Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Meat Eating Disaster: Meat Production Bad for Climate Change

Lord Stern calls decries meat consumption to better the environment and protect it from escalating climate change.

Within the past week, Lord Stern has decried the consumption of meat and believes we are heading toward a future that will disdain such practice as much as we currently disdain drunk driving. Besides evidence that a carnivorous diet leads to health problems such as heart disease, its inefficient production process pollutes the environment and increases green house gases that cause climate change.

To demonstrate, Baroni et al. (2007) compared seven diets for their environmental impact, using the amount of energy required to collect resources for production as their benchmark. The diets were one normal diet, three non-organically grown diets: omnivorous; vegetarian; vegan; and three organically grown diets: omnivorous; vegetarian; vegan. The unsurprising find was that the energy input needed to produce a normal diet had a substantially greater negative environmental impact than other diets. Specifically a normal diet had twice the environmental impact of the non-organic omnivorous diet and nine times the environmental impact of the organic vegan diet. To summarize: meat eating does more harm to the environment than veggie bites.

The amount of resources to produce one pound of meat is staggering. An animal science professor at the University of California at Davis, Jim Oltjen, estimates that it take 390 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef. California, the US leader in dairy production, allocates 1/3 of all water resources to livestock, despite currently being in a water crisis. It takes 50 gallons of gas a year to produce a year's supply of meat (chicken & beef) for the average American, while a vegetarian's food supply requires a third less energy. Forty percent of the world's grain goes into feeding livestock. Vegfam (no, that's not a typo) reports that a 10-acre farm has enough land and resources to support 2 cattle, however, the land could also instead feed 60 people growing soy, 24 people growing wheat or 10 people growing corn. Water, energy, and land resources are currently rapidly depleting.

Much of those resources end up as animal waste. Livestock produce 158 million tons of animal waste and is the second largest source of human induced methane production on the planet (second to landfills), accounting for about 18% of all methane production. Methane is a greenhouse gas that is twenty times more effective at trapping solar radiation than carbon dioxide, this adds greatly to climate change and global warming. If animal feces aren't taken care of properly (and normally they aren’t) their nitrogen content could seep deep into the ground and taint the water supply.

Is Lord Stern's prediction right? To save the planet's resources and safeguard it from climate change, will the world go meat-free? Demand for meat is on the rise, resources for cattle are becoming less available, and considering cattle cannot survive in extreme heat, perhaps it's best to go vegan sooner than later. Easier said than done, but better a meat-free healthy planet than a meat-induced disaster.

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