Recently I decided to become what I like to call a ‘flexible vegetarian’ in a bid to cut down on my meat consumption. My reasons were not ethical or health related, but environmental.
Generally, developed countries have a higher meat consumption and us Brits definitely enjoy our meat. While the US has the highest meat consumption at 127kg per person, the UK is still up there as a big meat eater at 84.2kg per person (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, FAO).
I’ll admit that I’ve not got much hope of converting the billions of meat eaters to vegetarianism, but I want to at least show you what impact our meat eating habits are having on the environment and maybe even persuade you to eat just one less hamburger a week.
Its commonly known that cow’s farts and burps produce methane gas. But each cow can produce up to a whopping 500 litres of methane every day and if you think about the number of cows on the planet, that’s a lot of gas. It is produced due to the presence of microbes in the gut of the animals, which help to digest the food they eat and release methane as a by-product. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than gases like carbon dioxide, so has a profound effect on global warming.
It is estimated by the FAO that livestock is responsible for 14.5% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. This equates to the amount of greenhouse gases produced by all the worlds cars, boats, trains and planes. We could all significantly reduce our carbon footprint relatively easily by simply not eating meat, which would require few changes in our lifestyle. Alternatively, you could never use transport again to lower your carbon footprint. I know which one I’d chose!
With the population of the world expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, we have the ever-growing problem of food availability and overcrowding. Currently 30% of the worlds ice-free land is used for the production of livestock and 30% of the crops we grow are fed to animals. It seems irrational that we should use up all this land on grazing animals when we could instead use the crops to feed ourselves and the land for living space.
Furthermore, approximately 70% of the deforested land in the Amazon rainforest is used for grazing and a substantial amount of deforested land is also used for soybeans and other crops used to feed livestock (FAO).According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency if the world turned vegetarian the total number of crops currently being fed to animals could feed 4 billion people.
The strain on water supply could be eased as the 8% of the global water supply that is used to grow crops for livestock could be used elsewhere. A switch to vegetarianism (or veganism if you want to be even better) would be a more sustainable lifestyle for the planet and its resources.
I have bombarded you with facts and figures but I hope you can see why a meat eater contributes to global warming twice as much as a vegetarian and three times as much as a vegan (New Scientist). Maybe it ’s time to change our carnivorous habits?
A study at Oxford found that halving your meat intake could reduce your carbon footprint by over 35%, an easy way to help the environment if you ask me. You don’t have to go full out vegetarian (I had a sausage butty just last week), but try substituting some meat for meat-free alternatives and you might be surprised how much your wallet thanks you for it too.
Still not convinced? Watch ‘Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret.’ It is such a convincing documentary that it has the power to convert almost anyone who cares about being eco-friendly to veganism or at least vegetarianism.