The meat industry burns up a lot of fossil fuel, pouring pollutants into the air. Calorie for calorie, it takes 39 times more energy to produce beef than soybeans. The petroleum used in the United States would decrease by almost sixty percent if the people drastically reduced their meat consumption. If a simple and healthful change in eating habits along with localization of most food production and a major shift toward organic farming were to take place, food production and distribution could be weaned from their current heavy dependence on fossil fuels. In the process, the enormous suffering inflicted on livestock would be greatly reduced.
The meat industry, in addition to producing carbon dioxide, is also responsible for other greenhouse gasses, such as methane. Methane is produced directly by the digestive process of cows. This greenhouse gas is considered very dangerous because each molecule of methane traps 20 times more heat than a molecule of carbon dioxide.
So how big a threat to the planet is the methane emitted by cows? Overall, the effect is not significant, certainly not enough to justify fears of cows destroying the planet by global warming. Each year 500 million tons of methane enters the atmosphere contributing about eighteen percent of the total greenhouse gases. Cows account for sixty million tons of the methane, about twelve percent. Therefore, methane emitted by cows’ amount to only two percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions. It should also be kept in mind that feedlot cows, because they eat more, produce more methane than range fed cows. In India there are about 270 million cows, but 99.9 percent of them are range fed and therefore produce less methane.
Water Pollution: about fifty percent of water pollution in the United States is linked to livestock. Pesticides and fertilizers used in helping grow feed grains run off into lakes and rivers. They also pollute ground water. In the feedlots and stockyard holding pens, there is also a tremendous amount of pesticide runoff. Organic contaminants from huge concentrations of animal excrement and urine at feedlots and stockyards also pollute water. This waste is anywhere from ten to hundreds of times more concentrated than raw domestic sewage. A documentary film “Fleisch Frisst Menschen” highlights that nitrates evaporating from open tanks of concentrated livestock waste in the Netherlands have resulted in extremely high levels of forest killing acid rain.
Water Depletion: All around the world the beef industry is wasting the diminishing supplies of fresh water. For example, the livestock industry in the United States uses about fifty percent of the water consumed each year.
Feeding the average meat eater requires about 4,200 gallons of water per day, versus 1,200 gallons per day for a lacto vegetarian diet. While it takes only 25 gallons of water to produce a pound of wheat, it takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat. Scary to say the least!
Bottom Line: Reducing or eliminating meat consumption would have substantial positive effects on the environment. Fewer trees would be cut, less soil would be eroded, and desertification would be substantially slowed. A major source of air and water pollution would be removed, and scarce fresh water would be conserved. And we come to appreciate the source of our sustenance, the divinely inspired creation that deserves nurture and requires stewardship. Nature is no longer viewed as an enemy to be subdued and tamed.
Other Reasons…: Of course, saving the environment is not the only reason to consider reducing meat intake, particularly beef.
During the process of converting grain to meat, 90% of the protein, 99% of the carbohydrates, and 100% of the dietary fibre are lost.
It is well documented that vegetarians and minimal meat eaters are less likely to contract certain kinds of heart disease and cancer. Better health is one of the benefits of a flesh free or reduced meat diet.
Furthermore, eliminating or reducing meat consumption would release a vast quantity of food grain for human consumption, thus helping solve the problem of world hunger. And on an ethical level, consciousness toward animal killing helps induce a greater respect for all kinds of life, including human.
Acknowledgment: Michael A Cremo; Mukunda Goswami author “Divine Nature”; World Watch; Physicians committee of responsible medicine; Jeremy Rifkin author “Beyond Beef”;