Putting the brakes on climate change begins with a simple change of diet
If you caught President Obama’s State of the Union address, you know he talked a lot about what lies ahead, including for our climate. “I want to focus on the next five years, the next 10 years, and beyond,” he said before explaining that if we’re going to make progress, it’ll take a collective commitment—because progress isn’t one of those things that just happens. “It’s the result of choices we make together. And we face such choices right now.”
One of those choices has to do with climate change—as in, what are we going to do about it?
We need to decide:
- We can stick our heads in the sand and hope that it magically goes away, or
- We can do something about it, starting with taking a serious look at what’s on our dinner plates.
No. 1 is not an option. A few months ago, the World Meteorological Organization concluded that concentrations of methane and nitrous oxide, key greenhouse gases, appeared to be increasing rapidly and that average levels of carbon dioxide were up 43 percent over pre-industrial levels. The U.K.’s University of East Anglia also weighed in. The Earth’s average temperature has exceeded historic norms by 1.02 degrees Celsius.
If our plates are piled high with the flesh of dead animals, we’re part of the climate problem.
Raising and killing billions of cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals every year accounts for at least 51 percent of greenhouse-gas emissions worldwide. The methane they release is a big factor in global warming. So are the fossil fuels it takes to run factory farms, grow and fertilize crops to feed the animals, and then to haul them to slaughterhouses, butcher them, and ship their flesh all over the world.
And chew on this: Producing just over 2 pounds of cow flesh not only causes more greenhouse gas emissions than driving around in your car for three hours, it burns more energy than leaving your house lights on for the same amount of time. Animal agriculture also poisons the air by producing massive amounts of other nasty contaminants.
The good news is that eating food that comes from plants is one of the simplest, most effective steps we can take to put the brakes on global warming. Researchers at the University of Oxford concluded that we can reduce our diets’ climate footprint by 60 percent just by going vegan, and the United Nations has said that a global shift toward vegan eating is necessary to combat the worst consequences of climate change.
Going vegan can help the environment in other ways, too.
When forests are razed and burned to clear land to grow animal-feed crops, carbon is released. Want to guess where it goes? Bingo: Into the atmosphere. And guess how much agricultural land in the U.S. is used to raise animals for food and grow the crops to feed them: A whopping 80 percent, nearly half the total land mass of the lower 48 states. Globally, the equivalent of seven football fields of land is bulldozed every minute to make room for more animals and to grow more crops for them. That’s 420 football fields every hour, 10,080 every day. You can do the rest of the math.
Those billions of farmed animals—who live miserable lives of confinement and deprivation until they’re trucked off to slaughterhouses—generate boatloads of waste, a trillion tons a year, which winds up in our groundwater, lakes, rivers, and oceans, along with the drugs and bacteria it contains. It’s no wonder that the EPA says agricultural runoff is public enemy number one in the pollution of our waterways. Animal agriculture guzzles water, too: It takes more than 2,400 gallons to produce a pound of cow flesh, but only about 180 to produce a pound of whole-wheat flour.
Like the president said, it’s our choice. When we choose to eat plant-based foods instead of animal corpses, dairy, and eggs, we do our part to stop climate change and we spare cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and other animals a lifetime of cruelty. And choosing to go vegan has never been easier. (Just ask a Millennial—they get it.) Vegan fare is showing up on more menus and is commanding more shelf space at the grocery store. Vegan recipes are often simple, inexpensive, and out-of-this-world good. Then there are all of the health benefits.
Don’t you just love a win-win deal?
Photo Credit: Getty Images