Today is Earth Day, a day when people celebrate the environment and eco-organizations everywhere are trying to promote sustainability. Since animal agriculture is one of the leading causes of the emissions contributing to global warming, I’d like to focus on the pollution, destruction, and shortages caused by factory farming. Even though many vegans may know some or all of this information already, I hope you will pass this along to your friends and encourage them to adopt a vegan diet, even if it’s just for a single day.
Animal agriculture’s largest impact on the earth is the amount of land it uses. According to Livestock’s Long Shadow, a UN report, the animal agriculture industry uses seventy percent of agricultural land in the world, and thirty percent of all available land. The reason the percentages are so high is because of feed-crops. The millions of animals in factory farms must have food, and a large percentage of crops grown get to people indirectly, after being fed to farm animals. Along with feed-crops, grazing also takes up a significant portion of the land. Around seventy percent of the Amazon has been cleared for pastureland, and since overgrazing results in land degradation, the areas cannot easily be made suitable for anything else. The fact that the rainforest is being destroyed to produce meat should be shocking enough to encourage people to adopt a meat-free diet. The rainforest is important for a number of reasons, including biodiversity, being home to a number of undiscovered plant and animal species, as “carbon sinks,” and for promoting climate regulation.
Factory farms cause a lot of pollution that hurts the people living around them, the land, and help contribute to global warming. According to the UN, animal agriculture is responsible for eighteen percent of greenhouse gases, a percentage that is larger than the emissions produced by automobiles. These farms also produce a large amount of methane, a greenhouse gas far more potent and dangerous than carbon dioxide, being responsible for 37% of methane emissions. Water pollution is also a problem:
It is probably the largest sectoral source of water pollution, contributing to eutrophication, “dead” zones in coastal areas, degradation of coral reefs, human health problems, emergence of antibiotic resistance and many others. The major sources of pollution are from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, chemicals from tanneries, fertilizers and pesticides used for feedcrops, and sediments from eroded pastures. Global figures are not available but in the United States, with the world’s fourth largest land area, livestock are responsible for an estimated 55 percent of erosion and sediment, 37 percent of pesticide use, 50 percent of antibiotic use, and a third of the loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources.
With the problems of global warming, and with the population growing so quickly, there are going to be water shortages. Animal agriculture currently is responsible for eight percent of all water use. However, the UN’s report states that “Global production of meat is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/01 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, and that of milk to grow from 580 to 1043 million tonnes.” This means that their water use will continue to increase. In order to halt the current damage of factory farming where it is today (without reducing its effect), the UN urges the world to cut the pollution in half.
The animal agriculture industry is not going to take the initiative to cut pollution or to slow down production in the hopes of helping the environment. Which means it is up to us to do something. A vegan diet is the most enviromentally-friendly there is. Not only is it better for the earth, it’s better for your health. Also, if we did not have such a large animal agriculture industry, we wouldn’t have the problems of world hunger. We would no longer have to worry about ethanol production cutting into the world’s food supply and raising costs, because we would be able to grow enough to satisfy all of our needs. Even if you are not vegan, in the name of earth day, please reduce your meat intake in at least some of your meals.