Meat and climate change

When we think of climate change and the drivers of global warming we usually think of trucks chugging out dirty exhaust fumes, or factories churning out thick black plumes of smoke. But what if I told you that the meat and dairy industries are actually a major contributor to global warming?

Although it may seem difficult to comprehend, the animal agriculture industry actually emits more greenhouse gases than the fuel emissions from the entire transport sector combined. But why is animal farming causing so much damage to our planet?

The beef with burgers:

Cattle, raised for both beef and milk, account for around 65% of the emissions from the animal agriculture industry, largely due to the fact that around 44% of emissions are in the form of methane – a greenhouse gas which cows expel when they belch or fart!  

So, if you ate an average sized beef burger just once or twice per week, over the space of a year your consumption of beef would contribute 604kg of greenhouse gases. That’s the equivalent of driving a regular petrol car 1,542 miles (2,482km) or heating an average home for 95 days, or one return flight from London to Malaga.

But it isn’t just beef that contributes to climate change. Meat from pigs accounts for 9% of the animal agriculture industry’s total emissions, while buffalo milk and meat accounts for 8%, and so does chicken meat and eggs. When pigs are reared for meat, the bulk of emissions relates to their feed supply and manure storage in processing. When chickens and poultry are reared for meat or eggs, feed supply is also responsible for an alarming amount of emissions, followed by energy consumption required to rear and transport the animals.

That means that even if we stopped eating beef, emissions from other farmed animals would still contribute enormously to global warming.

Razing the rainforest:

Animal farming is also directly responsible for the loss of rainforests. The industry uses 83% of agricultural land across the world, but provides just 18% of our calories. We need an incredible amount of land to rear animals to meet the current demand for meat, dairy and eggs, which in turn means that ancient rainforests are razed to the ground to make way for animal agriculture.

Plus, animals don’t just graze on the land to meet their energy requirements – a third (33%) of the world’s croplands are used to grow feed for animals, and vast areas of rainforest have been destroyed to grow soya to feed to cattle. If we used 40% of our cropland to feed humans, there would be enough to feed 9 billion people in 2050. But if the global demand for meat increases, we will struggle to feed a growing population.

When rainforests are felled the soil becomes fragile and become washed away during periods of rain, leaving landscapes utterly barren. So by destroying rainforests to make way for animals and crops to feed them, not only are more direct emissions caused from the animals themselves, but we’re also taking away the very thing that can help to minimise harmful greenhouse gases – trees remove around 25% of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere.

How can I help?

The evidence is stark that the global demand for meat and other animal products is destroying our planet. In fact, recent research from Oxford University states that without meat and dairy production, we could reduce global farmland use by over 75%, and still feed the world. The research was so astounding that one of the scientists behind it, Dr. Joseph Poore, said:

“A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet Earth, not just greenhouse gases, but global acidification, eutrophication, land use and water use. It is far bigger than cutting down on your flights or buying an electric car [which only cut greenhouse gas emissions].”

Dr Poore also told Million Dollar Vegan that each person who goes vegan for Lent will save emissions equivalent to a flight from London to Berlin, and if every Catholic on the planet takes part, it will be equivalent to the whole of the Philippines not emitting CO2 for a year.

It’s easier than ever to try a vegan diet in 2019. Almost every country across the globe offers a wide range of ‘accidentally’ vegan dishes, while supermarkets in the Western world are now heavily stocked with vegan ranges – from ‘bleeding’ plant-based burgers to non-dairy ice cream and even vegan scrambled egg.

The increase in demand for plant-based products also means the quality has inevitably improved in recent years – gone are the days of veggie sausages that resemble cardboard. Today’s vegan convenience foods are all about decadence, delicious flavours and meat alternatives so realistic it’s hard to believe they’re made from plants.

To find out more about vegan options available in your country, download the free Million Dollar Vegan starter kit. Try vegan for Lent to help fight climate change with diet change.

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Caroline Burgess-Pike is Million Dollar Vegan’s International PR Manager. She has been vegan for over three years and made the switch after watching documentaries such asCowspiracy and Earthlings. Caroline went vegan for ethical and environmental reasons, and has also spent much of her professional and personal life campaigning for a better world for animals. Her career spans journalism, marketing for vegan brands, charity campaigns and corporate communications.


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