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The Most Important Thing You Can Do For the Environment

Meat production and livestock agriculture:

Use over 90% of the agricultural land area in the United States--over half of the total land area of the country

Use hundreds of billions of gallons of water every day for crop irrigation

Use more energy per capita than the less developed countries spend per capita on energy for all purposes

Produce soil erosion amounting to several billion tons of soil lost every year

Are the major contributors to deforestation in the United States and in the tropical forests of Central and South America, where forests are being chopped down at the rate of 25 to 100 acres per minute

The Most Important Thing You Can Do for the Environment Is to Become a Vegetarian

Vegetarianism--the practice of not eating meat, fish, or fowl--is a logical conclusion for all who are in tune with the earth, with the animals, or with their own bodies. A vegetarian diet is undoubtedly healthier: heart disease, cancer, and many of the other "diseases of civilization" are linked to meat consumption. And a vegetarian diet would also be of direct benefit to the 8,000 animals which are slaughtered for food every minute in the United States alone. But what about the environment?

Vegetarians Use Much Less Agricultural Land

Over 90% of all agricultural land (two-thirds of the cropland, all of the grazing land) is used for livestock agriculture in the United States. Meat consumption is a very inefficient use of plant foods, because you get only a small portion of any of the food nutrients which you feed the animal back when you slaughter the animal for food. The proportion wasted varies, but it's always at least on the order of 3 to 1, and more usually like 5 to 1, 10 to 1, or higher. This problem is of increasing importance, as millions around the world starve every year, and even the U. S. may soon be faced with cropland shortages.

Vegetarians Preserve Topsoil

Soil erosion is another one of the deleterious consequences of meat production. Since the beginning of agriculture, humans have totally eroded over half of the then available agricultural land. In the United States, we are losing several billion tons of topsoil each year on cropland and grazing land--almost all of which can be attributed to livestock agriculture. This is about the equivalent of losing four inches of topsoil over four million acres of cropland. Geographer Karl Butzer puts it this way:

"In about 150 years the agricultural soil resources of the United States have been cut by about half, and in some areas such as Oklahoma, a single generation sufficed to destroy almost 30 percent of the soil mantle. Such a systematic if unconscious rape of the land has had an impact that rivals or exceeds that of 6 to 10 millennia of cultivation in the Mediterranean world."

Vegetarians Let the Rivers Flow

Water is another precious commodity which is continuously and contemptuously wasted by the meat industry. It has been estimated that 80% of all the water used by agriculture goes directly or indirectly for animal products (meat, dairy, etc.); and agriculture both uses and consumes more water than any other use. Agriculture uses 40% of the water used, and consumes over 80% of the (nonreusable) water consumed, in the U. S.; whereas ALL domestic water consumption by private individuals is less than 5% of the total of water consumed.

The amount of water which we would save by ELIMINATING TOTALLY all personal water usage (toilet flushing, lawns, cooking, showers, etc.) does not even APPROACH what we could save by becoming vegetarian. And this does not even consider that over one billion tons of animal excrement enter U. S. waterways every year!

Vegetarians Save Trees Every Day

Forests are another resource being decimated by meat consumption. The single most important reason for deforestation in the United States and much of the rest of the world is cattle grazing. And this is happening at just the time when demands for forest products are escalating DRAMATICALLY. Wood prices and paper prices have been going up lately--total demand for wood products worldwide will have more than doubled in the period from 1974 to 2000.

It's the same story in the less developed countries as well; around the world, they are chopping down tropical moist forests at the rate of 50 to 100 acres per minute. In Central and South America, the leading cause of this deforestation is--you guessed it--conversion of forest land to grazing land for cattle.

Vegetarians Maintain Climatological Balance

It gets grislier. As forests are decimated, they change the climate. It has been widely observed that rainfall increases in forested areas, decreases in areas that have been deprived of forests. Deforestation affects climate in other ways as well. Forests are usually replaced by cows, which belch huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere, contributing substantially to the greenhouse effect. Worse: the forests stumps are infested by termites, which are also an important source of methane in the atmosphere. Worse: trees incorporate 10-20 times as much carbon as does crops or pasture, thus substituting crops or pasture (or desert) for trees releases carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, thus also contributing to the greenhouse effect.

Vegetarians Conserve Energy Resources

Energy is another vital resource which is wasted. Deep-sea fishing, for example, is extremely inefficient in terms of fossil fuel energy: getting catfish in the U. S. takes 40 times more energy than growing wheat, in terms of food calories produced. And in general, meat production requires 5 to 1000 times the fossil fuel energy that plant foods do. The U. S. spends more than twice the energy per capita on its food consumption than the average less developed country spends per capita on energy consumption for all purposes. To bring the world "up" to the United States' destructive standard of living in diet would easily bankrupt our energy supplies. In most of the world this would mean (minimally) doubling or tripling energy inputs--something which is laughable just at the level of energy considerations, even if the vast quantities of additional land and water required for this were available.

The Consequences of Continued Meat Consumption

How long is this going to continue? Obviously it cannot go on for very much longer, historically speaking. It may be 20-30 years before we begin to feel the real consequences of continued emphasis on meat consumption. These consequences are going to be:

Famines will become more frequent and more severe, as the third world becomes more and more impoverished. More and more people will starve every year.

Much of the U. S. West will cease to be productive as the groundwater disappears and the land dries up.

Most tropical forests will disappear. Most forested land in the U. S. will be gone as well. (Wood prices will soar out of sight.)

The "greenhouse effect" will set in with a vengeance, resulting in hotter summers and eventual flooding of most low-lying coastal areas.

The standard of living of everyone will decline as agricultural resources become more and more scarce.

What You Can Do

Fortunately, there's something which we can easily do about this environmental destruction: we can stop eating meat. Other movements for social change--whether they be animal rights, ecology, peace, justice, or anything else--protest what others are doing. It is these others who are killing dolphins in tuna nets, creating toxic wastes, waging aggressive war, raising our taxes, and so forth. The vegetarian movement challenges the individual to change his or her own life. That's something each one of us can do, and thereby not only help bring about greatly needed reforms, but also serve as a simple, permanent, unmoving example of the power of the individual to change the world.

--Keith Akers

For more information on vegetarianism, or to request a complimentary copy of Vegetarian Living, please contact:

VEGETARIAN SOCIETY OF COLORADO
P. O. Box 6773
Denver, Colorado 80206
(303) 777-4828

 

 

 
Up ] But How Do You Get Enough Protein? ] Factory Farming ] [ The Most Important Thing You Can Do for the Environment ] Chicken is not a Vegetable ] Spiritual Traditions and  Vegetarianism ] But You Eat Fish, Don't You? ]