By Matt Schroeder
You probably do a lot to help the environment. For example, maybe you drive a smaller car rather than an SUV, or maybe you eat locally as much as you can. But did you know that you can reduce your environmental footprint just as much by eating more plants and fewer animals? Animal agriculture hurts the environment in several ways. Here are a few:
First and foremost, animal agriculture pumps greenhouse gases into the air. A well-known United Nations study reported that raising animals for food contributes nearly one-fifth of global greenhouse gas emissions, and the true amount may be even higher. This is more than comes from all our forms of transportation combined. Most of the damage comes simply from raising animals, not from transporting them to our plates. That makes even locally grown, free-range meat almost as bad for our planet as eating meat from factory farms.
Second, animal agriculture fouls our water. A single dairy cow produces nearly 55,000 pounds of manure in a year. Collectively, farmed animals in the United States produce an estimated total of 1.37 billion tons of excrement every year. That’s more than 100 times as much excrement as all people in the United States produce, and it eventually winds up in our waterways. In 1995, for example, 25 million gallons of hog waste spilled into North Carolina’s Neuse River, killing millions of fish.
And finally, “the environment” is more than just air and water; it includes animals too. The sad truth is that the vast majority of meat comes from large farming operations that keep animals in painful confinement even before they reach the slaughterhouse. For example, many egg-laying hens are packed into battery cages with several other chickens; each has less space than a standard sheet of paper and can’t spread its wings. Pregnant pigs spend their 16-week pregnancies in gestation crates so small that they cannot turn around.
There’s a role for political action in changing all this. For example, Sierra Club chapters in Iowa and many other states have organized for better handling of hog waste. But the simplest solution with the most certain impact starts at home.
Every time you eat plants instead of animals, you help the planet. If you eat vegetarian just one day a week, you reduce your carbon footprint more than you would if you bought all your food locally. If everyone in the U.S. did that, it would be like taking 7,600,000 cars off the road.
The Sierra Club North Star Chapter will be at the Twin Cities Veg Fest on September 28, 10:00am – 4:00pm at Coffman Memorial Union on the Campus of the University of Minnesota. The festival is free to attend and offers cooking demonstrations, free food samples, and lots of other resources to help you heal the earth with what’s on your plate.
Matt Schroeder is a volunteer with Compassionate Action for Animals, the host of Twin Cities Veg Fest.