Environmental Vegetarianism

By Guest Contributor: Jennyjenny

vegan environmentalist

Environmental vegetarianism is the practice of vegetarianism or veganism based on the indications that animal production, particularly by intensive agriculture is environmentally unsustainable. The primary environmental concerns with animal products are pollution and the use of resources such as fossil fuels, water, and land.

The use of large industrial monoculture that is common in industrialized agriculture, typically for feed crops such as corn and soy is more damaging to ecosystems than more sustainable farming practices such as organic farming, permaculture, arable, pastoral, and rain-fed agriculture.

According to a 2006 United Nations initiative, the livestock industry is one of the largest contributors to environmental degradation worldwide, and modern practices of raising animals for food contributes on a “massive scale” to deforestation, air and water pollution, land degradation, loss of topsoil, climate change, the overuse of resources including oil and water, and loss of biodiversity. The initiative concluded that “the livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.” In 2006 FAO estimated that meat industry contributes 18% of all emissions of greenhouse gases. This figure was revised in 2009 by two World Bank scientists and estimated at 51% minimum.

In a world of diminishing safe water supplies it is worth bearing in mind that animals fed on grain need much more water than grain crops. In tracking food animal production from the feed through to the dinner table, the inefficiencies of meat, milk and egg production range from a 4:1 energy input to protein output ratio up to 54:1. The result is that producing animal-based food is typically much less efficient than the direct harvesting of grains, vegetables, legumes, seeds and fruits for human consumption. A person existing chiefly on animal protein requires 10 times more land to provide adequate food than someone living on vegetable sources of protein.

The environmental impacts of animal production vary with the method of production. A Grazing-based production can limit soil erosion and also allow farmers to control pest problems with less pesticides through rotating crops with grass. In arid areas, however, it may as well catalyze a desertification process. In a world that utilizes around 30 percent of its surface to raise livestock, it is important to recognize the potential effects grazing has on the soil.

In July 2009 Nike and Timberland stopped buying leather from deforested Amazon a few weeks after Greenpeace report demonstrated the destruction caused by Amazon cattle ranchers. With relation to global warming the Carbon Dioxide is not the only greenhouse gas. Methane has about 21 times more Global Warming Potential (GWP) than Carbon Dioxide and Nitrous Oxide has 296 times the GWP of CO2. The livestock industry is a major contributor of these gases.

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