Eliminating livestock farming would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 14.5% and free up enough land and crops to feed 8.7 billion people.
According to PETA, more than 80% of the corn we grow and 95% of oats are fed to livestock. The cattle alone consume the total calories of 8.7 billion people, more than our population.
If we directed cattle crops to feed starving developing nations, we would eradicate malnutrition and hunger.
With our population projected to hit 9 billion by 2050, animal agriculture is no longer sustainable, and we are feeling the effects of climate change worldwide.
There have never been more droughts, floods, wildfires, and changing weather patterns than in 2021.
However, not all is lost.
Veganism is on the rise, and about 80 million people worldwide identify as vegan. In contrast, when the Vegan Society started back in 1944, it had four newsletter subscribers.
The Vegan Society reports that today, “over 54,000 vegan products from 2,500 companies are registered globally, including 22,000 cosmetics and toiletries, and 18,000 food and drink items.” These numbers are growing every day.
According to the UN, the practice of animal agriculture along with meat consumption and production have become threats to sustainable development.
They have started to award companies promoting vegan lifestyles and providing meat substitutes as "Champions of the Earth.” They have been recognized as substitutes for meat production companies.
The widespread viewing of pro-animal documentaries such as Cowspiracy and Earthlings has also raised the awareness of animal rights and agriculture. However, for this article, we will explore only the issues around climate change and leave animal rights another time.
What Is Climate Change?
The terms global warming, climate change, and greenhouse gases are used so often that it is hard to keep them straight.
The Greenhouse Effect
Carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide are three examples of gases that collect in the Earth’s atmosphere, where they trap heat from the sun.
The physics is similar to the windows of a greenhouse, trapping heat from the sun and warming the environment. Hence the term “greenhouse gases”.
These gases have been keeping our climate warm enough for habitation for millions of years. Without the greenhouse gases, the average temperature on the planet would be -18 Celsius, and many lifeforms would not have existed.
Some greenhouse gases occur naturally. Water vapor is found in the air, carbon dioxide is exuded from the breaths of all living things, and methane comes from decomposition and the gas from animals’ digestive systems. Yes, farts!
A balance was struck for thousands of years, with moderate levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere warming the planet and protecting all living organisms from the bitter cold.
However, the rapidly increasing consumption of resources leading to deforestation increased burning of fossil fuels, and rise in animal agriculture has thrown the balance out of whack.
Gases are at an all-time high, with carbon dioxide levels in 2020 higher than ever before.
Carbon dioxide, or CO2, makes up 75% of emissions and has remained in the atmosphere for thousands of years.
Trees and oceans absorb some carbon dioxide, but nearly half of it stays in the atmosphere. As a result, since 1750, humans have increased CO2 in the atmosphere by almost 50%.
Increased levels of greenhouse gases are amplifying the greenhouse gas effect and raising the overall temperature of the planet.
The average global temperature on Earth. According to NASA, the earth’s temperature has increased by slightly over 1 degree Celsius since 1880, primarily caused by humans.
Marine ecosystems are sensitive to changes in temperature. Decreased fish populations have been reported in the Baltic Sea, Japan, and Taiwan, while about half of the corals in the Great Barrier Reef were killed by two separate heatwaves between 2016 and 2017.
The consequences of climate change are bleak.
The melting polar ice caps and warming oceans are raising sea levels, potentially displacing millions of people and creating climate refugees.
Ice sheets, glaciers, and peaks have been melting worldwide, further exacerbating rising sea levels.
Extreme weather has been reported all over the world. The worst wildfire in history was the Australian fire in 2020, while the worst fire season in British Columbia and California was reported in 2021.
While some weather patterns are normal, the skyrocketing intensities of these events are strong indicators of the consequences of climate change, raging out of control and costing trillions of dollars of damage and unfortunate loss of life.
What Is A Vegan Lifestyle?
Many folks mistakenly think that a vegan lifestyle is merely a diet that excludes all animal products and by-products.
Sure, the diet is a significant part of going vegan. However, veganism is also the exclusion of animal products in daily use. Animals can be found in everyday household items like cleaning products, plastic bags, sugar, crayons, even beer!
In addition, everyday animal products used in clothing include wool, silk, leather, feathers, and fur. Less obvious animal products used in clothing include:
- Animal-derived glue and dyes
- Buttons and jewelry made from bone or horn
- Leather tags on jeans
Of course, people who identify as vegan also avoid supporting forms of entertainment based on animal exploitation, such as zoos, marine parks, or circuses.
So How Will Adopting A Vegan Lifestyle Help?
Reduces Water Consumption
Animal agriculture takes 20% to 33% of the world’s freshwater supply. Avoiding eating meat can save each person 200,000 gallons of water annually.
In addition, we take 1,000 gallons of water to produce a single gallon of milk, 469 for a pound of chicken, and 1,857 for a pound of beef.
In comparison, it takes 43 gallons of water to produce a pound of legumes or beans, which delivers almost as much protein as a pound of red meat.
Up to 785 million people globally do not have access to safe drinking water. The UN’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) suggests that growing legumes would benefit environments vulnerable to drought, with agricultural land ill-suited for other water-intensive crops.
Prevents Deforestation and Saves the Rainforests
Up to 80% of the deforestation in the Amazon is caused by animal agriculture.
About 6.7 million acres of tropical rainforests are burned each year to make way for cattle production, driving up the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and endangering species across the world.
Switching to a vegan lifestyle has been shown to save up to 76% of land cover, slowing down the extinction of endangered animals and helping environments recover.
Maintaining Healthy Marine Ecosystems
The global fish population today is approximately half of that in 1970. The ocean’s rising temperatures lead to declining fish populations, while overfishing is a widespread international concern.
