Let me be the first to say that I LOVE meat. Probably enough that I could write today’s entire blog on the pro’s and con’s of different BBQ sauces. Beef, chicken, pork, they all have place in society from the most elite restaurants to backyard cookouts for the simple reason that it tastes REALLY good. Of course, many choose not to partake in humanity’s most delicious pastime for a variety of reasons. Vegans and vegetarians often site animal welfare or personal health as the reason for their abstention from meat, which is completely valid. However, one of the most unaddressed issues of meat consumption is it’s surprisingly large, negative environmental impact. Before I begin, I want to reiterate that meat is an amazing thing and hope this post doesn’t convince you otherwise. Just take it as food for thought the next time you head over to Mcdonald's for a burger.
American highway’s overflowing with gas guzzling SUV’s or the smog ridden metropolises of Shanghai and Beijing are often the first images that come to mind when the words “pollution” and “greenhouse gases” get tossed around. But what about a grassy, cow filled pasture in Nebraska? The reality is, while transportation accounts for 13% of GHG emissions, agriculture accounts for 14-18%. The main reason for this is that vehicles mainly emit carbon dioxide, a relatively benign greenhouse gas when compared to the methane and nitrous oxide produced by livestock, which can be up to 300x more potent on a pound for pound basis. To put it in perspective, producing 2.2 pounds of beef releases the same amount of greenhouse gas as a three hour drive from Edmonton to Calgary.
The environmental impact of the meat industry isn’t only limited to GHG emissions. 70% of the world's agricultural land is used for animal production, and much of this land usage is achieved through deforestation. Once this land has been acquired, growing the animals on it requires a staggering amount of water for both the animal to drink and grow the feed - up to 1800 gallons per pound of beef (think 450 milk jugs of water for your quarter pounder from Mcdonald's), pork is more efficient at 576 gallons per pound and chicken is one of the best at 468 gallons. This is a truly staggering amount: cutting out one serving of meat a week saves more water than not showering at all over the same period of time. You could say all crop production uses a large amount of water and you’d be right, but the effect is much less pronounced with corn only using 119 gallons per pound. Food truly is a thirsty product
The last two paragraphs probably sounded a little preachy, but don’t feel guilty about your meat filled diet, just keep your environmental choices in perspective. It doesn’t make sense feel guilty about showering twice in a day when a slice of bread requires 11 gallons of water to make, but on a similar vein don’t get too high and mighty when you drive your electric car to the meat market, because chances are the electricity is coming from a coal powered plant. I’ll finish by saying even the most esteemed environmentalists can be guilty of picking and choosing environmental movements to suit their needs. If you’ve ever seen Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, it seems surprising that that the movie doesn’t touch on animal emissions until you learn that his family is involved in the Texas cattle business. Hopefully you can be a bit more objective with your environmental choices than Mr. Gore
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