Homes and businesses regularly burnt to the ground by raging wildfires. Huge water shortages due to severe droughts. An increase in respiratory and infectious diseases.
Welcome to our world in just 12 years’ time if we don’t take drastic action to fight climate change.
Yes, it’s that serious.
A 2018 report by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that we have just over a decade to prevent irreversible climate catastrophe.
Perhaps you’re already doing your bit to save the planet. Maybe you’ve switched to using energy-saving light bulbs, started recycling and buying eco-friendly products from laundry detergent and ‘green’ fashion to energy-efficient cars. All of these measures are fantastic and kudos to you for your efforts.
But if we stand any real chance of literally saving our planet, we have to get real about one of the most dangerous culprits responsible for climate change and the destruction and devastation of our environment: Animal agriculture.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, people are consuming more meat and dairy products every year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from 229 million tonnes in 1999/2001 to 465 million tonnes in 2050, while milk output is set to climb from 580 tonnes to 1043 million tonnes.
The UN already warned us back in 2006 in its report Livestock’s Long Shadow that animal agriculture is “One of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” So serious in fact that animals raised for meat, dairy and eggs produce more global warming greenhouse gases than the fuel emissions from the worldwide transportation combined.
Just think about that for a second. The whole of worldwide transportation combined doesn’t produce the amount of damaging greenhouse gases as animal agriculture.
But it doesn’t end there: livestock production also contributes to shortages of fresh water, land destruction and deforestation, air and water pollution, loss of habitat, and species extinction.
Let’s look at some of these in greater detail.
How animal agriculture impacts our water:
The world is moving towards increasing problems of freshwater shortage, scarcity and depletion. By 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world’s population could be living under water-stressed conditions.
The livestock sector is a key player in increasing water use, accounting for over 8 percent of global human water use, mostly for the irrigation of feed crops – and that 8 percent figure becomes much higher when you take into account the uses of water in animal agriculture that are not just for irrigation.
According to the Water Footprint Network, animal-based foods use considerably more water than their plant-based counterparts.
How animal agriculture impacts land destruction and species loss:
Livestock is the world’s largest user of land resources, with grazing land and cropland dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80 percent of all agricultural land.
The increase in the production of livestock is also a key factor in deforestation, especially in Latin America where the greatest amount of deforestation is occurring – 70 percent of previously forested land in the Amazon is occupied by pastures, and feed crops for farmed animals cover a large part of the remainder.
Take a moment to digest that: The soy and grains grown in these areas are not for human consumption, but to feed farmed animals who are then killed for human consumption.
This destruction of land also displaces wild animals, resulting in loss of habitat and species. On a global scale, 60 percent of animal populations have been wiped out since 1970. This has led some scientists to declare we are entering the world’s sixth mass extinction and the first to be caused by a species.
How animal agriculture causes pollution:
The waste produced by the 70 billion animals farmed each year is typically stored in large lagoons where it emits toxic gases. It often leaks out or overflows, causing devastation to both land and waterways. Once in the water table, it threatens drinking supplies – including possible contamination from E.coli, salmonella, pharmaceuticals and insecticides – damages wetlands and fuels the rapid accumulation of algae which, in turn, wipes out aquatic life.
So, what can you do to combat the adverse effects of animal agriculture?
One of the major actions you can take to save the planet, for yourself and for future generations, is to make your diet greener by ditching animal products in favour of plant-based eating.
The carbon footprint of the production of animal foods is much higher than for plant-based foods. In fact, just last year a study by the University of Michigan found the production of the plant-based Beyond Burger to be more environmentally-friendly than traditional beef burgers.
With just 12 years left to rescue the very organism that keeps us alive, we can’t afford to put sticking a bandage over a gaping, bleeding wound; we have to take steps to heal the wound. And, as you can now see, we need to take urgent, drastic measures to heal the planet.
Last year researchers at Oxford University in the UK said that going vegan is the “single biggest way” for us to reduce our environmental impact on the planet.
We can make a difference at every single meal, simply by leaving animal products off our plates.
Try vegan for Lent by downloading your FREE Vegan Starter Kit here.
Katrina Fox is a journalist and PR consultant who has written for a broad range of print and online media in the UK, US and Australia. A vegan for 21 years, she is the founder of VeganBusinessMedia.com, providing resources, consultancy and training for vegan entrepreneurs, authors and creatives. Originally from the UK, Katrina is based in Sydney and is the Australia campaign manager for Million Dollar Vegan.