Most people, when asked what sector of our economy is the single biggest source of greenhouse gases, will answer transportation, the driving of cars. That is a big source, but surprising it is not the biggest. The largest sectoral source of greenhouse gases is the raising of livestock. We are eating too much meat!
According to a study reported by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (the FAO), in 2006, the world's livestock industry contributes 9% of all CO2, but more importantly 37% of all methane and 65% of human released nitrous oxide. Methane is 23 times more effective at trapping heat in our atmosphere than CO2 and nitrous oxide is 296 times more effective as a greenhouse gas. Together these gases result in the livestock industry contributing 18% of all greenhouse gases, which is considerably more than the transportation sector's contribution of 12% (which is still significant.)
Bill Maher succinctly stated this fact in his own unique way when he opined, "If you care about the planet, it's actually better to eat a salad in a Hummer than a cheeseburger in a Prius."
Emitting global warming gases is not the only problem we face due to the world's growing desire to eat meat every day. The FAO report, Livestock's Long Shadow,
noted that most of the land that humans use is dedicated to livestock. 70% of all cultivated land is used for livestock. This represents 30% of the whole earth's land surface. This is a huge number. As we saw in Consequences, there is not going to be enough food for the growing population. Already over 1 billion people are dying of hunger or malnourished. Despite the number of hungry people in the world, we are increasing our consumption of meat at an unsustainable pace. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.
Of all the agricultural land in the U.S., nearly 80 percent is used in some way to raise animals: that's roughly half of the total landmass of the U.S. 70% of all the wheat, corn and other grain produced is used to feed herds of livestock. Livestock now produce 130 times as much waste as people do. Just one hog farm in Utah, for example, produces more sewage than the city of Los Angeles. Sticking with the USA figures, in 2000 irrigation withdrawals of water for livestock were 40 percent of total freshwater withdrawals.
A Swedish study in 2003 discovered that organic beef, raised on grass rather than concentrated feed, emits 40 per cent less greenhouse gases and consumes 85 per cent less energy.
The average American consumes 12 ounces of meat every day. That's three quarter-pounders every single day. [For a look at the health problems associated with so much meat consumption, visit the American Institute for Cancer Research who cite the strong link between colon cancer and red meat. Their recommended daily intake of meat is 2 ounces a day!]
The developing world is catching up. There is no way that our planet can produce enough food to grow enough beef to allow everyone the same 12 ounces a day that Americans consume. Trying to do so will take more efficient food sources away from the hungry and starving people who need it the most. Ironically, while over 1 billion people today are starving or hungry there are over 1 billion people overweight and 300 million who are obese.
We do not need to eat so much meat. It is not healthy to eat 12 ounces a day. We can't afford to grow as much meat as we do either. Time to cut back. If you agree with the logic behind the need to cut back how much meat we consume, you may wish to take the following mindfulness resolution:
Aware of the damage and suffering caused by the consumption of animal and animal products,
I resolve to reduce my use of meat
and meat products, dairy and fish.
Taking this resolution does not mean that you have to entirely give up eating of meat, although you may wish to do so. I am not saying that you should never have a piece of beef jerky. Reducing will have a big impact.
* If you eat meat every day, choose at least one day each week in which you will eat no meat (including dairy)
* If you already have meat free days, increase the number of these days
Everyone I have asked has said that it would be easy for him or her to have a meat-free day once a week. It is easy. It is also big. Remember, 18% of all greenhouse gases come from the raising of livestock. Reducing that by 1/7th means a 2.5% decrease in GHGs. Imagine if you cut your meat consumption in half, which again many people feel is easy. That would result in a 9% reduction in greenhouse gases! That is BIG! The Canadian commitment in the Kyoto Accord was to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 6%, but our government said we couldn't do it. Well, just by cutting meat consumption in half we could have more than met our international commitment.
* If you consume large mammals, switch to eating smaller animals. Avoid beef and pork at all costs.
Paraphrasing writer, A.J. Jacobs who wrote about eating meat for the first time in decades in an Esquire article, "Don't eat anything you can't bench press." And a cow weighs more than a Prius. You can't bench press a cow! I daresay, you can't bench press a pig either. Now, a chicken, that I can handle. Apply the bench press rule whenever you are considering ordering or eating meat, and you'll be doing the environment a huge favour. The larger the animal, the bigger the greenhouse footprint.
* When you do consume meat, insist on organically and locally grown animals.
Remember the Swedish study? Organic and locally grown animals raised on grass instead of feed emit 40% less greenhouse gases. If you must eat beef, go organic and local. Don't worry about the extra cost, you'll more than save that much from all the other mindful living practices we will be discussing soon. You can afford organic!
* If you switch to fish, eat small and locally sourced (green) fish.
No, we are not saying "eat green fish" but rather "eat fish that are green...aka environmentally sustainable." Fish have a much smaller global warming footprint than beef or pork. But we need to be wise about which fish to choose. There are many other environment problems happening beyond global warming. It is hard to know what to choose. For help, visit www.Seachoice.org. This is an excellent web site. Seachoice.org has done all the work for us.
Being mindful of what I eat is easy, and it will have a big impact on the environment.
Please pay attention to what you are putting on your plate.