When we hear the words climate change, our minds tend to gravitate toward cars, planes, and factories. While it may be a stretch for some people to imagine the meat on their plate is contributing to earth’s environmental decline, recent studies show that this is indeed true. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FOA), 14.5% of all greenhouse gas pollution is due to livestock production. The top three animal meats with the highest carbon footprint are grazing beef, sheep and meadow beef while some of the meats with much smaller footprints are seafood, chicken and eggs.
The earth as it is has already seen drastic climate change since the 1800s Industrial Revolution, which added 0.8 degrees Celsius of warming. According to the World Bank, we’ve already added at least 1.5 degrees Celsius since then.
In perspective, livestock agriculture is thought to produce more emissions than trains, planes and cars combined. Although it leaves such a chilling carbon footprint, animal agriculture is often overlooked by many national governments as being harmful. In fact, the production of meat is supposed to double in just over 30 years. In the United States, almost 70% of crops are used to feed livestock and agriculture is known for claiming an astounding percentage of global water depletion.
In order to produce meat, fossil fuels are burned releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. To produce 1 calorie of meat, it takes 8.5 times as much fossil fuel energy according to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. The farm animals crammed into factories waiting to be slaughtered produce methane during digestion and even after. Even more toxic is Nitrous Oxide which is released when manure from the animals are broken down.
By eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, a British study found that we could reduce our food related carbon footprint by 60%. This also saves about 1.5 tons of chemicals from entering the atmosphere annually.
Globally, the effects of the commercial meat industry are paralyzing and contribute more to greenhouse gas emissions than most people are informed. Another way to reduce this issue is to buy meat (and even other foods) locally. The food doesn’t have to travel as far and doesn’t need the same amount of energy or chemicals in preparation for its storage when it makes the journey. Although there isn’t a simple solution to this growing problem, there are steps we can take in preventing more damage to be done in the future.