As Obama is giving his last State of the Union address tonight, I want to bring to your attention something he said in last year’s speech.
No challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change.”— Barack Obama, State of the Union Speech 2015
It was not terrorism or ISIS that he described to be the biggest threat in our
society. It was and still is climate change.
We have made significant efforts to curb this threat. Some of it has proved to be successful, but climate change is still as real and as threatening as ever before. The underlying issue of our efforts is that we are not addressing the most menacing problems. Currently, we are looking to fossil fuels as the scapegoat of climate change. While oil, natural gas, and coal play an integral role in human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, what if I told you that raising animals for food accounts for more than half of all greenhouse gases? The World Watch states in a 2009 report that, “livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,564 million tons of CO2 per year, or 51 percent of annual worldwide GHG emissions.”
Methane, the greenhouse gas that cows and other animals emit, is 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 and has a global warming potential 86 times greater than CO2 on a 20-year scale. Because the human population is expected to exponentially increase to 9.6 billion by 2050, animal agriculture will increase accordingly to keep up with the demand of animal products. As a result, agricultural emissions are projected to increase 80% by 2050. Fortunately, there is hope. Methane’s half-life in the atmosphere is only circa 8 years, versus at east 100 years for CO2. This means that a reduction in livestock raised would reduce greenhouse gases fairly quickly compared to CO2 reduction efforts.
The effects of animal agriculture do not stop there. Animal husbandry is also the leading cause of water depletion, deforestation, species extinction and ocean “dead zones”.
Cowspiracy, a documentary highlighting the unsustainable practice of animal agriculture, states that the meat of 1 hamburger alone needs at least 660 gallons of water to be produced. That is the equivalent to showering for two months. At large, the meat and dairy industry uses 1/3 of the earth’s fresh water, and for this reason is a major cause of water depletion.
Deforestation is another significant environmental concern. Every second one to two acres of rainforest are cleared. Animal agriculture is responsible for 91% of the Amazon’s destruction and is a leading contributor in the destruction of other rainforests around the world. The land is mostly used for growing animal food and animal grazing. The destruction of our rainforests due to animal husbandry is furthermore leading to species extinction at a rate that has not been seen since the age of dinosaurs. Apart from that, animals that are seen as predators or competition for livestock are frequently targeted and hunted. All this leads to 110 animal and insect species disappearing every single day.
A final environmental catastrophe that can be attributed to animal husbandry are ocean dead zones, which are large bodies of water that do not have enough oxygen to support marine life. The more than 400 dead zones worldwide are primarily found near agricultural and industrial sites. Spills—sewage and industrial emissions—from these activity sites compromises the ocean water and causes these dead zones.
Animal agriculture is a leading cause of environmental disaster. If we want to limit climate change and create a more sustainable environment for future generations to come we need to act now. Eating less animal products, including meat, dairy and eggs, can considerably reduce individuals’ carbon footprint and help better the environment.