Last week we discussed how eating less meat can benefit our pocketbook and our health. This week we’ll look at how eating less meat can help curb climate change, save the environment and lessen our dependence on foreign oil.
Curbs climate change
In 2006, a United Nations study reported that the livestock industry contributed 18 percent to greenhouse-gas emissions – more than emissions from every single car, train and plane on the planet. Livestock production contributes 9 percent of carbon dioxide, 37 percent of methane and 65 percent of nitrous oxide. The total food system contributes 33 percent of the total climate change effect with 12 percent from methane and nitrous oxide emissions, 18 percent from deforestation and land use changes, and 1.5 to 2 percent from fertilizer production and distribution. Information on transportation, waste and manufacturing were unavailable.
To sum up, emissions from factory farms – including carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide – contribute a great deal to climate change, so when you cut back on the amount of meat you eat, you are also cutting back on the emissions that contribute to global warming.
Want to learn more about the effect of meat production and agriculture on climate change? Check out Anna Lappe’s Take a Bite Out of Climate Change for more on the connection between global warming, the food on your plate, and the choices you make every day. And watch for Lappe’s book, Diet for a Hot Planet, to be released next spring.
Helps save the environment
Industrial meat production not only contributes to climate change but also pollutes our air, land and water. The huge amount of manure factory farms create cannot be absorbed by the land. The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that more than 335 million tons of manure is produced each year on U.S. farms. This waste sits in open air lagoons, emitting hundreds of kinds of gases, including hydrogen sulfide, ammonia, carbon dioxide and methane. The North Carolina hog industry alone produces 300 tons of ammonia per day.
The manure is then often over applied to land or leaks from storage areas, polluting the land and water. One dairy farm with 2500 cows can produce as much waste as a city with around 411,000 people – and the manure does not have to be treated! In 2000, the Environmental Protection Agency identified agricultural activity as a source of pollution for 48 percent of stream and river water.
Manure also contains high levels of disease-causing microorganisms, called pathogens, which can find their way into the soil and water. In every disease outbreak from water in the United States from 1986 to 1998 where the pathogen could be identified, the Centers for Disease Control concluded it most likely originated in livestock.