Stakes are high to go vegan

Ryan Hamann

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Scientists have come to a near unanimous conclusion: climate change is real, and it is influenced heavily by human activity. Much of the blame is placed on the fossil fuel industry and its large emission of greenhouse gasses. They are right in heaping scorn on that industry. The damage done by continued reliance on fossil fuels will only grow worse as the trend toward urbanization across the planet continues. While these things are nothing to scoff at, and certainly should combated, the actual contribution from the transportation industry (exhaust from cars, trucks, trains, boats, airplanes) is somewhere in the neighborhood of 13 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, according to the 2007 Environmental Protection Agency’s report on global emissions. Meanwhile, the agriculture industry remains an afterthought to most environmentalist organizations throughout the country, even though it presents a much greater problem. UWO students should consider the merits of veganism if they want to avoid contributing to the environmental consequences of industrialized agriculture. Livestock are responsible for “at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, or 51 percent of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions,” according to figures on the website for the documentary Cowspiracy (cowspiracy.com). Methane, another greenhouse gas that is produced by livestock, is “25-100 times more destructive” and has “a global warming potential 86 times [greater than]” carbon dioxide, according to “Improved Attribution of Climate Forcing to Emissions,” a 2009 article published in the Academic Journal Science. In an article written in 2013 for International Business Times, Philip Ross states that cows are producing nearly 150 billion gallons of methane every day. Animal agriculture also has a detrimental influence on water supplies. The fracking process used to extract natural gas and petroleum has been identified as a leading cause for water shortage in America. While fracking is dangerous and has disastrous consequences for the environment, it doesn’t hold a candle to the amount of water used by big agribusiness. According to Cowspiracy.com, fracking uses 70-140 billion gallons every year. The water required to maintain livestock, however, “ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons annually.” Because of this, agriculture (meaning both livestock and the crops grown to feed them) accounts for almost 80 percent of water usage in the United States. Think about this: the patty of a quarter pound hamburger requires nearly 660 gallons of water to produce. Meanwhile, California is dealing with an extreme water crisis. In addition to this massive consumption of water, animal agriculture also pollutes water with toxins from the tons of waste produced by livestock. Livestock also has to be fed consequently creating a demand for more farmland. According to ThinkGlobalGreen.org, the Amazon Rainforest is being bulldozed at a rate of nearly 150 acres per minute. The trees in the Amazon produce an estimated 20 percent of the world’s oxygen. The rainforest, based on information from wwf.panda.org, is also home to 10 percent of all known species. These animals rely on each other and the rainforest to survive. The elimination of their habitat for meat and animal products can be directly linked to the extinction of many species in not only the Amazon biosphere, but all over the world “uncultivated” land is being altered and natural sanctuaries destroyed. Consider this: according to information presented on Cowspiracy.com, more than 50 percent of grain that is grown worldwide is used to feed livestock, and “82 percent of starving children live in countries where food is fed to animals, and [those] animals are eaten by western countries.” In the United States, many Americans can hardly afford to feed their families or have to resort to buying unhealthy processed foods. Nearly a quarter of children in the U.S. live in poverty. Imagine if the land we used to grow crops of genetically modified corn and soy for livestock were instead used to grow edible food for humans. When comparing the productivity of the two types of food, it is clear that producing edible plants for humans is more practical than growing crops for livestock: the same 1.5 acres of land that is used to produce 375 pounds of meat could be used to produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food. So what? What’s the point of all of this information and all of these statistics? Well, sustainability lies at the heart of it. Climate change, water scarcity and pollution, destruction of the natural ecosystem– these are all things directly linked to this country’s reliance on animal agriculture for the majority of its diet. In order to ensure that future generations have a habitable planet to inherit, people need to do everything in their power to transition to a wholly plant-based diet. Veganism may not only benefit the health of one individual, but ultimately, all life on Earth.