Destructive bottom trawling operations don’t distinguish target species of fish. Their nets indiscriminately clear the ocean floor of all sea creatures, not just tuna, salmon, or mackerel.
Turtles, sharks, and corals all make up unnecessary bycatch and deplete the oceans further of marine animals. This dangerous domino effect disrupts ecosystems and upsets the diversity of marine life.
Avoiding fish and seafood would help counteract the damage we’ve been doing over decades and help restore healthy marine ecosystems.
About 26% of the world’s inhabitable land, amounting to 3.1 billion hectares, is used for animal agriculture.
At the projected rate of increase, land cover in Asia and Africa will see a rise of 30% to 50% by 2050.
In addition, the USDA’s Wildlife Services kills about 3 million animals to protect livestock.
Reducing or eliminating our meat intake can free up some agricultural land and help it return to its original use as a natural habitat, giving the animals currently being driven away an opportunity to return.
Reduce Consumption of Energy And Carbon Footprint
Animal agriculture uses about 21% of food production energy worldwide. Not only is energy consumed from growing and harvesting crops, but the entire supply chain uses a remarkable amount of energy.
Fuels used to transport animals to slaughterhouses, and ship meat halfway around the world have an enormous carbon footprint.
A plant-based diet has been shown to reduce energy consumption by up to eight times.
If we banded together and went plant-free or at least pledged to reduce meat intake, we’ll collectively reduce our carbon footprint and can slow climate change or even stop it.
Only then might we eventually reverse its effects.
Lowering Resource Consumption
A single egg takes 53 gallons of water to produce, a pound of chicken 468 gallons, and a pound of beef a whopping 1,800 gallons.
Animal agriculture takes up between 20% and 33% of the global water supply, while close to 800 million people globally have little to no access to safe drinking water.
Half the crops grown in the US and about 40% of crops worldwide go to feeding livestock.
While roughly 760 million tons of grain are fed to livestock annually, 690 million people worldwide suffer from starvation and malnutrition.
If we switched to a plant-based diet and lifestyle, we would have more than enough food to end world hunger and eradicate starvation.
Maintain Better Soil Quality
Animal agriculture is highly damaging to soil quality. Excessive amounts of pesticides and fertilizers are used to grow livestock crops, leading to extensive soil pollution and toxic land unsuitable for food agriculture.
In addition, the untreated wastewater used for irrigation and waste from manure contains high levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
In contrast, plant-based crops like legumes and pulses do more than just prevent damage. Legume plants are from the Fabaceae family of plants that have over 20,000 varieties. These plants have a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria in the soil called rhizobacteria.
These unique bacteria can absorb nitrogen from the earth and release it back into the plant, resulting in more nitrogen-rich soil and benefiting the next round of crops.
These bacteria can absorb nitrogen from the earth and release it back into the plant.
This process results in more nitrogen-rich soil and benefits the next round of crops planted. The additional nutrients in the ground last for several weeks and balance out carbon-rich crops like wheat and grain.
The nutrients in the ground last for several weeks and bring balance to most other carbon-rich crops such as wheat and grain.
Legume plants are frequently intercropped (growing two crops in the same area) with wheat and grains, allowing other plants to benefit from their soil-enriching properties.
Reduction of Greenhouse Gases
Animal agriculture is responsible for 15% of all greenhouse gases, higher than the transportation industry and the emissions of all vehicles worldwide.
About 9% of all carbon dioxide emissions, 37% methane, and 68% nitrous oxide emissions come from animal agriculture.
Methane, or CH4, is released when livestock digest cellulose found in plants. Methane contributes to 16% of all GHG emissions but warms the planet up to 23 times more than carbon dioxide.
Burning manure converts methane into carbon dioxide, further contributing to warming. The 2019 Veganism Impact Report found that if the entire population switched to a vegan lifestyle, we could cut carbon dioxide emissions by 70%.
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, there has been a 37% increase in emissions from farming pigs and 50% from cattle in the last 15 years.
A vegan lifestyle is not just kinder to animals, but it can significantly reduce our carbon footprint by up to 3 times.
Reduces Water Pollution
Livestock farms and pastures often negatively affect water quality in surrounding environments.
Industrial factory farms house thousands of animals, generating millions of gallons of animal waste a year.
Animal waste is often stored in open lagoons. These lagoons can leak urine and feces, which seep into surface waters and contaminate waterways. In addition, such containment areas can rupture during large storms.
To dispose of the waste, farms spray manure into crop fields. Animal waste can include chemicals used in growing operations, heavy metals like copper and zinc, and harmful bacteria present in feces.
The environmental consequences of spraying and leaking are devastating for water contamination, threatening sensitive aquatic ecosystems, and adding excessive nitrates to drinking water.
A 2012 study found that livestock and poultry in the US produced 369 million tons of manure or about 13 times the waste of the entire US population.
Lower Levels of Drug Pollution
Livestock and fish farmers use high levels of drugs like antibiotics and growth hormones to maximize the productivity of their stock and minimize the risk of infections and diseases.
These chemicals, many containing carcinogenic compounds, are not only harmful to animals but also humans.
In addition, excessive amounts of copper and zinc are often fed to animals to promote growth.
Other metals present include:
According to the USDA, a 2-oz serving of chicken might contain up to 5mg of arsenic. Metal toxicity can cause severe health problems.
- Gastrointestinal pain
- Liver disorders
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
- Heart abnormalities
- Abnormal heartbeat (dysrhythmia)
- Damage to the central nervous systems is characterized by numbness, tingling of hands and feet, and general weakness.