The devastating environmental impacts of the worldwide animal agriculture industry are not as well known as they should be. Unfortunately, the livestock system occupies an estimated 45 percent of the Earth’s total land area, while around 33 percent of the world’s arable land and 23 percent of its freshwater supplies are used to grow livestock feed. Meanwhile, an estimated 850 million people suffer from malnutrition and four billion people experience severe water scarcity for at least one month a year. One person could save over 200,000 gallons of water a year by simply leaving meat and dairy of their plate!
The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has estimated that the animal agriculture industry is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions, while The Worldwatch Institute has found that the true figure could be as high as 51 percent. This industry is also a major contributor to worldwide deforestation and the resultant species loss that accompanies this, as native animals are systematically driven from their homes to make way for cattle ranches and other intensive animal rearing facilities.
In the imperilled Amazon rainforest, 80 percent of the deforestation that has taken place over the last few decades was directly caused by cattle ranchers’ demand for more land on which to rear their cows. Around 232,000 square miles of forested area in the Amazon have been cleared since 1970 … and this has had an adverse impact on other habitats all over the world. The Amazon rainforest acts as a natural carbon sink, holding between 90 to 140 billion metric tons of carbon that would otherwise drastically speed up the rate of global climate change if it were released. The greenhouse gases already released by its destruction have been linked to the melting of Arctic, which has in turn been driving polar bears toward starvation and decline.
This situation of mass habitat loss and degradation, driven by animal agriculture, has been repeated in other areas of the world too.
Worldwide production of meat and dairy is expected to increase significantly in the years ahead, as developing economies such as India, Brazil and China are predicted to drive up demand for these products. However, if this were to occur under our present-day system of animal agriculture, which swallows up vast amounts of land and freshwater resources, the outlook for our planet is bleak. The planet’s human population is projected to increase to nine billion people by 2050. A food system that would be capable of supporting all of these people in an equitable and fair manner cannot be based on our current model.
Our ability to eat as many beef burgers as we wish may well be on the increase … but sadly, our access to the vital resources of fresh, unpolluted air and water is declining. In recent years, more and more consumers have begun to be aware of this, leading to a surge in popularity for more environmentally friendly plant-based foods. At the same time, scientists have begun to produce lab-grown meat that replicates the taste and texture of “real” beef burgers, but comes without the side helping of planetary destruction and animal and human suffering.
As the leading organization at the forefront of the conscious consumerism movement, it is One Green Planet’s view that our food choices have the power to heal our broken food system and pave the way for a truly sustainable future.
By choosing to eat more plant-based foods, you can drastically cut your carbon footprint, save precious water supplies and help ensure that vital crop resources are fed to people, rather than livestock. With the wealth of available plant-based options available, it has never been easier to eat with the planet in mind.