You can’t avoid hearing about animal agriculture and the environment, especially as more and more individuals turn to a plant-based diet for ethical, environmental, and personal health reasons. Here’s a statistic that may shock you: Animal agriculture is responsible for 18% of greenhouse gas emissions which is greater than the combined exhaust fumes from all the transportation sectors. As research into animal agriculture grows, a more complete picture of the human impact on our environment emerges.
The senior official at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization admits that “livestock are one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” Animal agriculture consumes much of the world’s natural resources, which is a contributing factor to its devastating impact on the environment. For comparative purposes, global fracking uses about 100 billion gallons of water a year, while feeding farmed animals in the U.S. alone uses 34 trillion gallons. This statistic does not take into account the amount of water used to produce grain worldwide, a third of which is devoted exclusively to these animals. These distressing statistics are repeated time and time again: animal feeding operations and manure decomposition produces 44% of the world’s methane emissions, which are 30 times more potent as a heat-trapping gas than CO2.
The nearly 70 billion animals we raise for consumption puts an enormous strain on our finite resources and is a huge driver of deforestation. The livestock sector represents over 3.9 billion hectares of land, which translates to about 30% of the world’s surface land area. Animal agriculture is sustained by massive amounts of grain production and harvested feed that require substantial areas of land—farmers clear away hundreds of acres of rainforest for arable land to produce this feed. Moreover, cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest. It is responsible for as much as 70% of the cleared away land. The future of this biodiverse and crucial land is uncertain, but there is hope in the efforts of environmental campaigners who seek to change these devastating farming practices.
Adopting a plant-based diet seems like the extreme option for many people until they realize how their diet choices impact the world around them. When compared to someone who eats meat and dairy products, a person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, 1/11th of the oil, 1/13th of the water, and uses 1/18th of the land to produce their food. Every aspect of human existence is positively affected by the choice to eat more plant-based foods: the amount of natural resources, biodiversity, the health of our oceans, and even the issue of human hunger. Imagine how may mouths we could feed if we reallocate all the resources that we waste in feeding livestock and instead grow crops for human consumption.
Incorporating more plant-based foods into your diet is easy and promotes true well-being that extends to our planet, creatures, and fellow human beings. You don’t need to transform yourself into a kale-eating, smoothie-bowl-making vegan overnight. In fact, many people choose to drastically cut down their meat and dairy intake without entirely eliminating it (the flexitarian diet). Whatever diet you choose, it is more important now than ever to understand how animal agriculture and the environment are linked and how your diet can change our planet’s future for the better.