The (Super) Power of the Plate

How your food choices could save the world.

When the topic of climate change crops up, most people chime in about their recycling bin overflow, the fuel efficiency of their cars, or their undying support for public transportation

Real enthusiasts may extol the exhilaration of road-tripping on electric scooters, but unless you’re attending a true hippie-hangout, not so many people bring up their dietary choices. This omission should alarm us all because research shows that changing what we put on our plates could go a long way toward saving the planet.

 

HOW FAR ARE YOU WILLING TO GO TO BECOME A CLIMATE CHANGE SUPERHERO?

The statistics on causes of global warming are interesting and, as usual, where “hard data” is concerned, not perfectly clear. Many reports rank the transportation sector—cars, planes, trains, ships—at the top of the worst offenders list.

The Union of Concerned Scientists says transportation produces 30 percent of U.S. warming emissions. The animal agriculture sector (meat, dairy, eggs) produces about 14.5 percent of greenhouse gases. These numbers are commonly cited.

Interestingly, it takes former Energy Secretary and Nobel Prize winning physicist, Steven Chu, who claims that animal agriculture is the number one bad guy. The Worldwatch Institute concurs: Whether holding the first or second position on the list of climate-change offenders, raising animals to be used for food presents a serious threat to the planet.

The plant-based dietary movement is having its moment with Meatless Mondays, “Beyond Meat” burgers, and the power of celery juice. Even with so many pundits supporting a vegan diet, the dialogue continues to revolve around either human health or animal welfare. While these are important issues, the discussion of dietary change to reduce global warming has remained in the margins, relegated mostly to vegan festivals and other far left shenanigans.

 

SLOWING OUR RACE TO DISASTER

It’s time to open up this conversation. Since understanding usually precedes change, looking into how animal agriculture contributes to global warming will surely help fence-sitters aka future Climate Change Superheroes.

Burps and Farts: Perhaps difficult to believe, burps and farts from the nearly 70 billion animals raised for food each year amount to more than just an animal society faux pas. Consider that each of the approximately 1.5 billion cows on the planet releases somewhere between 30 to 50 gallons of methane gas into the atmosphere each day. Methane is responsible for approximately one-quarter of current global warming. As an aside, these emissions also account for most of the ammonia emitted into the air, and ammonia is harmful to both soil and aquatic animals.  

Deforestation: Most food producing land is currently used to bring meat to your plate. Approximately 260 million acres of U.S. forests have been lost to produce animal feed, and 80 percent of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed to use the land for animal agriculture. Trees consume carbon. Destroying forests releases that carbon into the air, adding to the growing global crisis. In addition to this problem, consider that one acre of land can produce 250 pounds of beef. That same acre of land could produce 30,000 pounds of carrots or 53,000 pounds of potatoes. Given the burgeoning human population, we must question how long we can continue to allot food-producing land to animal agriculture.

Soil Emissions: Soil keeps carbon from hitting the atmosphere through a complex relationship between plants, microbes, and soil aggregates (small clumps) that trap carbon underground. Disrupting this delicate interaction reduces the ability for soil to do its job. Animal agriculture leads to monoculture, over-tillage, herbicide and pesticide use, and overgrazing, all of which damage the soil, allowing the carbon contained there to be released into the atmosphere. Research indicates that better agricultural practices could allow the soil to store 1.85 gigatons of carbon yearly, offsetting what is emitted by the transportation sector. Take a moment to digest that fact!

In addition to these climate catastrophes, fossil fuel is used to ship animals and their feed across the country and around the globe. So even if the transportation sector is the number one cause of global warming, animal agriculture overlaps in this area. Fossil fuel is also burnt to produce fertilizers used to grow the super crops that are fed to animals. Maintenance of the facilities involved in livestock processing (commonly called slaughter) and feed production also requires the use of energy.

The threat to our planet has become so urgent that in January of this year, 185 countries ratified the Paris Agreement, an international treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emission in order to slow global warming.

According to the Climate Action Tracker, the only country positioned to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement is Morocco, with the United States, along with Russia, Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, and Turkey, ranked in the lowest category: Critically Insufficient.

A new level of commitment to change is needed. Clearly, we have a lot to do if we want to turn this crisis around, and it’s going to take more than jumping on a scooter now and then. (Though we should continue to do that!)

 

TIME IS RUNNING OUT

Without question, animal agriculture is contributing mightily to the biggest threat we face and must be included in the solution. To earn full membership in the Climate Change Superheroes club, we must take a more critical look at what we’re putting on our plates.

 

RESOURCES:

Pittman, A., 2017, “How Planting Crops Used to Feed Livestock is Contributing to Habitat Destruction.” Retrieved from https://www.onegreenplanet.org/environment/livestock-feed-and-habitat-destruction/.

Zacharias, N. & Stone, G. (2018). Eat for the Planet: Saving the world, one bite at a time, New York, NY, Harry N. Abrams

 

Kait Leonard
Kait Leonard

Kait Leonard, Ph.D., holds graduate degrees in literature and psychology. She shares her home with five parrots and her American bulldog, Seeger. Her writing interests include psychology, holistic wellness for both people and animals, and whatever human interest topics cross her path.

4 Comments
  1. Kait Leonard is a smart writer, and her intelligence shines through in her prose. The words “far left shenanigans” was both humorous and delightful. And her observations on the relationship between what we eat and the health of our planet are timely and cogent. Part of what I like about this article is the tone of the argument is calm and rational. While she is clear about what would help, she doesn’t push so hard as to alienate readers who may not share her point of view. I came away from this latest article with more to think about in terms of my own diet.

    I’m glad she’s getting published, and I’m glad that her perspective has a forum on M’Online.

  2. The perfect mix of statistical facts and humor in this article leave me with much to consider regarding my own lifestyle choices and sense of responsibility to the planet. The section on burps and farts was of particular consideration and interest. I am looking forward to reading many more articles by Kait Leonard!

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