There’s no easy way to say this, but—I would have to be dragged into being a vegan, kicking and screaming.
Unfortunately, it looks like that’s exactly what the Universe has in mind for me.
In 2006, the word from researchers was that 18 percent of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions came from the impact of animal agriculture. But now, just eight years later, the estimate is that 51 percent of GHG emissions comes from raising animals. That would include those raised for meat as well as those raised for what they produce, like eggs and dairy products.
Figuring in all the resources that support the industry, including tons of water and land for grazing the animals, plus water and land to raise their feed, the problem starts to become obvious even to someone like me. The world’s demand for meat and animal products is rapidly outstripping earth’s ability to sustain their production.
I have been perfectly happy in my bubble of denial until it was burst by the documentary ‘Cowspiracy‘, currently being unveiled across the western U.S. by its makers. According to the film, major conservation organizations don’t want to talk about the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. That’s the side I would have like to be on, too. If the Sierra Club doesn’t want to talk about the impact of animal agriculture, why should I? But by watching the film, I quickly confronted the enemy and discovered it was me.
Two main obstacles stand in the way of change for our population to adopt a more plant-based diet. One is the industry itself, and its lobbyists, who frown on any talk of reducing meat consumption. In Brazil, they go so far as to kill environmental activists who raise objections to the industry—an average of one a week since 2002.
The other blockage is me, the consumer. Too many Americans don’t want to change their destructive meat-eating habits. It’s not just Americans. The rest of the world is quickly gaining a meat-eating appetite that could easily exceed our own. As a matter of fact, I’d like to point out that China is already more at fault than I am. China’s demand for meat has increased astronomically since 1980, especially its demand for pork. I don’t eat pork. Well, I hardly eat pork. Except for bacon.
I have to say that my first reaction to the documentary was to go home and snarf down a whole bunch of cheese. The next morning, I had a craving for bacon and eggs. After all, what if bacon and eggs were to disappear forever?
But I was simultaneously haunted by the information that was presented in the film, and the image of other things that could disappear forever. Rain forests are being sacrificed to the animal agriculture industry, for grazing land and for raising feed, at an unbelievable rate—6000 acres (the equivalent of 4000 football fields) an hour. These forests are vital for helping clean the air of greenhouse gases, to say nothing of providing a habitat for countless other animal species and rare plant life.
But not one more acre would have to disappear if we collectively came to our senses. The population of the whole world could be fed a plant-based diet with the land that is currently used to raise feed for the animal agriculture industry.
All of this information has brought me to the point where I can acknowledge I have to make changes. But I’m in the bargaining phase now. I’m not that crazy about beef. What if I give up beef? Can I keep bacon? When it comes right down to the bottom line, I’m most anxious to preserve my consumption of eggs, cheese, and milk.
At least a partial answer was provided by Robert Goodland and Jeff Anhang, environmental specialists employed by the World Bank Group. They are among those who assert that 51 percent of GHG emissions are produced by animal agriculture and have warned that the window for reversing climate change is rapidly closing. Goodland recently wrote:
We say that the only pragmatic way to do so [reverse climate change] is to replace at least 25 percent of today’s livestock products with better alternatives—this would both eliminate much more than 4 percent of agricultural emissions, and allow reforestation and forest regeneration on vast amounts of land, which could then absorb enough atmospheric carbon to reduce it to a safe level.
25 percent? I can do that. I can even wrestle myself into much more than that.
And if I can, anyone can. Because once the window of opportunity slams shut, the consequences are too horrible to contemplate.
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Editor: Renée Picard