Can we save the environment by changing what we eat? That is the argument advanced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in August 2019.
The report claims that plant-based diets can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and, additionally work to absorb carbon already in existence in our environment. The report estimates that approximately 23% of greenhouse gas emissions come from animal agriculture and the land needed to produce feed for livestock.
While all meat and dairy production create emissions, beef production far surpasses the emissions of all other livestock. According to Matt McGrath from BBC News, cattle release five times more greenhouse gasses than poultry and that does not include the emissions created from the productions of feed.
For a ¼ lb. burger, it requires:
1.5 lbs. of grain
150 gallons of water
74.5 square feet of land
1,036 BTUs of fossil fuel
In addition, cattle ranchers in Brazil have intentionally set fire to enormous portions of the Amazon rainforest to clear land for their livestock, not only destroying the largest carbon absorbing sponge on the planet, but then, use that land for an industry which will just expel more carbon into the environment.
In the U.S., how we raise cattle has changed over the years, resulting in increased levels of air and water pollution. In 2015, Food and Water Watch, released a report called Factory Farm Nation, in which they claim that large factory farms increased from 2002-2015.
Previously, cattle were raised on small farms with fewer that five hundred head of cattle. Now, as meat packers get into the animal agriculture business, controlling every aspect of production, more and more cattle are raised in huge feed lots.
So, what does that mean for the environment? More cattle crammed into smaller spaces produce massive amounts of hard to manage manure, simply due to the sheer volume. As a result, water contamination has occurred in local regions surrounding large feed lots.
Furthermore, cattle living in these cramped quarters become susceptible to disease which can spread quickly through the heard and contaminate the meat we eat. In an attempt to prevent disease, ranchers often treat their cattle with anti-biotics causing immunity in humans.
The answer? Eat less meat, especially, less beef.
I’m not sure I am quite willing to go completing vegan and, according to The Earth Day Network, a vegan lifestyle is not necessary, but a reduction in meat and an increase in plant-based foods can have a huge impact.
For those of us who like meat, there have been a few suggestions on how we can change our diets. New York Times journalist, Mark Brittman, advocates going vegan before six. He eats an entirely vegan diet until six p.m. when he has meat for dinner.
Another group promotes “Meatless Mondays,” arguing that, if we all go one day a week without meat, we can reduce emissions by 1.2 million tons per year.
As for me, I think I will start with beef. I have not eaten beef in over a month and surprisingly, I really don’t miss it, which is really, quite astonishing because anyone who knows me, knows I am a meat and potatoes kind of person. That is not to say that I will never eat beef again, but I think I will save that burger for my birthday once a year.
Moreover, I am trying to increase the amount of vegetables I eat. I never really paid much attention to my meat intake before, but now I realize that I eat a diet high in meat (especially poultry) and very low in plant-based foods.
Through reducing my meat intake and increasing fruits and vegetables, I hope, not only to positively impact the environment, but my health, too. The health benefits I hope to gain from this change can only be positive, hopefully reducing my cholesterol and providing more vitamins and minerals to boost energy.
Changing our diets for the survival of the planet seems a modest lifestyle change in the broad scheme of things, when we consider the impeding destruction our current course of action will ultimately have.