When we talk about climate change and the environment, the first thing that comes to our minds is factories and vehicles releasing large amounts of greenhouse gases and polluting the environment. What we don’t think about is animal agriculture. Despite being one of the major contributors to climate change, animal agriculture is neglected by most people.
The effects of animal agriculture on the planet are surprisingly huge. From global warming to water pollution and land degradation, animal agriculture directly or indirectly contributes to the degradation of the planet. Then why is animal agriculture always left out?
Are we ready to talk about our food choices yet? What impact do our diet and lifestyle have on the planet? What is the true cost of eating meat?

Reasons: Why Animal Agriculture Is Responsible For Climate Change?

Greenhouse Gas Emissions


Livestock farming is the second-largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization(FAO), livestock farming is responsible for 14.5% of total greenhouse gas(GHG) emissions.
Around 44% of GHG emissions of livestock are in the form of methane, 29% in the form of nitrous oxide, and 27% in the form of carbon dioxide.
Cattle raised for meat and milk are the main sources of livestock-related emissions accounting for nearly 65% of total livestock-related GHG emissions.
Greenhouse Gases trap the sunlight coming from the sun which leads to an increase in the earth’s temperature, leading to global warming.

Rank Food CO2 Kilos Equivalent
1.Lamb39.2
2.Beef27.0
3.Cheese 13.5
4.Pork12.1
5.Turkey10.9
Data showing carbon footprints of animal products. Data by greeneatz

Deforestation


According to FAO, 26% of the earth’s ice-free land is used for livestock grazing. And 33% of croplands are used to produce food for livestock. Every year, nearly 600 million hectares of forest area is lost to animal agriculture. Animal agriculture is responsible for up to 70% of Amazon forest deforestation.


Forests act as a natural medium for carbon sink in our ecosystem. Forests store carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the atmosphere and hence balance the carbon level. Forests absorb over 2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year. Cutting down forests, mainly for animal agriculture disrupts the natural carbon sinking process. The carbon dioxide is re-emitted and contributes significantly to global warming.


The majority of crops grown on earth are fed to livestock. It is estimated that if all the crops grown for livestock feed were directly fed to humans we could feed approximately 3 billion more people.

Water Usage

Farming uses up to 75% of the earth’s fresh water. One-third of the water used for agriculture is used for meat production.

Water is required to grow crops for livestock feed, meet the daily requirements of water for livestock, and wash their carcasses.


Animal products have the largest water footprints. The water footprints of animal products differ depending on the type of meat and the method of production.

Beef uses the most water requiring 15,000 liters of water to produce one kg, followed by sheep and goat meat requiring around 8500 liters per kg and pig meat requiring almost 6000 liters per kg. Chicken requires comparably less water, approximately 4300 liters per kg.

Eutrophication

Animal waste is rich in nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus that promote the growth of algae. The excreta of animals are dumped in freshwater bodies causing algae to grow exponentially on the surface of water bodies. This pollutes the water and kills the aquatic animals by depleting the level of dissolved oxygen in the water. This phenomenon is known as eutrophication.

Sometimes toxic algae can grow in water and release toxins which can be harmful to the human body. The water affected by algal blooms becomes smelly, gives a greenish color, and can be difficult to treat. If not treated properly this water can cause contamination.
Animal waste may contain antibiotics and pathogens which can contaminate the water even further. Consumption of this water can cause severe health problems and antibiotic resistance in our bodies.

Effect on Marine Life


Catching fishes using nets is the most common method of fishing. Long nets are set in the oceans to trap the fishes passing through that area. These nets can be hundreds of kilometers long. The fishing nets are left in the ocean and can continue to trap and kill fishes for hundreds of years. These nets are called ghost nets.
This method is economic as you can trap hundreds or even thousands of fishes in one go. But this method has a negative side.

Sometimes non target animals like turtles, dolphins, and even big predator fishes get trapped in those nets. The marine animals which cannot be used as food are abandoned and their bodies are dumped in the oceans.
It has been estimated that every year more than 150,000 marine animals die unnecessarily because of ghost nets.

Loss of Biodiversity

Habitat loss is the major cause of biodiversity loss. Habitat loss is caused by deforestation, pollution, and global warming.
Forests provide shelter to several animal species. Large scale deforestation, mainly for grazing livestock and producing livestock feed destroys the habitat of native animal species. Native animal species are left with no option and are forced to leave their homes. It becomes difficult for them to adapt to a new environment and gather food.

Hunting and poaching of wild animals also play a major role in the extinction of animals. Hunting animals for their skin, meat, fur, teeth, and other body parts might seem like a fun game but in reality, animals are losing their lives and habitat. The population of elephants, rhinos,and several reptiles has decreased over the last few decades all thanks to our desire for animal products.

The effects of animal farming don’t stop there. Overfishing, pollution, rising acidity levels, and nutrient loads in oceans are currently threatening marine life.

Conclusion

Animal agriculture contributes significantly to global warming, pollution, deforestation, and biodiversity loss.
The impact of animal products differs depending on the animal. Beef and sheep are responsible for most of the methane emissions, chicken is responsible for most of the nitrous oxide emissions, and fishing is responsible for significant loss of marine life.

Some environmentalists argue that going vegan is the best way to reduce your impact on the earth.
Joseph Poore says “A vegan diet is probably the single biggest way to reduce your impact on planet earth, not just GHG, but also global acidic eutrophication, land use, and water use”

It is high time we start thinking about the impact of our food choices and lifestyle. Change starts with you! Going vegan is not only environmentally friendly but also an ethical choice. It is our duty to take care of our environment. Let’s start by changing our diet and lifestyle.

Are you ready to make a change? Tell us in the comments!

Hi everyone! I'm a student. I wish for a vegan world where animals are not seen as commodities and are treated kindly.

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