The Concealed Contributor to Climate Change

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I’m sure that the majority of us are concerned about the environment and the impact of climate change.  We all know something about it and can engage in light conversation about some of the issues.  But tackling climate change has become one of society’s top priorities. 

Tony Juniper, author of How many lightbulbs does it take to change a planet? wrote, “We must now face the challenge of meeting expanding human needs while simultaneously maintaining the relatively stable and productive planetary conditions that have sustained our welfare… [because]if we are to build sustainable societies we will need to address some urgent and large-scale interlocking trends, namely, climate change, the impending global mass extinction of species, and the depletion of resources.” 

Consequently, many people have altered some of their behaviours, whether that is taking shorter showers, walking / cycling instead of driving, air-drying laundry instead of using the all-consuming (and expensive) tumble dryer, and making your own coffee instead of buying several cups a week at 4West (among other coffee hubs on campus).

Whilst these small actions contribute slightly to reducing our carbon footprint, there is one thing we can do to drastically reduce pollution we expel into the atmosphere. Avoid eating meat. Labeled as drastic or radical by many, with those few that undertake such measures labelled as “crazy”. Just please bear with me.

A truth that matters cannot stay hidden. Yet the devastating impact of animal agriculture on our environment is a truth that governments and heads of corporate farming industries seek to hide from the public domain. Why? Because the impact is far greater than they are willing to admit. If the wider public audience were aware and took immediate action, industry profit would drop by the millions. The power of the public to make conscientious choices is a very real threat to corporate and governmental profitability.

Nobody wants to talk slaughterhouses and marine degradation. I mean, not exactly light and airy dinnertime conversation, especially when about to dig in to a steak.

However – unfortunately – animal agriculture is the number one cause of all human-induced climate change. This means that raising animals as livestock for meat and by-products consumes one-third of all fresh water; occupies 45% of all the Earth’s land; causes 91% of Amazonian destruction; is the leading cause of species extinction; is the leading cause of ocean “dead zones”; and is the number one cause of habitat destruction [Oppenlander 2013]. 

The United Nations Environment Programme 2010 report noted that, “Agriculture and food consumption are identified as one of the most important drivers of environmental pressures, especially habitat change, climate change, water use, and toxic emissions.”

The increased demand for agriculture and grazing land has caused over-harvesting and over-exploitation which explains the significant decline in land quality. Factory farming is the Pandora’s Box of capitalism: we have a corrupted morality, damaged the ethics of food, and the result is a society lacking compassion which has led to the destruction of the planet we call “home”. Factory farming is the epitome of our individualistic, consumerist-based society, profiting from the exploitation, violation, and abuse of other sentient beings and our environment. Profit-driven motives corrupt the system from the top, spreading messages of reliance on animal produce because of higher profits. Meanwhile, we are destroying our planet. In continuing to support these industries and consume animal produce we support deforestation, air pollution, irreversible loss of diversity (animal and plant), and the loss of indigenous communities and cultures in exchange of land for animals headed to slaughter. For a momentary palate preference. Is it really worth it?

Removing meat and animal products from your plate has a bigger impact than all of the small actions combined. My writing this might not sway you, perhaps some statistics will:

  • 1.5 acres of land can produce 37,000 lbs of plant-based foods versus 375 lbs of meat
  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation, 80% of the world’s fish stocks [for which assessment information is available]are considered fully exploited or overexploited
  • The amount of land required to feed a vegan for a year is one-sixth of an acre; for a vegetarian it is three times this amount of land; whilst for omnivores, their land usage is eighteen times the land used by a vegan
  • To produce 1 lb of beef requires 660 gallons of water (which is the equivalent to showering for two and half months straight, negating the positive impacts of shorter showers)
  • 1000 gallons of water are required to produce 1 gallon of milk
  • Farm animals directly consume 800 billion gallons of water per year

This is about all life on earth hanging in the balance. We have a choice;  to avoid the destruction of our planet, we need to take action now. It is daunting knowing that the future of all living beings and our planet is reliant on us making a change and acting efficiently, but it is possible. Simply reducing our meat consumption increases the amount of grain available to feed people elsewhere, reduces pollution, saves water and energy, and ceases contributing to the clearing of forests. We can change the world.  We must.

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About Author

Meg Murphy is a final year Sociology student. She writes about environmentalism and social issues, specifically those concerning students.

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