons to go vegetarian, or at least reduce the amount of meat in your diet:
1. Reduced consumption of fossil fuels and reduced greenhouse emissions.
Animal agriculture produces a shocking amount of greenhouse gases. It’s been estimated to account for 17-20% of methane emissions worldwide, and ten times more fossil fuel is required to produce one calorie of animal protein than one calorie of plant protein. Think of all the energy needed to build animal farms, raise the animals, all the pollution put out by the machines, and the emissions made from trucking their food supply and the livestock themselves from location to location. According to this article, the energy that goes into producing a single hamburger could drive a small car twenty miles. A 2006 study from the University of Chicago showed that the average American with an omnivorous diet caused the emissions of 1485 kg more carbon dioxide than their vegetarian counterparts. Driving a hybrid car supposedly reduces your emissions by just over a ton – so going vegetarian or vegan is actually better for the environment, and tens of thousands of dollars cheaper!
2. More efficient distribution of land and food resources.
It’s no secret that the world has a resource distribution problem (what is that statistic people are always throwing around – the wealthiest 10% of people own 90% of the world’s resources or something?), but how much of that is due to meat production for first-world countries is disgusting. This site claims that 44% of the world’s grain production goes towards feeding livestock. The Wikipedia article gives more local statistics: 90% of soy production, 80% of corn production, and 70% of grain production goes to livestock in the US. This is more of an ethical issue than an environmental one: how much of the food that goes to feed our future hamburgers could go to feed the millions in the world that are starving?
Land use and distribution is another concern of animal agriculture. Animal agriculture, not logging, is the number one cause of deforestation in the world. According a study by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, agriculture accounts for 90% of deforestation – this vegetarian site gives only 70%. Either way, that is certainly not good for the environment. This article claims that 55 square feet of rainforest is destroyed for every hamburger that is imported from Central/South America. Consider the dark side of McDonald’s claims of however many billion they’ve served.
3. More efficient use of drinking water.
Think about how much of the world’s water is drinkable (3%) and how many people in the world don’t have access to clean drinking water (27%), and then know that producing 1kg of animal protein uses about a hundred times more water than producing 1kg of plant protein. On this site, which seems to be full of interesting examples, they say that the amount of water needed to produce one hamburger could supply enough water for you to have a “luxurious” shower every day for two and a half weeks. That’s a lot of clean water wasted – and I won’t even get into the chemicals and waste products of animal agriculture that pollute the water supply every day. To paraphrase all the articles on the subject: it’s just not good for the environment.
Since humans can clearly live a healthy (sometimes healthier) life without needing to eat meat, why are we wasting so much on animal agriculture? What do we get out of it – a nice taste? Cheap, questionably-produced fast food? Nutrients that we can now get elsewhere? If you live in the West, it’s easier than ever to become a vegetarian. The more I talk to older vegetarians, the more I realize how spoiled the vegetarians of today are. If you’re so inclined, you can replace every meat item in your diet with a vegetarian substitute that is almost indistinguishable from the real thing, if you know where to look.
Even just reducing the amount of meat in one’s diet can have a positive effect on the environment. It may not seem like reducing it by say, 10%, could do much to save the environment, but what if ten people did the same thing? That’s 1485 kg less carbon dioxide emitted right there. But what if it was twenty people? Fifty? A small city’s worth of people? The whole US – reducing by just 10%? What if some reduced it further and stamped it out of their diet altogether?
I don’t need a calculator to tell you that that’s a whole lot of carbon, rainforest, and water saved.