I hope that title caught your attention and that's why you are here. I thought of a lot of other titles for this blog but I wanted you to be a little offended when you read it. That way you would click the link and come figure out what I'm talking about.
That's right. You may recycle. You may compost. You may buy organic. You may ride a bike or take transit instead of a car. You may buy sustainable fish and grass-fed beef. But if you continue to eat any variety of beef, chicken, pork, and fish, and continue to eat dairy products and eggs on a regular basis, you ARE NOT GREEN.
I'm not crazy! And you aren't crazy for thinking that reducing carbon emissions, recycling, and eating organic are good ways to be "Green". They are good ways to reduce human's global impact, but they won't really make a difference if they aren't accompanied by a reduction in the amount of animal agriculture that is happening worldwide. Why?
Let's break down the effects of animal agriculture as compared to the transportation industry.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than all transportation exhaust combined (roughly 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions) (1,2).
On further investigation, Rober Goodland and Jeff Anhang found that livestock and their by-products account for approximately 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions (3). They are responsible for 65% of the emissions of nitrous oxide- which is 296 times more destructive than carbon dioxide (1). Methane has 72 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide using a 20-year time frame (3). It's not slowing down either but predicted to more than double in the next 30 years (4).
In terms of water use, animal agriculture is the main water consumer in North America, with water either going directly to the animals or to their food. Here's what we know:
Agriculture is responsible for 80-90% of water usage in the United States, with 56% of that going towards the crops to feed the animals (5,6). According to the Water Education Foundation, producing 1 8 oz steak could take around 1200 gallons of water to produce. Compare that with 1/2 cup of tofu (61 gallons), or better yet, 1 cup of lettuce (3 gallons). It's still hard to imagine that a simple meal of pasta and tofu can be upwards of 90 gallons of water to produce, but that's still nothing compared to a hamburger (616 gallons for 4 oz) (7). No matter how you look at it, consuming high amounts of animal foods puts a much higher strain on our freshwater supply.
I could go on about waste, land use, deforestation, overfishing, extinction of animal species and so much more, but there is a nifty infographic to help you see that all in a glance (see below). It's incredible what we have let happen to our planet, simply because we find the taste of meat so pleasurable. Our rainforests are being destroyed for crop or grazing land, we are on track to see fishless oceans by 2048 (8), and antibiotic resistance is a real threat to humanity due to the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture.
What possibly should be the largest concern, though, is the power we have to at this moment feed the entire world population if we just stopped diverting our farmlands and grains to the agriculture industry.
A rough calculation from the filmmaker behind the documentary Cowspiracy found that worldwide, "humans drink 5.2 billion gallons of water and eat 21 billion pounds of food each day." Worldwide, cows consume about 9 times that amount of water and 6 times that amount of food (45 billion gallons of water and 135 billion pounds of food each day) (8).
Research suggests we grow enough food on this planet to feed 10 billion people (current estimates place us at 7.9 billion worldwide) (9). One researcher estimates that a meat-eater requires 18 times as much land as someone who eats plant-based (10).
Overall, "A person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-lover for their food" (8).
While I hope you are becoming convinced that the animal agriculture system is responsible for some of the most horrendous affronts to God's creation, I don't want you to be overwhelmed. The consensus is, any small changes you can make away from animal foods will make a difference. Even just reducing the amount of beef and dairy you consume can reduce the tax of cows on our environment.
It's hard to imagine that you passing on the gallon of milk will really make a difference. I mean, it's there already right? If you don't buy it, it may just be thrown away. However, you would be sending a message to the producers of these foods. You aren't demanding them, and therefore they will have to reduce their supply of them to the grocery stores. If enough people begin to choose a more plant-based lifestyle, then slow but sure change is going to follow.
And don't even get me started on the health benefits!
I don't mean to disregard all the efforts you've taken to "go green" before reading this. I just hope that you realize that there is something you could be doing- reducing your consumption of animal products- that would have a similar, or possibly even greater effect.
So, "Go Green!" And by that I mean, EAT GREEN PLANTS!
1. Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M, de Haan C. Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. 2006.
2. Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data. EPA. https://www.epa.gov/ghgemissions/global-greenhouse-gas-emissions-data. Published September 10, 2020. Accessed January 26, 2021.
3. Anghang J, Goodland R. Livestock and Climate Change: What if the Key Actors in Climate Change Are...Cows, Pigs, and Chickens? 2009.
5. Irrigation & Water Use. USDA ERS - Irrigation & Water Use. https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/farm-practices-management/irrigation-water-use/background.aspx. Accessed February 4, 2021.
6. Jacobson MF. Six Arguments for a Greener Diet: How a More Plant-Based Diet Could Save Your Health and the Environment. Washington, DC: Center for Science in the Public Interest; 2006.
7. Food Facts: How Much Water Does It Take to Produce ... ? Water Education Foundation. https://www.watereducation.org/post/food-facts-how-much-water-does-it-take-produce. Accessed February 4, 2021.
8. The Sustainability Secret. COWSPIRACY. https://www.cowspiracy.com/facts. Accessed February 4, 2021.
10. Robbins, John. Diet for a New America, StillPoint Publishing, 1987, p. 352