The growing evidence that eating meat contributes to global warming has been a hot topic in recent years. The fact that humans are causing the planet to warm has become widely accepted, yet the complexity of the causal chain makes it hard for even experts to agree on exactly how much each product’s consumption has to do with the problem. As it turns out, eating meat has much more of an impact on global warming than many of us might think.
The science of animal agriculture’s role in global warming comes down to two main sources: the emission of methane, a greenhouse gas, and the loss of carbon storage. Cows, along with other animals such as sheep, goats and pigs, produce methane as part of their digestion process. This gas has more than 25 times the potential to trap heat in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, making it one of the main contributors to global warming. The loss of carbon storage, on the other hand, is as a result of the deforestation that takes place when land is cleared to make room for more farms and pastures to house the animals raised for food.
Two of the world’s most eminent bodies on climate change, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), have both concluded that livestock production contributes significantly to global emissions. The latest research from the FAO, for instance, estimates that livestock-related emissions account for up to 14.5% of all human-induced greenhouse gas, while a recent report from the IPCC states that the figure could be as high as 35%.
Moreover, recent studies suggest that the impact of livestock on climate change extends beyond simply their emissions. Livestock production puts pressure on freshwater resources, accounting for up to 15% of global water withdrawals according to the FAO. In addition, it is thought to be the major cause of species extinctions, with estimates that up to one-eighth of threatened or endangered species are due to cattle grazing.
Furthermore, eating meat has a number of direct consequences for human health. Its high saturated fat content is linked to a variety of illnesses, from heart disease to certain forms of cancer. Eating more plant-based foods would have a beneficial effect on public health and reduce the need for powerful medication.
What’s more, the land used to produce food for animals raised for food can be two to ten times more productive in terms of calories compared to when growing feed crop. Thus, if we were to move to a more plant-based diet, the amount of food produced would increase substantially and this would also help reduce global hunger significantly.
Clearly, there are a number of reasons why eating meat contributes to global warming. From the emission of greenhouse gases and the loss of carbon storage to the negative implications for human health and the environment, it is clear that a diet with more plant-based food can help alleviate the problem. It is up to us to make the change and adopt healthier eating habits for the benefit of our planet and ourselves.