In celebration of Earth Day, I want to talk about a huge contributor to pollution and global warming – factory farming. The UN determined a couple of years ago that factory farming is one of the leading causes of global warming, producing around 18% of the CO2 responsible for climate change.

Factory farms are huge. Some of the largest hold over 1,000 cows, 2500 pigs, or 125,000 (!) chickens. One of the obvious forms of pollution is urine and manure, which is usually made into fertilizer to spray on crops. However, much too often it runs into rivers and groundwater, and threatens fish, animals, and humans. Remember the story that broke in the news a couple of weeks ago about how our drinking water was full of antibiotics? The animals raised in factory farms are full of chemicals and hormones that farmers use to make them grow faster and larger. These chemicals make it into the groundwater too (not to mention the steak you buy from the supermarket).

Even though promoters of factory farming claim these institutions are efficient in size, too much land is lost through animal agriculture. The rainforest is being cleared in South America to make room for the animals that will end up on your plate as hamburgers. The last thing we need when we’re on the brink of the  unimaginable consequences of climate change is the destruction of something that will protect us and slow down global warming. Also, all of those thousands of animals need food. Thus, thousands of acres of food is used to feed them. A better use of that land would be to grow enough crops for hungry people. If we used all the land currently being used for animal agriculture for vegetarian sources of food, we could provide enough food to feed everyone – plus enough to make ethanol without food prices going up too much.

Factory farming is dangerous for both living beings and the Earth. I would love for everyone to stop eating meat completely, but I’m enough of a realist to know that some of the meat-eaters reading this post isn’t just going to stop. So, if you’re unwilling to go vegetarian, at least eat less meat. You don’t need meat at every meal. You could also try free-range meat instead of factory farmed. Overall, just be aware of where your food comes from and its environmental impact.