So what’s really killing our environment? Burning of our planet’s limited fossil fuels? Destruction of the ozone layer? Perhaps it’s the pollution of our precious environments and habitats? Maybe it’s the use of our oceans as giant dumpsters?
Those are all correct! But what causes these things to happen? The source isn’t one you might instantly think of (unless you’ve read the title of this post, of course). Animal agriculture lies at the base and is one of the biggest sources of everything anti-environment). But what exactly is animal agriculture? It’s essentially raising and breeding animals for human consumption (in the form of meat and other dairy products).
Animal agriculture is one of the largest producers of carbon dioxide (as well as many other, even more powerful, destructive greenhouse gasses). It’s the cause of so much habitat loss in the world. It’s also one of the biggest (if not the biggest) producers of crap (literally) that gets dumped into our oceans. And, believe it or not, but it’s also a major drive for poaching (well, maybe not poaching, but murder of animals that threaten the livestock production and upkeep).
Alright let me start this out with a mind-blowing fact: livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year. That’s 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions! Transportation, by comparison, is responsible for only 13%. I know it sounds silly and hard to believe. How could farm animals have such a drastic effect on the environment? Well, livestock is responsible for 65% of all emissions of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas ~296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide. Even methane has an incredible effect. Yes, methane. That gas from cow farts. But believe it or not, methane, too, is actually 25-100 times more harmful than CO2 as well. And cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day! Not only is that kind of gross, but think of the impact! Then there’s all of the other production costs that go into changing a cow into the meat we see in a grocery store, too. We keep complaining about gas emissions from our cars but think about how much worse this stuff coming from animal agriculture is.
So let’s think about this. How much meat do you actually get out of a single cow? Maybe 700-800 pounds? Now think about how much it takes to get a cow to weight that much. A cow is kind of huge. It requires a lot more food than we humans do. In fact, cows consume approximately 9 times as much water and 6 times as much food as humans do. A cow eats an average of 24 pounds a day. Multiply that by all the days it needs to eat before its actual sent to the butcher. A cow is generally allowed to live 2 years before it’s slaughtered. So let’s do the math for a second here: 2 years * 365 days/year * 24 pounds/day = 17,520 pounds per cow. 800 pounds of meat in exchange for 17,520 pounds of feed? You’re not really getting a value deal here.
Additionally, land is needed to feed these animals, as well. Did you know that 2-5 acres of land are used per cow? PER COW? Singular??? Just one cow. Then think of all the cows that are being raised. That’s so much land! If we didn’t consume these animals, we could be using that land so much more effectively for food production for humans. 1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food whereas that same space can only produce 375 pounds of meat.
And this effects not just land usage, but water, too. Growing feed crops for livestock consumes 56% of all water in the U.S. One hamburger itself (just one!) requires 660 gallons of water to produce. The equivalent of 2 months’ worth of showers. Is it worth it? 2,500 gallons of water are needed to produce one pound of beef. 1,000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk. This is crazy. 5% of water consumed in the US is by private homes whereas 55% of water consumed in the US is for animal agriculture.
Here’s a TL;DR for this section:
Land required to feed 1 person for 1 year:
Vegan: x land
Vegetarian: 3x as much as a vegan
Meat Eater: 18x as much as a vegan
It’s just not sustainable. If the entire population of China alone decided to eat as much meat as the average American does, there is literally not enough room on planet earth to sustain it all! It just can’t work. It’s too wasteful!
LAND USAGE, FOREST DESTRUCTION
So I’ve established that animal agriculture takes up a lot of space and, as such, requires a lot of land. But it has to come from somewhere, right? Well, so how many of you all have heard of the destruction of the Amazon rainforest? Probably a lot, right? But did you guys know that animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of its destruction? 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared every second. 110 plant, animal and insect species are lost every day due to rainforest destruction. That’s. appalling.
Even our oceans are suffering because of animal agriculture. Lots of animals = lots of waste. It’s a simple bodily process. All that food that goes in must come out, you know? Every minute, 7 million pounds of excrement are produced by animals raised for food in the US. That means that a farm with 2,500 dairy cows produces the same amount of waste as a city of 411,000 people. And that waste needs to go somewhere. Most often, it’s just dumped into the waters. Disgusting, right? And this waste doesn’t even go through the same treatment processes as human waste does. And it’s just thrown into the ocean for much of water-based life to swim in. To live in. Sucks for them.
It’s not just waste, either. Animal agriculture isn’t limited to cows and chickens and pigs. That’s right. Fish! I could go on and on about how many fish are killed and how ¾ of the world’s fisheries are exploited or how 90 million tons of fish are pulled from our oceans each year (basically, they’re being taken out much faster than they themselves can reproduce so eventually we’re all going to end up in a world with no fish). But I won’t do that 🙂 I want to talk about what’s behind the scenes.
For every 1 pound of fish caught, an average of 5 pounds of unintended marine species are caught and discarded as by-kill. These are animals like whales and dolphins (scientists estimate that about 650,000 of them are killed each year by fishing vessels). How does this happen you ask? Well I’ll tell you. When massive fishing boats fish, they essentially take an enormous net and lower it into the waters. The boat then moves forward and all the fish are outsped and caught in the net. Unfortunately, much more than just fish get caught in the net. Like I said before, whales, dolphins, seals, sharks, and more get stuck and just die for no reason.
It’s insane, right? That something so seemingly insignificant can have such a massive impact on the world? I didn’t believe it either until I watched this documentary called Cowspiracy my friend invited me to watch with her a few weeks ago (shoutout to you Lauren! You’re the best!). I highly recommend it. I thought I was a pretty pro-environment guy. I thought I knew a lot. But boy was I wrong. There’s actually so much going on that we don’t know about and Cowspiracy (I highly recommend it) really opened my eyes. Animal agriculture. Wow. Who would’ve thought it’d have such an effect?
See the outrageous facts for yourself!: http://www.cowspiracy.com/facts/