Concerns over greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture have steered columnist Cabrinha Clark and her family away from beef and toward a more produce-heavy diet.
(Unsplash photo by FitNish Media)

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Animal agriculture responsible for startling levels of greenhouse gas emissions

We remember to take our cloth bags when we go shopping, drink our coffee from refillable cups, and recycle responsibly. But by eating a single cheeseburger, we can undo all our efforts. That’s because one cheeseburger requires a whopping 660 gallons of water to produce.

It’s not just water usage that is problematic in our meat consumption. Unfortunately, along with the desire for meat and animal products, comes the cost of damaging our environment in other ways.

Methods used in agriculture industries lead to extraordinary levels of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), fossil fuel consumption, land exhaustion, and water usage.

We hear about how human consumption of oil and gas is leading to climate change. While it is true that the burning of fossil fuels contributes significantly to rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere, agriculture has a huge impact as well.

The UN has stated that animal agriculture is responsible for 18 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, but, according to the 2014 documentary, Cowspiracy, the actual number is 51 per cent, which is more than triple the total emissions from all transportation.

From the viewpoint of a meat eater, the temptation of a weekend barbecue is great, but, as consumers, we must consider the effects the consumption of meat and animal products can have.

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If we look at greenhouse gas emissions (including CO2, methane and nitrous oxide) created in raising livestock for meat and animal products, the results are quite surprising. The Environmental Working Group states that lamb is more harmful to our planet than beef. Cheese falls next in the ranking of greenhouse-gas emitters, followed by pork, turkey and, finally, chicken.

Beef production creates 27 kilograms of greenhouse gas emissions per kilogram, compared to chicken’s 6.7 kilograms of GHG. We don’t think about dairy as being as harmful, but the numbers show that one kilogram of cheese produces 13.5 kilos of CO2, and even one kilogram of eggs causes 4.8 kilograms of emissions.

Adding to the damage that is being done by the livestock industry, is the removal of the solution. Roughly 150 acres of the Amazon rainforest, dubbed the Earth’s lungs, are cleared every minute, and animal agriculture is responsible for at least 80 per cent of this destruction, according to Greenpeace.

Livestock alone occupies one-third of the Earth’s ice-free surface and, as the population grows, this is not sustainable. To feed a person with a vegan diet, requires one sixth of an acre of land per year, while a vegetarian needs half an acre. Predictably, a meat eater depends on far more – about three acres.

Since we became aware of the massive effects of the meat and animal product industry on the health of the planet, my family has found many healthy alternatives. We have beet or veggies patties instead of beef burgers, ground turkey in our tacos, we’ve introduced new vegetarian and vegan recipes, incorporating chickpeas and tofu, and we buy oat or almond milk instead of cow’s milk.

Integrating more vegetables and plant-based foods is cheaper than meat, which is an added bonus.

We can hardly tell the difference and it is worth it to protect the wonderful planet we are lucky to call home.

Cabrinha Clark writes on environmental issues for the Peace Arch News.

ColumnistEnvironmentVegan and Vegetarian