So you’re thinking about going vegetarian or vegan, but you’re not quite sure it’ll have any impact. Maybe you’re doing it for ethical reasons or maybe you want to improve your health or diet. Whatever your reason, you can rest assured you’re making a great choice, not just for you, but also for the rest of the world. Here’s a look at five different ways going veggie can help save the planet:
Going Veggie Preserves the Atmosphere
No matter how you slice and dice it, animals raised for consumption account for a lot of the greenhouse gasses chipping away at the ozone layer. Living meat-free naturally reduces the demand for these animals. If enough people go vegetarian, the number of animals needed to meet the demand eventually drops. When that happens, the number of livestock animals raised for consumption drops, reducing atmospheric pollution levels.
How much greenhouse gas does raising enormous amounts of livestock produce? The numbers vary based on different methods of calculations, from as little as 5 to 10 percent of the world’s emissions to as high as 51 percent of emissions – more than all forms of fossil-fueled transportation combined. So where do all these ozone-depleting gasses come from?
When cows release internal gas, they also release methane. So do sheep. The real harm to the planet is more than just a “gassy” joke – manure releases gasses, as well.
Growing crops for livestock to eat produces gas, as does pumping the water for them to drink. Plowing fields and harvesting livestock feed takes its toll, too. The more unpleasant aspects of the meat industry also add to the totals – oil is burned transporting livestock to slaughter and electricity is used to keep the meat cool. When you go veggie, the only greenhouse gasses you have to account for are those involved in the farming and transport of your fruits and veggies.
Eating Veggie Frees up Space and Food
When you go veggie, you’re freeing up space for people to live. With the world’s population booming and expected to grow by more than three billion, every extra foot of free space may contribute to the quality of life for the people on this planet.
The livestock industry uses up to 30 percent of unglaciated land, both for housing the animals, grazing them and producing crops for them to eat before they go to someone else’s dinner plate. That’s almost 280,000 square miles – nearly the size of Chile.
Animals raised for human consumption don’t just tax land resources, though. They also tax our food supply. Although figures vary, it’s estimated if the grains fed to livestock animals were fed to humans, we could feed double the number of people we do now.
By going vegetarian or vegan, you reduce the number of animals needed to fuel the meat industry, which in turn reduces the amount of land and food needed to raise those animals, freeing up those resources for humans.
Vegetarians and Vegans Produce Less Pollution
The greenhouse gasses from livestock aren’t solely responsible for pollution. Consider the horrific reality of industrialized farming – as many animals as possible are packed together in tight quarters for the sole purpose of gaining enough meat to go to slaughter.
Such a high concentration of animals in one area takes its toll on the local environment – the air quality suffers, the urine and manure have to go somewhere and zoonotic diseases (diseases that can jump the species barrier) or bacteria known to cause illnesses in humans can leave consumers with a nasty surprise.
Manure and sewage pollute waterways and ultimately our oceans. The sheer amount of fertilizer used in growing livestock feed also means runoff into our waterways and the sea. When these compounds build up, the bodies of water where they collect can’t sustain life and are deemed “dead zones”. There are approximately 400 dead zones around the world ranging in size from a square mile to more than 43,000 square miles (an area roughly the size of Louisiana).
Pesticides, acid rain and excess nitrogen, phosphorous and nitrates in or on the air, land, and water are heavily influenced by livestock farming. Antibiotics, excreted in their urine and feces, leave behind trace amounts in the land and water tables. When you don’t eat meat, you aren’t contributing as much to the pollution of our planet.
Vegetable Production Requires Fewer Resources
Water usage is a big problem in areas prone to drought. Livestock farming uses an exorbitant amount of water in human and animal consumption and crop production. When you cut meat and animal byproducts out of your diet, you’re eating foods that take less water to produce.
Livestock farming isn’t just water-intensive; it’s also heavy on our natural oil reserves. Since fossil fuels are a finite, scarce resource, you’re doing everyone a favor when you switch to a veggie diet.
You’re Sparing Animals from Cruelty
Some people go veggie for ethical reasons – if you’re one of them, you’re probably already intimately familiar with the vicious cruelties involved in livestock farming and factory farming. While it’s possible to ethically source meat, eggs, milk and other animal products, it can also be difficult, costly and time-consuming.
If you’ve decided to go veggie for dietary or health reasons, you can’t deny that sparing animals from a cruel life and the slaughterhouse is still a humane perk. While it might not be your primary motivation for going veggie, it certainly doesn’t hurt. Any increase in awareness, understanding, and empathy for the world and all of its inhabitants is a good thing.