Up until I heard lectures on ecology in my university, I hadn’t really thought about the energy and water cost of animal agriculture. Until I watched Cowspiracy, I didn’t realize how completely insane the situation was.
When a recent Trucost study for the United Nations regarding the environmental cost of different industries relative to their revenue found that the meat industry was one of the very worst along with coal powerplants and oil, I was not surprised. Since one of the most important small things (we need systemic change!) we can do is consume fewer products coming from animal agriculture, I thought it might be good to help people really visualize the cost this industry has on the planet.
This doesn’t even include any of the animals raised outside of USDA’s jurisdiction (like in backyards, or even the billions of fish raised in aquaculture settings in the US).
2. One hamburger requires 660 gallons of water to produce – the equivalent of about 2 months’ worth of every-day showers. One pound (453.6 grams) of beef requires between 442 to 8000 gallons of water (8000 gallons is about 30,300 liters)
3. Animal agriculture accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than ALL transportation globally (13% for transportation versus 18% for livestock)
Source: http://www.fao.org/ag/magazine/0612sp1.htm (2006)
4. Emissions from global agriculture expected to jump 80% by 2050, a large portion of this is feed and land clearing for livestock
5. 91% of Amazon deforestation is driven by animal agriculture (specifically raising cattle, which had an 18 times greater environmental cost than all of its revenues in the Trucost study). Approximately 1-2 acres of rainforest are cleared EVERY SECOND.
6. 136,000,000 acres of rainforest has been cleared for animal agriculture
7. 130 times more animal waste is produced than human waste – 1.4 billion tons from the meat industry annually in the United States alone. 5 tons of animal waste is produced for every single person.
8. 30% of the Earth’s entire land surface is used by the livestock sector.
9. 1.5 acres can produce 37,000 pounds of plant-based food or 375 pounds of meat.
Source: Oppenlander, Richard A. Less Meat, and Taking Baby Steps Won’t Work. Minneapolis, MN : Langdon Street, 2013. Print.
10. A person who follows a vegan diet PRODUCES 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th as much oil, only 1/13th as much water, and 1/18th as much land as a meat-eater for their food. A vegetarian uses 1/6 as much as an average US meat-eater.
11. Growing food for livestock (remember that you lose 90% of energy per level up the food chain from the plant) uses 56% of the water in the United States
12. Animal agriculture use ranges from 34-76 trillion gallons of water annually.
13. Livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
14. Animal agriculture uses vastly more water than fracking (not defending fracking!)
15. 1,000 gallons/liters of water are required to produce 1 gallon/liter of milk.
So: does a diet heavy in animal products really make sense? The answer is an obvious no, although obviously anything in moderation is fine. The issue is that moderation is way below the average, and the costs we pay out of our pocket for animal products don’t reflect the environmental costs at all. Eating less meat and using fewer animal products is probably the easiest way to meaningfully reduce your ecological impact: so why not?