How eating meat is harmful to Planet?
When land is used to raise animals instead of crops, precious water and soil are lost, trees are cut down to make land for grazing or factory-farm sheds, and untreated animal waste pollutes rivers and streams. In fact, it has such a devastating effect on all aspects of our environment that the Union of Concerned Scientists lists meat-eating as the second-biggest environmental hazard facing the Earth; number one being fossil-fuel vehicles. And according to a report published by the Worldwatch Institute, a staggering 51 percent or more of global greenhouse-gas emissions are caused by animal agriculture. No wonder, when you consider facts like these:
* Cows must consume 16 pounds of vegetation in order to convert them into 1 pound of flesh. Raising animals for food consumes more than half of all water used in the U.S. It takes 2,500 gallons of water to produce a pound of meat but only 25 gallons to produce a pound of wheat.
* Producing just one hamburger uses enough fossil fuel to drive a small car 20 miles. Of all raw materials and fossil fuels used in the U.S., more than one-third is devoted to raising animals for food.
* A typical pig factory generates the same amount of raw waste as a city of 12,000 people. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, raising animals for food is the number-one source of water pollution.
* Of all agricultural land in the U.S., 87 percent is used to raise animals for food. That’s 45 percent of the total land mass in the U.S. About 260 million acres of U.S. forest have been cleared to create cropland to produce feed for animals raised for food. The meat industry is directly responsible for 85 percent of all soil erosion in the U.S.
* More than 80 percent of the corn we grow and more than 95 percent of the oats are fed to livestock. The world’s cattle alone consume a quantity of food equal to the caloric needs of 8.7 billion people—more than the entire human population on Earth. According to the Worldwatch Institute, “Roughly 2 of every 5 tons of grain produced in the world is fed to livestock, poultry, or fish; decreasing consumption of these products, especially of beef, could free up massive quantities of grain and reduce pressure on land.”
Save Cows Save Planet!
Conventional thinking on climate change tells us that increasing greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are a critical driver behind our changing weather patterns. As the concentration of C02 and other greenhouse gasses increases, the planet gets warmer and increasingly inhospitable to humans and other species.
We might address climate change and begin to regenerate the planet by taking a holistic perspective that puts the soil and its rich microbial life at the heart of our dynamic global ecosystem. Soil health is the keystone of our environmental ecosystems, from which their delicate balance evolves. Good soil is teeming with organisms; it is literally alive. Poor soil doesn’t have this or has it in such greatly reduced quantities that it is negligible, and the richness of microbial life, just as with humans, has a lot to do with health and fertility. We’ve been mistreating soils on an industrial level for many decades now and the damage done is emerging in the catalog of environmental woes facing the Earth in the 21st century. The soil is under siege.
It’s disappearing at an alarming rate. Topsoil is being depleted faster than it can be replenished and something like 83 billion tons of it is lost every year. On top of that, over 70% of it is degraded.The term ‘peak soil’ has recently entered the lexicon. It’s a quiet crisis brewing across the globe. It is a critical environmental issue, and not just because agricultural yields are falling. The health and abundance of soil play an integral role in healthy environmental systems, fostering biodiversity, fighting erosion by absorbing water, providing a fertile base for the growth of plant life, and many other things. ‘Poor land,’ ‘leads to poverty, hunger, social unrest, cultural deprivation, inhumanity, and war.’
Thankfully, the soil is a renewable resource. Further, repairing it has the potential to ‘cure’ climate change – which is a remarkable idea – because of the ability of healthy soil to lock up carbon that would otherwise enter the atmosphere. Rebuilding the health of our soils can turn around a wide range of environmental ailments. And building topsoil is easier than you would think. Improving and increasing soil goes hand in hand with locking carbon into it. Soil sits at the center of the earth’s carbon cycle. If carbon’s not locked up in our soil, it’s being released into our atmosphere. Richer, healthier, better-managed soil locks up more carbon and the soil is more fertile and productive. We can address two critical issues facing us in the 21st century by caring for our soil – lowering carbon levels in the atmosphere and feeding an increasing global population.
Healthy soil is fundamentally different from the degraded soil. A large part of why this is, has to do with its microbial life and, in particular, a biota called mycorrhizal fungi, which supports the root systems of up to 80% of plants that flower, especially grasses. The fungi, along with other microbes, play a really important role in exchanging plant nutrients for the liquid carbon generated through photosynthesis, locking down the carbon in the soil where it does some good. The fungi also produce something called glomalin, described as ‘soil’s superglue.’ It binds the soil and keeps it stable. It creates the texture of good soil that you can feel when it runs through your fingers.
Sequestering carbon in the soil holds huge potential as a means of mitigating climate change and increasing soil fertility, and some bold statements have been made about it. However, it’s important to remember that healthy soil holds far more carbon than unhealthy soil. In the last century, half of most of the world’s soils have been depleted of carbon by 50% to 70%. It’s not holding on to nearly as much carbon as it had and a lot of that has to do with land management. One thing about that mycorrhizal fungi is that it’s killed off by all the things we’ve been pouring on the land to make it more productive – nitrogen fertilizer, herbicides, and pesticides, not to mention fungicides – so in the long term, it’s not doing much for our soil and that’s beginning to show in decreasing productivity. What we need is more healthy soil.
This is where cows come in. Building soil is a top down activity where the myriad microbial life around a plant’s root system in healthy soil feeds the subsoil farther down turning it into topsoil. Cows and livestock can speed up this transformation, if well managed, because they are key contributors to the microbial world (think of cow dung.) There are a number of innovative land management techniques that focus on caring for the content of the soil and working to preserve its innate health. Cows remind us of the potency of holistic thinking, not just in agriculture, but in our broader global ecosystem. Quite literally, our earth is the root of everything, as the Sanskrit proverb reflects, ‘Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, our shelter and surround us with beauty. Abuse it and soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.