Today is World Vegetarian Day and it is the kick-off event for World Vegetarian Awareness Month.
You’ll probably see a lot of posts about why consuming animal products is cruel, and for those who feel passionately about animal rights, this is an important argument.
But is it the most compelling reason for reducing the amount of meat we eat? Of the handful of reasons I’ve experimented with a vegetarian diet over the past decade, animal rights were pretty low on the list.
This is not to say that I don’t care about animal rights (I do) it’s just not as important as the other reasons, especially the negative environmental impacts of producing, packaging, and transporting an enormous amount of meat for human consumption.
What’s the point of saving animals to live on a sick and dying planet?
Here are some of my favorite environmental reasons why eating less meat can lead to a healthier world:
1. Wasted Resources
In case you haven’t noticed, we are speeding toward a global energy crisis. Coal, oil, and other fossil fuels are not only dirty and dangerous, they are quickly becoming depleted. According to Cornell ecologist David Pimentel, the production of animal protein demands tremendous expenditures of fossil-fuel energy—about eight times as much for a comparable amount of plant protein.
The meat industry is also a major reason that the world is quickly running out of fresh water. According to Ed Ayres, of the World Watch Institute, “Around the world, as more water is diverted to raising pigs and chickens instead of producing crops for direct consumption, millions of wells are going dry. India, China, North Africa and the U.S. are all running freshwater deficits, pumping more from their aquifers than rain can replenish.”
2. Endangered Species
In a 1997 report titled, A Geography of Hope, the USDA found that in the United States, grazing has contributed to the demise of 26 percent of federal threatened and endangered species.
A 1988 study by the University of California Press estimated that for each hamburger made from rainforest beef, members of life forms from approximately 20 to 30 different plant species, 100 different insect species, and dozens of bird, mammals, and reptile species are destroyed.
With acres of rainforest being cleared at an accelerating rate every day, its conceivable that these statistics have increased dramatically.
3. Climate Change
In 2006, the United Nations released a shocking report that found raising animals for food generates more greenhouse gases than all the cars and trucks in the world combined.
And its not just the cow burps. Massive amounts of manure (much of it tainted with disease and chemicals), deforestation to make room for grazing animals, synthetic fertilzers used to grow grain for feed, and the greenhouse gases required to transport, process, and refrigerate all of the meat all contribute to negative climate changes that are felt all over the world.
Still not convinced?
According to a 2006 study by researchers at the University of Chicago, eating a vegan diet prevents the equivalent of 1.5 tons of CO2 emissions every year, more than the 1 ton of CO2 emissions prevented by switching from a typical large sedan to a Toyota Prius.
So if you can’t afford an electric car, or aren’t brave enough to become a bike commuter, you can have an even bigger impact by simply skipping the meat case at the grocery store.
After several decades of eating meat, the idea of eliminating it from your diet all together can be terrifying, and it’s important to ease into the change comfortably or you’ll never stick with it.
Check out the very successful Meatless Monday campaign – an international initiative to help people give up meat one day a week. They have recipes, toolkits, nutritional information and links to hundreds of participating blogs that can help you see how easy it is to survive (and thrive!) without meat.
Image Credit: finecooking.com