Sunday, December 5, 2010

This Week I Will Not Eat Meat

Back in the day when people ate their own chickens and cattle ranchers drove cattle hundreds of miles on foot to where they could be sold, meat was an accompaniment to a meal. It wasn’t exactly a luxury, but it was harder to get – more work, more money. People ate livestock more sparingly, filling their plates mostly with seasonal vegetables and cooked grains. Of course we now know that this is not only the most economical way to eat, it’s the healthiest.

But something happened in between. Meat became a symbol for prosperity. Providing for your family meant “putting meat on the table”. By the time I was growing up, a dinner plate had a large portion of beef, poultry or pork, a starch and a sad little pile of watery cooked frozen vegetables.

What does this have to do with the environment?
A lot. As the demand for meat grows the livestock industry is wreaking havoc on our environment, being a major contributor to land degradation, climate change, water shortage/pollution and loss of biodiversity. The following points are based on excerpts from Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options, a 416 page report from The Livestock, Environment and Development (LEAD) Initiative.

  • Livestock grazing and feedcrop production accounts for 70 percent of all agricultural land use and 30 percent of the land surface of the planet.
  • Due to enteric fermentation, manure and deforestation for pastures, the livestock sector is responsible for 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. This is more than transport.
  • The livestock sector emits 37 percent of the world’s anthropogenic methane, which has 23 times more global warming potential than CO2.
  • Livestock are responsible for 64 percent anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and ecosystem acidification.
  • The livestock sector is responsible for 8 percent of global human water use.
  • Pollution from animal wastes, antibiotics and hormones, feedcrop chemical pesticides and fertilizers, and pasture sediments are a major ecological problem.
  • Livestock production is expected to double by 2050.

I should point out that the Livestock’s Long Shadow report isn’t all doom and gloom. It details ways in which livestock producers can manage their operations to mitigate the impact and damage of meat production. It also recommends sensible regulations to achieve this.  

So, that’s the industry’s problem, right?
In large part, yes. But we’re the ones stuck breathing cow farts. Which brings me to the wisdom of reducing the demand for meat. The less meat we eat, the fewer livestock animals are needed to support us. So, this week I will not buy or eat meat. I will have nice vegetarian meals with my family and see how it goes. (I have to admit upfront, that I’m not a big meat eater to start with and I’m expecting it to be pretty easy, except for listening to my kids whine.)

I planned to include more sources, but nearly everything I read was based on the same extensive report, Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options. You can download all 19 megabytes or just the executive summary.

Here are both links:

Livestock’s Long Shadow – Environmental Issues and Options
Full text:

“Tikkun Olam” means, in its most basic form, repairing the world. It is an ancient term from long before we worried about carbon emissions or mercury in our fish. It promotes the idea that we are the stewards of our planet and we that must be constant and vigilant in our responsibility. And not only must we take care of the Earth and seas and creatures, but we have to fix what is broken. And this is our job for as long as we are on this planet.

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