As the global population grows, demand for natural resources increases and more strain is placed on the balance of our planet, it can feel difficult – or maybe even impossible – to make a difference as just one individual. However, small efforts add up to big results. One of the best ways you can help increase environmental sustainability may be to change your diet.
Livestock farming contributes enormously to environmental issues like climate change and pollution. Western countries have typically focused on reducing the industrial impact on the environment, but the environmental impacts of unsustainable food production should not be overlooked. Scientists suggest that a large-scale reduction of meat consumption would boost the health of both humans and the Earth.
Here are five big ways becoming vegetarian can benefit the planet.
1. By Reducing Climate Change
The livestock sector produces levels of greenhouse gases more threatening to the environment than carbon dioxide released through the burning of fossil fuels. Cows and sheep produce significant amounts of methane and nitrous oxide, gases which trap even more heat in the Earth’s atmosphere than carbon dioxide. This means that reducing the number of livestock people raise would take a significant chunk out of total greenhouse gas emission.
By reducing demand for livestock, becoming vegan or vegetarian helps slow climate change. In fact, widespread adoption of a vegan diet could reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of livestock by 70 per cent.
2. By Preventing Water Pollution
Factory farming for the production of meat also contributes to water pollution. Runoff from manure can contaminate fresh water sources, drag chemicals used by livestock farmers such as hormones and antibiotics into the water and negatively affect both humans and watery ecosystems through threats like algal blooms.
Switching to a vegetarian diet is one way to reduce the pollution of water systems.
3. By Preventing Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria
In order to grow and keep animals healthy cheaply, many livestock farmers use antibiotics. Though these drugs can keep individual animals safe, their overuse can lead to strains of antibiotic-resistant bacteria that doctors struggle to kill using current medicine. The livestock industry is using antibiotics at an alarming rate — by 2030, if nothing changes, more than 200,000 tons of antibiotics will have to be used annually in raising livestock worldwide.
Medicine-resistant “superbugs” are a frightening prospect and pose a significant health risk to humans and animals. Because antibiotics are used for their low cost, reducing demand for meat entirely may be the easiest way to prevent overuse of antibiotics in food animals.
4. By Conserving Natural Resources
Growing animals for human consumption takes a lot of natural resources. Producing one kilogram of beef takes somewhere between 13,000 and 100,000 litres depending on which estimates are most accurate. This is much more water than it takes to produce an equal amount of wheat, for example. Considering how many areas are already lacking the fresh water needed to sustain their populations, this is a big problem. Furthermore, raising livestock also uses up land resources, leading to deforestation and the depletion of natural grazing lands.
Livestock farming will become even more taxing — and, depending on your perspective, even more of a problem — as demand for meat increases in developing countries and as competition for resources grows. With this in mind, it’s easy to see why vegetarianism could be so good for the environment in the long term.
5. By Contributing to a More Balanced Ecosystem
Finally, one of the biggest benefits of vegetarianism for the environment has to do with allowing for a more balanced ecosystem. By reducing meat consumption, people can make more room for species in their native habitats and allow depleted pools such as over-fished populations to replenish themselves. This change could contribute to a healthier planet overall.
So, vegetarianism can clearly benefit the health of the planet. If you’re hoping to contribute to environmental sustainability, making this green living change in your diet could make a real difference.