According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, farmed animals contribute 14.5 per cent of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, which is more than the fuel from every car, plane, truck and train on the planet.
This is because at every stage – from acquiring land for grazing to plastic-wrapping the final product – the production of meat, milk and eggs is energy-intensive.
And because animal farming is so inefficient (we get back far fewer calories than we feed to the animals), a LOT of land is needed to grow their feed. In fact, animal farming uses 83 per cent of our farmland but gives us just 18 per cent of our calories. Because it is so hungry for land, farming animals has led to forests and other habitats being destroyed. This not only releases even more climate-changing gases, it means there are fewer trees on the planet to absorb the CO2. It’s a devastating double whammy.
And there’s more bad news for our climate…
Animals themselves exacerbate the problem. They release methane – a gas that has a warming effect 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide (over a 20-year timeframe). Farmed animals produce such large amounts through their digestive process and manure, that animal agriculture is considered one of two leading emitters of methane gas worldwide. The other is the production of fossil fuels.
And even more…
In addition to CO2 and methane, animal agriculture is also responsible for nitrous oxide emissions. This gas – which is released when the animals’ waste is broken down – is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its potential to intensify global warming.
No wonder, then, that whenever climate researchers discuss ways in which we can each reduce our carbon footprint, eating a plant-based diet is among their key recommendations.
Our waterways are polluted by animal farming
There are billions of farmed animals on the planet, and they all poop. There is now too much slurry to spread on the land as fertiliser, and so it is stored in tanks and ‘lagoons’ but all too often it leaks out and gets into the rivers, where it fuels algal blooms and kills aquatic life. It also gets into the oceans and creates ocean dead zones – areas with zero oxygen where sea creatures cannot survive. The size of ocean dead zones has quadrupled since 1950. Serious pollution incidents from animal farms is heartbreakingly commonplace.
And you know the biggest plastic polluter of our oceans? It’s not drinking straws but fishing nets and other discarded fishing gear. So, eating wild fish is a real problem, but so is eating farmed fish, because wild-caught fish are taken from the oceans and ground up as feed for farmed animals, including chicken and fish. To save the oceans, we have to stop eating meat.
Animal farming drives wildlife extinctions, too
Because animal farming is a key driver of habitat destruction, pollution and climate change, it is also a driving force behind loss of wild species. Humanity has wiped out 60 percent of animal populations since 1970 and the three leading causes all relate to the consumption of animals: farming, eating wild animals, and fishing.
Many scientists believe the world’s sixth mass extinction has begun – and it is caused by people.
Eat plant-based for the planet
For all these reasons, Oxford University researchers say that the single biggest thing we as individuals can do to protect the planet is to go vegan.
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PAGE UPDATED JULY 2020