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Go Greener with a Few Simple Steps
We all know we should be doing our bit to help the environment recover from decades of abuse and damage… But whether your priorities are animal welfare, reducing your carbon footprint, battling deforestation, or advocating to combat climate change, it can feel like you have to pick a single cause to make a difference.
But what if there was one small change you could make in your daily life that would instantly impact almost all of the environmental issues going on in the world… And it didn't need to involve you completely upheaving your entire life?
Well, merely reducing the amount of meat and dairy you consume can tick all these boxes! And no, we're not saying you need to cut out meat and dairy altogether; just one less hamburger a week can have a dramatic impact on the 'greenness' of your lifestyle.
In fact, if the average American did cut out a quarter pound of beef from their diet (approximately one hamburger), this would have the equivalent benefit of taking 10 million cars off the road for a year! Wow!
This isn't just a theory; a report from the Natural Resources Defence Council found that a 19% reduction in beef consumption between 2005-2014 actually reduced carbon emissions in America to the equivalent of 39 million fewer cars!
But beef isn't the only food product that contributes to global warming. There are many other environmental issues caused by the meat-processing industry that you can combat by reducing your consumption a little every week…
Studies show the agriculture industry is the worst contributor to greenhouse gas emissions around, generating as much as all the automobiles, cars, trucks, and airplanes in the world combined.
This industry alone is responsible for 18% of all global warming emissions. This means that every meat-eater is personally responsible for 1.5 tons more greenhouse emissions than a vegan annually, taking into account the entire lifecycle of the meat on your plate.
To put this into context, switching your Toyota Camry to a hybrid Toyota Prius only saves 1 ton of greenhouse emissions per year.
In addition to all the energy required to rear, slaughter, process, package, and transport meat products worldwide, the digestive systems of animals also contribute to greenhouse gases. The manure of livestock, for example, is responsible for approximately 65% of nitrous oxide emissions.
Even just switching out red meat for a more poultry-based diet can save around 0.9 tons of carbon emissions annually, and taking a few days off from eating meat every week can have a tangible impact on the planet.
One of the most significant ways the meat industry is inefficient is how they use grains in livestock rearing. According to a 2006 study, it takes approximately 13lbs of grain to produce just one pound of beef and 3lbs of grain for a pound of chicken.
Not only is this an inefficient usage of grains that humans are capable of digesting, but it also requires vast quantities of water and land to grow the grain and feed the animals we eat.
Naturally, all this grain has to be grown somewhere, which has led to increased deforestation to make way for agriculture.
In recent years, the requirement to find new land for meat production has had devastating effects on our natural planet, with much of this "new" land being found by clearing tropical forests.
The energy required for deforestation is massive, and by removing our trees, we rid our planet of its natural defenses against carbon emissions, which has a doubly negative effect.
But even beyond greenhouse emissions, the need to clear land for the livestock industry is also leading to the worst species extinction crisis since the dinosaurs. Thanks to industrialized agriculture, humans and livestock now form 96% of the world's mammals… A lack of diversity that we can't afford!
What's more, this use of land is inefficient, too! Beef production alone has been shown to take up approximately 60% of the world's agricultural land. Yet, it produces under 5% of the protein and less than 2% of the calories that feed the population globally!
In addition to the land and greenhouse emissions contributed to the livestock industry, the waste produced by meat farming causes numerous other problems to our environment…
The waste run-off from red meat production is responsible for 17x the common water pollution than pasta production and 5x the toxic water pollution from waste.
Manure is obviously a large contributor to this toxic waste generation. However, fertilizer and other chemicals are also huge problems for our environment and other wildlife.
It's not only the planet that's hurt by industrialized agriculture; the animals themselves are often subject to inhumane and simply horrific lives that even die-hard meat eaters would likely shy away from.
But although many of us are familiar with the modern labels of "free-range" and "organic," these may not be as well-regulated as you would like to think. In fact, the Consumers Union found numerous "free-range" poultry farms filled with birds living in tiny quarters, with the label being awarded simply because a door is opened for a few minutes daily.
Cutting meat from your diet isn't just great for the environment, but it's also better for your body.
Even cutting back on meat a little can dramatically reduce the risk of obesity, strokes, high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and multiple cancers.
Also, antibiotics and pesticides are making way for antibiotic-resistant "supergerms" that are incredibly difficult to treat.
Thankfully, people are increasingly aware of the environmental and health impacts of eating excessive amounts of meat. The vegan movement has lead to most establishments now offering meat-and-dairy-free options like the Incredible Burger, which are increasingly socially acceptable choices.
It's also not uncommon to see meat-eaters choosing vegetarian or vegan options in their grocery shopping or when eating out. Many carnivores, omnivores, pescatarians, vegetarians, and vegans alike are familiar with making meat-free meals. They may even own tofu presses (like this) and other specific preparation tools to help them adopt a greener lifestyle.
This movement from an "all or nothing" mentality in food consumption is undoubtedly a step in the right direction. While once it might have been thought that you had to cut out meat entirely, it's now totally acceptable to enjoy a beef burger one night and a tofu curry the next.
Hopefully, as more people alter their eating habits to include more plant-based ingredients and less meat, we'll see even more "green meats" developed as demand increases.
Doing your bit to save the world doesn't mean you have to give up meat entirely or dramatically change your lifestyle… Simply opting for one less portion of meat per week can make a dramatic difference to your carbon footprint and to your own health.
About the Author
Garrett Hellums is a member of the National Guard while also living a meat-free lifestyle. His motto is to “do no harm.” He continues to spread his knowledge on the matter by freelance writing and creating new recipes that involve plant-based ingredients.