It’s not great news if you’re a meat lover, but all signs point to our high levels of meat consumption affecting the health of our planet.
Now before you think your individual habits couldn’t possibly have any impact on the larger world, remember that every little bit counts and that your behavior can set the standard for both those around you as well as the next generation. If you truly care about leaving the planet in better shape, cutting down on meat is a great place to start.
So what’s the deal? Why is meat such a danger to the environment? It turns out there are lots of reasons.
First, our love of meat means that more and more animals need places to graze all around the world. The need for farmland has led to deforestation, habitat destruction, the endangerment of other species, new diseases being encountered and spread around the world, and just a flat-out decrease in the number of trees that help absorb carbon dioxide from the air and replace it with oxygen (which is pretty important if you enjoy breathing).
Next, methane emissions (especially from cow burps and farts, to put it bluntly) are increasing rapidly with the number of animals required to feed the meat-loving population.
Manure, while helpful for growing other crops, also releases these emissions and, frankly, we have more animal poop than we know what to do with.
Back in 2011, methane from livestock accounted for 39% of all the greenhouse gases produced by our agricultural industry and it rose 11% between 2001 and 2011 alone. 55% of these gases came from beef cattle. The rest came from dairy cows, buffalo, sheep, and goats. These figures will only go up.
Greenhouse gases are responsible for our changing climate and the strange and severe weather we’ve seen all over the world, from hotter summers to polar vortexes.
Meat animals also account for an immense amount of water pollution, from streams to rivers, and all the way to our oceans. Both manure and the organisms that live in it as well as chemicals needed to keep animals large and meat-worthy, seep into our water supply and threaten its future.
But it’s not just your steak or burger that’s contributing to this – our dairy and egg consumption affects the air and water as well. As the population grows and more people can afford to eat animal products, these problems will only get worse.
And remember the romaine lettuce scare in 2018? That (and other produce recalls) happened because runoff from animal farms got into the soil of vegetable farms downhill. So meat is even affecting our ability to grow other food safely.
Of course, we can’t expect everyone to just stop eating meat. There are lots of political and economic issues tangled up in this. However, we can educate people about the role of meat in changing our planet for the worse. This gives people the option of reducing their meat intake and alerting other people to its dangers as well.
A report from the British newspaper The Guardian said scientists warned that it would take a 90% reduction in meat consumption in Western countries to help us prevent a dangerous rise of overall global temperature. This temperature rise could make areas of the world uninhabitable or unable to grow food, making it necessary for people to immigrate to new areas. This sounds drastic, but it’s something to think about. We often live in our own little bubbles and think the world’s problems can’t affect us, but we’ve already seen people fight wars and be displaced from their homelands over a lack of clean and reliable water.
Scientists and other food researchers are now hoping to make it easier for people to adopt a flexitarian diet (one that allows for easy switches every now and then to plant-based foods).
If you’re concerned about the future, it might be worth looking into some meat alternatives. And if you still can’t live without your burger, you may be interested in new lab-grown meats that are designed to look and taste exactly like beef. Check out the Impossible Burger and see if it’s available at the restaurant near you!
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