Anyone who has heard anything about saving the environment knows the drill: turn off the lights, unplug electronics, take the bus, etc. It’s universally recognized that in order to keep our planet from descending into an era of unprecedented environmental chaos, we need to change our lifestyle habits, and fast. While altering our energy and transportation habits is absolutely crucial, many resources gloss over or even entirely fail to address one of the single most ignored perpetrators of climate change: our eating habits. Specifically, meat consumption.
A meat-free diet is, “probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use,” says Oxford researcher Joseph Poore. If every single person in the United States cut their meat consumption in half, it would reduce emissions by an amount equivalent to 26 million cars.
Animal agriculture, or the practice of raising animals for food, generates a whopping 14.5% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation emissions collectively. It is the second largest contributor to climate change, behind the fossil fuel industry. In addition to releasing immense amounts of greenhouse gases (such as carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane), it is also a leading cause in air pollution, water pollution and scarcity, biodiversity loss, and deforestation.
Much of the environmental damage caused by animal agriculture comes from creating farms. Almost 34% of all the land on earth is devoted to animal agriculture. The excess clearing of trees for agricultural expansion is a direct cause of deforestation. This not only releases the carbon stored in trees and soils, it reduces the number of critical carbon sinks in the world. Around 33% of all grain produced and 16% of all freshwater goes to accommodating animals. Fossil fuels burned to create fertilizer accounts for 2% of all fossil fuel emissions.
The animals themselves also do quite a lot of damage. Cow flatulence and feces release momentous amount of methane, a greenhouse gas 30 times worse than carbon dioxide, into the air.
So what can we do about this? The most obvious answer is to stop eating meat. This doesn’t have to mean cutting off all animal products. While we do not all need to go vegan, a step in the right direction would be going vegetarian. This way, a lot of healthy food is still fair game. But, if going completely meatless isn’t an option, aim to cut back on your meat intake. You should try to have days where you don’t eat any meat, or make meatless versions of your favorite meaty dishes. Even if it’s not much, every single effort is one small step on the right path, a path to saving our planet before it’s too late.