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9: The Effects of Animal Agriculture on the Environment

This is a throwback essay I wrote in school, the people (aka our friends on Instagram) have voted for me to post it! Note this was written in 2017 before I discovered zero-waste, or quite honestly, before I realized the huge impact that plastic has on wildlife and the environment. Enjoy my passion essay!

It’s a well-known fact that in order to help fight climate change, the general population needs to change their habits. We turn off the lights to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, or opt to take shorter showers to conserve water. However, these methods aren’t the most effective solutions to the bigger problem. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation and fresh water depletion. These are only two of the effects that raising animals on a mass scale has on the environment, however animal agriculture is not often something that people talk about (or realize) as an environmental issue.

In order to raise animals on a mass level for meat production, farmers need a huge amount of land to meet demand of the consumers. Acres of forests are cleared to become empty fields where cattle, chicken and pigs are kept. This is the leading cause of deforestation and is even more prominent than the lumber industry. (National Geographic n.d.) What’s more shocking is that farms often clear-cut forests using the slash and burn method. Farmers sloppily cut down the trees, then the removal is completed by starting a controlled forest fire. This method is chosen most often to save time and money, regardless of the environmental impact of not only cutting the trees down, but also burning them and releasing toxins into the atmosphere. (National Geographic n.d.)

A direct result of deforestation is relatively obvious, the habitats are destroyed leaving countless animals and insects homeless or dead. Since 80% of the world’s animals live in forests (National Geographic n.d.), this is a huge problem. Not only are we displacing the animals in forests, but it is widely known that introducing large populations into balanced habitats can create an unbalanced ecosystem and cause problems (i.e. not enough food to feed a certain species so the food chain collapses). Only 10% of the Amazonian rainforests remain due to animal agriculture (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) n.d.) and there is no immediate way to replace it, so there is a finite area that we have available to either leave trees, or develop industry. To meet the current meat demand, forests have been ripped out and depleting at concerning rates. It’s projected that all of the forests will be gone within one hundred years if we don’t reduce our consumption. (National Geographic n.d.) Since animal agriculture is responsible for the highest rate of deforestation, it would drastically change this projection if it were reduced or better – eliminated.

If deforestation is something that doesn’t concern people enough, we can also notice the inefficient use of resources to raise the animals. Water scarcity is a problem that The Washington Post outlined in an article about NASA’s research identifying that “more than half of earth’s 37 largest aquifers are being depleted…”. (Frankel 2015) The article quotes NASA scientist Jay Famiglietti who says “The situation is quite critical” since 35% of our water comes from these aquifers, and our dependence is increasing (Frankel 2015). Water is not a renewable resource, so once this water is depleted, there is no way to get it back.

Governments recommend the daily water consumption for an adult is at least 8 glasses per day – or 0.5 gallons. (Beck 2012) To be conservative, let’s double it and say it’s 1 gallon. Also note that it takes 600 gallons of water to produce one serving of beef in America. (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) n.d.) This means that eating one burger uses one person’s fresh drinking water for 2 years. If we compare that to the 61 gallons of water needed to produce one serving of tofu (two months’ worth of drinking water), it seems that this problem is something that is easily changed. Later when water is really becoming scarce, I urge the reader to think if they would rather eat a burger, or be able to drink fresh water for two years.

To emphasize the sheer magnitude of this problem, we will outline the quantity of beef products sold to Americans 2013. That year, there were 25.8 billion pounds of beef produced just in America (North American Meat Institute (NAMI) n.d.). Using our previous assumptions, this took 61.9 trillion gallons of water. While producing one year of beef for Americans we used 1% of the water in all of the Great Lakes (Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN) 2001) – which is astonishing considering this is for one variety of meat, for one year, in one country.

Water scarcity and deforestation are both increasingly becoming bigger problems as the finite and valuable resources are being wastefully used up. The animal agricultural industry is the cause of a significant proportion of the wasteful uses of water and clearing of forests. The direct results of the industry’s actions are not unique to it, however the proportion of the issues it’s responsible for warrants naming animal agriculture a significant environmental issue.

References

Beck, Leslie. 2012. How much water should I drink in a day? The Globe and Mail. Sept 6. Accessed Jan 19, 2017. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/health-and-fitness/ask-a-health-expert/how-much-water-should-i-drink-in-a-day/article1462139/. 

Frankel, Todd C. 2015. New NASA data show how the world is running out of water. WP Company. June 16. Accessed Jan 19, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/06/16/new-nasa-studies-show-how-the-world-is-running-out-of-water/?utm_term=.8885062fd380.

Great Lakes Information Network (GLIN). 2001. TEACH Questions & Answers. April 1. Accessed Jan 17, 2017. http://www.great-lakes.net/teach/chat/answers/040101_volume.html.

National Geographic. n.d. Deforestation and Its Effects on the Planet. Accessed Jan. 18, 2017. http://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/global-warming/deforestation/.

North American Meat Institute (NAMI). n.d. The United States Meat Industry at a Glance. Accessed Jan 17, 2017. https://www.meatinstitute.org/index.php?ht=d/sp/i/47465/pid/47465.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). n.d. Meat and the Environment. Accessed Jan 18, 2017. http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-food/meat-environment/.

World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). 2016. Farming: Climate Change. Accessed Jan. 18, 2017. http://wwf.panda.org/what_we_do/footprint/agriculture/impacts/climate_change/.

 

 

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