Whether you’re worried about greenhouse gases, water pollution, deforestation, or drought, it’s clear that eating meat is bad news for the environment. According to the United Nations, raising animals for food is “one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global”.
Here’s the lowdown on some of the ways the meat industry harms the environment:
According to a report published in the International Journal of Climate Change, animal agriculture is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases in Australia – 50 per cent of emissions come from the livestock sector.
The vast majority of these gases are methane, which is produced when animals digest food, and nitrous oxide, which is released from animals’ decomposing waste. But to understand why the amount of pollution is so high, we must look at the entire process of raising and slaughtering animals. Producing fertiliser for crops to feed animals, oil to run the trucks that take them to slaughter, and electricity to freeze their carcasses requires massive amounts of fossil fuels – which equals massive amounts of carbon dioxide released into our atmosphere.
University of Tasmania Professor of Environmental Sustainability Dr Barry Brook estimates that “livestock emissions, on their own, will cause significantly more warming in the next 20 years than all our coal-fired power stations”.
Meat production accounts for 80 per cent of the nitrogen and phosphorus used in farming, according to the United Nations Environment Programme. Most of these chemicals return to the environment through wastewater and excrement, contaminating land and water worldwide; harming local wildlife, humans, and deep-sea marine life; killing fish, bees, and amphibians; and creating ecological “dead zones” in the oceans. In addition, factory farms generate vast amounts of sewage waste, which can also pollute water supplies.
In New Zealand, it’s been revealed that 60 per cent of monitored waterways aren’t fit to swim in – let alone drink from – largely because of pollution from the dairy industry. A report by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research found that “[s]treams in dairy land are among the most polluted”.
Meanwhile in Australia, grazing at one cattle station near the Normanby River system was causing so much pollution to run off into the Great Barrier Reef that the Queensland government bought the property in a bid to stop the environmental destruction.
Would you ever prepare 16 plates of pasta, then toss 15 in the rubbish bin and eat just one?
The world is facing a food shortage that hits the very poorest people the hardest. Yet each year, 760 million tonnes of grain are fed to animals on factory farms so that people can eat meat. This is terribly inefficient: it can take up to 16 kilograms of grain to produce just 1 kilogram of meat. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people – more than the entire human population on Earth. If the grain were used to feed people directly instead of being funnelled through livestock, there would be more than enough for everyone.
In times of drought, we talk about reducing time spent in the shower and heeding restrictions on watering our gardens – but in truth, we’d save a lot more water by not consuming animal “products.” According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, animal agriculture uses up around one-third of Australia’s fresh water supply.
In 2007, Charles Sturt University looked into water consumption in suburban Melbourne and found that eating vegetarian could save households up to 35 per cent of their total water usage simply because plants take less water to produce than meat. According to National Geographic, we can each save more than 800,000 litres of water a year (or 2,000 litres per day) just by going vegan.
Australia is among the world’s top 10 nations with the most deforestation, and most of the clearing is happening in Queensland. In a government report on land cover change published in 2017, it was revealed that 395,000 hectares were cleared during 2015–16, an increase of one-third from 2014–15 and the largest increase in clearing rates anywhere on the planet. According to the Statewide Landcover and Trees Study, the majority of vegetation clearing in recent years has been for”conversion to pasture for grazing purposes (over 90% of total clearing)”.
Australia already has some of the highest extinction rates on the planet, but clearing bushland at such an alarming rate is taking a toll on wildlife, including koalas, possums, gliders, cockatoos, goannas, skinks, and geckos.
What You Can Do
The simple solution is to go vegan. Quitting meat really is one of the most powerful steps that you can take to make your life healthier and the planet greener. It alleviates pressure on our precious resources, helps tackle climate change and world hunger, and radically decreases your own risk of developing life-threatening diseases. By going vegan, you’ll spare nearly 200 animals per year a life of misery and a terrifying death, too!