The power of the fork: what we can do about global warming

Often environmental issues seem like Big Bad Problems that only ‘the government’ can do something about. So we go about our daily lives waiting for ‘the government’ to do something about it. In the case of global warming, even the most environmentally conscious among us think we have done the most we can – we recycle when possible, we turn off the lights when we leave the room, we minimize our energy consumption by switching to energy saving bulbs. But is it really having any significant impact?

In 2006 a Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) report estimated that all transportation in the entire world – cars, trains, planes, trucks, ships, everything – contributes 13% of greenhouse gases.  The same report also stated that animal agriculture actually contributes 18% of greenhouse gases – more than all transportation combined! ( a more recent report from World Watch actually found that animal agriculture contributes even more: 51%!!!)

How, you ask? The effects of animal agriculture on greenhouse gas emissions are threefold:

+ the methane expelled when cows fart or belch are 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the most well-known greenhouse gas

+ animals are fed a diet of soybean and corn which are mostly grown on land reclaimed from the rainforest in South America; the rainforests of the world provide a ‘carbon sink’ where large amounts of excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is absorbed. Animal agriculture is thus the major cause of rainforest depletion: >90% of the total area of the Amazon cleared since 1970 is used for animal agriculture, directly or indirectly

+ animal feed is most often grown in a different country and in many cases, continent from where the animals are raised, meaning that the feed has to be transported to the animal, contributing to the greenhouse gas emissions from transportation

Okay, so 18-51% of greenhouse gases come from animal agriculture. So what does this mean? It means that any effort to reduce demand for meat and therefore the size of the livestock industry would have a much, much greater impact than our measly efforts to reduce energy consumption and switch to fuel efficient cars.

Let’s make it personal. What can you as an individual do? In 2007 the Nicolaas G. Pierson Foundation found that:

+ If every American gave up meat for 7 days a week, it would be the equivalent of taking every single car in the United States off the road.

+ 6 days a week = eliminating all electricity use of all households in the States

+ 2 days a week = replacing ALL household appliances in the country (fridges, dishwashers, washing machines, etc) with energy saving versions

+ And not eating meat for JUST 1 DAY A WEEK would be equivalent to eliminating the greenhouse gas emissions from 90 million people flying from Los Angeles to New York or vice versa

We can actually change the world just by making different food choices every time we eat. One small step for you, a giant step for the earth. One simple choice, and such a huge, positive impact. Now isn’t that amazing?

 

Watch the documentary below to learn more about the link between meat consumption and global warming:

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