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Transformation of a hardcore meat-eater – Part 3

The environmental perspective

If the health and ethical angles had almost sealed the issue, the environmental perspective was the clincher.

The Cowspiracy Insight

Again, it was the documentary ‘Cowspiracy – The Sustainability Secret’, introduction to which happened through the ‘China Study’ book, that was an eye opener. While I have from long held very strong environmental views and focused on reducing my carbon footprint, the fact that modern animal farming is among the top 2 contributors to global warming and climate change came as a real surprise and shock to me.

Like most environmentalists I had also focused on fossil fuels as the sole culprit and focused my entire attention on that. But spurred by the data and facts that Cowspiracy brought up, I started digging deeper. And what I found was really shocking.

The Environmental Impact of Animal Agriculture

“Raising livestock for meat, eggs and milk generates 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions, the second highest source of emissions and greater than all transportation combined. It also uses about 70% of agricultural land, and is one of the leading causes of deforestation, biodiversity loss, and water pollution.”

The Shocking Facts:

It’s sheer magnitude of impact of animal agriculture’s on climate change is mindboggling. Let’s look at some of the facts brought out by Climatenexus.

  • Approximately 70 billion animals are raised annually for human consumption.

  • 33% of the Earth’s ice-free land surface and nearly 16% of our fresh water is used for this purpose.

  • 33% of worldwide grain production is used to feed livestock.

  • By 2050, consumption of meat and dairy products is expected to rise 76% and 64% respectively, which will further increase the above resource burden from the industry.

  • In an average American diet, beef consumption creates 1,984 pounds of CO2e annually. Replacing beef with plants would reduce that figure 96 percent, bringing it down to just 73 pounds of CO2e.

  • In the United States, methane from the normal digestive processes of animals totalled3 million metric tons of CO2e in 2014.

  • Livestock induced emissions (extensive clearing of forests for agricultural expansion) amount to roughly 0.65 gigatons of CO2e per year.

  • Animal agriculture makes up 75-80% of total agricultural emissions.

  • Approximately 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide equivalent worth of animal-based foods is wasted globally every year.

  • Animal agriculture is linked to 55% of erosion; 60% of nitrogen pollution; and 70% of the global dietary phosphorus footprint.

  • Nearly a third of biodiversity loss to date has been linked to animal agriculture.

  • Furthermore, air and water pollution can be directly attributed to the livestock sector, which is the largest contributor to global water pollution.

    • Global livestock produce 7 to 9 times more sewage than humans, most of which is left untreated. They also discharge pesticides, antibiotics, and heavy metals into water systems.

Tackling Climate Change Through Livestock”, a 2013 report by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), estimates about 14.5% of global GHG emissions, or 7.1 gigatons of CO2 equivalent, can be attributed to the livestock sector annually. This is broadly equivalent to the emissions from all the fuel burned by all the world’s transport vehicles, including cars, trucks, trains, boats and airplanes.

The livestock sector is also one of the leading drivers of global deforestation, and is linked to 75% of historic deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon rainforest. Today we have a new ultra-right-wing President in Brazil who wants to bulldoze the entire Amazon to make way for grazing cattle and growing corn and soybean for cattle for export of beef.

Finally, if global consumption of meat and dairy continues to grow at the current pace, the agriculture sector could consume about 70% of the allowable budget for all GHG emissions by mid-century. To meet the global goal of limiting warming to 2°C, annual emissions must be reduced from today’s levels of 49 gigatons of CO2 to around 23 gigatons by 2050. Agriculture would use up 20 of those gigatons, leaving only 3 for the rest of the global economy.

In conclusion

So, the impact of animal agriculture – direct and indirect – is huge and global. It’s also mostly overlooked by most environmentalists either knowingly or unknowingly. Here again powerful global vested interests / lobbies are at play and want to keep it that way.

The deeply entrenched ‘modern’ western food habits which are now fast becoming global food habits, and deep prejudices and notions based on deliberate misinformation by powerful meat and dairy lobbies, aided and abetted by the pharma and so called ‘healthcare’ industries, like

  • there is no substitute for animal protein in our diet

  • we don’t get calcium without cow’s milk

are ensuring that this beast is left untouched by most common people too.

But once we understand the reality, there is no escaping the fact that modern industrial animal farming is at the core of the most severe all-round environmental degradation being faced by us today and hence must also be a core part of the solution.

You also quickly realise that our own ‘modern’ food habits (of ever greater consumption of meat and meat products, milk and milk products) are creating an ever-growing market for animal foods and hence driving this industry’s survival and growth. And the change must start here and now with our own diet.

The convergence

This is where the convergence of health-ethical-environmental perspectives is crucial. Once this happens, the decision becomes obvious and extremely easy.

In my case, through a set of circumstances, all 3 factors converged around the same time.

But, I realise that if one starts to dig deeper on any one of these 3 fronts, the interconnection becomes clear and the convergence will happen automatically before long.

Once the emotional, intellectual and self-preservation angles converge the decision on diet becomes much simpler and easier to take. And WFPB emerges a winner on all 3 counts. And once you adopt the diet the benefits become obvious and self-evident.

This has been my story and I sincerely urge all of you to join me on this journey for your own benefit and the benefit of our planet and all its living beings.

Please do watch the documentary ‘Cowspiracy’

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