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The Environmental Impact of Going Vegetarian

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By Kate Harveston

Vegetarians the world over had reason to celebrate, World Vegetarian Day was yesterday (Oct. 1) From the mouths of cows, chickens and pigs everywhere — Happy World Vegetarian Day!

Vegetarian and vegan lifestyles have a significantly reduced impact on the environment and improved long-term sustainability. In stark contrast to the meat industry, the cultivation of fruit and vegetables requires a lesser amount of land, energy and resources.

What other benefits does a veggie lifestyle have on this great green Earth of ours? Here are some different ways a plant-based diet can help the environment — as well as the dangers of a continued overdependence on livestock.

Cooling the Planet

Animals bred for human consumption play a large role in climate change, and the figures are stunning. A calculation by the United Nations in 2006 placed the emissions of livestock at a whopping 18 percent of the global total. This number is greater than all forms of transportation emissions combined.

What effect do these emissions have? The methane and other greenhouse gases contribute to the growing problem of fluctuating temperatures and unseasonable weather. A higher frequency of natural disasters is an additional result of an unstable climate, placing people at an elevated risk of hurricanes and floods.

The maintenance required to care for livestock also releases gas. Providing food and water for these animals are two additional expenses. Refrigerating the meat brought to market drains electricity — to say nothing of the energy that goes into its preparation on a smaller scale.

A move to a vegetarian lifestyle reduces the expenditure of energy and could aid in cooling the atmosphere, hindering climate change.

Slowing Deforestation

Broad swaths of forest are consistently razed to the ground to provide land for livestock. Cattle, and crops to feed them, both depend on the development of farmland, and agribusiness has turned to deforestation to meet the growing demand for new space. Not even tropical rainforests are safe from this encroachment.

Millions of hectares of forest land are demolished every year for farmland expansion, processed land that will serve the purpose of feeding and maintaining large populations of livestock. The pattern of poor resource management and a neglect of the environment should be abundantly clear by now.

There is no precise way to account for the ecosystems destroyed and animals displaced from their homes by the practice of deforestation. An estimated 50,000 species go extinct every year due to deforestation, with over a hundred animal, plant and insect species vanishing every day.

A change in dietary habits would be enough to lessen the impact of deforestation on the environment by a considerable margin.

Reducing Harmful Toxins

A single farm has the potential to generate as much waste as an entire city. It’s an incredible statistic that hardly seems true, but the problem is very real. With 40 kilograms of manure for every kilogram of consumable beef, pollution can build at alarming rates with destructive consequences.

The holding units meant to contain waste produced by livestock aren’t always reliable. They have a tendency to break or overflow, spilling hazardous material that leaks deep into the ground. A host of dangerous chemicals infiltrate rivers and other sources of clean water, posing a public health risk to those in the area.

In 2016, a waste spill from Hopkins Ridge Farms poisoned local waterways. Massive quantities of hog manure turned creeks and streams in an Illinois county black and toxic with hazardous pollutants. Hundreds of thousands of fish died as a result, disfiguring the once beautiful landscape.

This disaster and many others wouldn’t have happened without the high waste output and low safety standards of the meat industry.

How to Lend a Helping Hand

There are no easy solutions to rising emissions, deforestation and harmful waste. However, everyone can make their own contribution, even if it’s small. The best place to begin is a change in behavior — and a healthier diet can only help. Farming itself isn’t bad, but the way we tend to largely do it nowadays is wasteful, not to mention unnecessarily cruel.

So, if you want to make a difference for the animals, at least take the time to do your research and buy your groceries from organizations and local farms that practice sustainable, ethical production methods. But if you decide to make the veggie switch, you could have even more of an impact on the environment as a whole! Whatever you choose to do, try to think more about this beautiful earth and how we can take better care of it. We hope you had a Happy World Vegetarian Day.


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Alex Mak - Managing Editor

Alex Mak - Managing Editor

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