Unbelievable! How Consumption of Meat Contributes to Global Warming

How consumption of meat contributes to global warming
The excessive demand for meat and increase in livestock farming have led to environmental problems, such as emission of greenhouse gasses, and the subsequent global warming. Read this Buzzle post to know more about how meat contributes to global warming.
The annual meat consumption in China is a staggering 71 million tons. This is more than double the meat consumed in the United States.
When you open your mouth to take a big bite of your huge beef burger, do you ever stop and think about the environment? While having that extra cheese-filled beef burger may be wreaking havoc on your health, it is nothing compared to what it does to the environment. We all know about the impact of pollution from cars and factories on the environment. However, what very few people realize is that their diets, specifically the meat in them, can cause greenhouse gas emissions.
beef burger
A report published by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), titled Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options, provided some startling facts about greenhouse emissions and global warming caused by raising animals for food. The report stated that 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the planet is the result of worldwide livestock farming. In comparison to this, the greenhouse emissions by transportation systems, which would include all the world's cars, trains, and planes was responsible for only 13% of greenhouse gas emissions.
Why Does Consuming Meat Cause Global Warming?
The Rise in Global Population
meat production
As human population grows, the consumption of meat, especially cheap meat, increases. According to estimates provided, meat production is projected to double by 2020, thanks to the increased global consumption of meat and growth of population. This is posed to have significant environmental and health consequences for the planet. With the increasing demand, the industrialized animal production systems are pressurized into increasing the livestock production as well. As Harold A. Mooney from the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford says, "People aren't going to stop eating meat." This increase in livestock production is seen not only in developed countries but also in many developing countries around the world where people who have more money, tend to increase their meat consumption.
Chicken cramped in a cage during transport
chicken cage
Industrial chicken production system
Industrial chicken
Industrialized Farm Animal Production and Greenhouse Gas Emission
There has been a boom in farm animal production in recent years. According to estimates provided by FAO in 2008, nearly 56 billion farm animals are reared and slaughtered every year for human consumption. The animals are confined in small cages, crates, pens, or stalls. These places are devoid of adequate space or proper food for animals.

The concentration of livestock in these small enclosures results in a number of environmental problems, primary among which is the production of millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane per year. The unnatural diet consisting of high-protein feed, such as soybeans and corn leads to belching and flatulence. This, in turn, causes increased methane emissions.

The large population of farm animals directly results in excessive animal waste and tons of manure. According to the U.S. EPA. Fed Reg. Vol. 68. 2003, in the United States alone, confined farm animals generate nearly 500 million tons of solid and liquid waste in a year. The farm animal manure management and disposal result in N2O and methane emissions.

CO2, which has a direct impact on global warming, is released due to the production of huge amounts of fertilizer production for feed crops, animal processing, and transport. The fossil fuels burnt to produce artificial nitrogenous fertilizers, that are used for growing farm animal feed (consisting mainly of corn and soybeans), result in tons of CO2 emissions per year.
Overcrowded chicken farms
chicken farm
Use of land and food for livestock
cattle
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Use of Land for Growing Livestock Feed
To sustain huge animal production facilities and provide land for producing feedstock, there has been a widespread conversion of wooded areas and cropland into farmland. According to The Livestock, Environment and Development Initiative or LEAD (a project to promote ecologically sustainable livestock production strategies), around two-third of the agricultural land is used for growing feed for livestock, while only 8 percent is used to grow food for direct human consumption. A report by BBC estimated that "Cows and sheep need 8kg of grain for every 1kg of meat they produce." If meat consumption continues to increase at the same scale, it could result in two-third more of land usage than what is presently used. This will lead to mass deforestation and carbon dioxide emissions. For example in Brazil, there has been widespread destruction of the rainforests to create land for growing soybeans.

The disappearing forests and vegetation have led to the release of stored carbon into the atmosphere. It has also resulted in the release of CO₂ emissions that are directly caused by land degradation, soil cultivation, and desertification.
Use of Other Natural Resources
There are other vital resources that are dwindling due to increased meat production and consumption worldwide. While the runoff from fertilizers leads to dead zones in coastal areas and destruction of coral reef, the global livestock industry uses up freshwater, destroys huge forest covers, and produces carbon sinks. The land used to rear animals, the fertilizer used to grow feed, along with the impacts of animal agriculture on soil, water, and air quality have led to severe environmental problems and global warming.
What Are the Possible Solutions?
Policy makers need to realize the impact of extensive meat consumption and production on the climate, and take adequate steps to address the situation. This can be achieved through the following ways.

  • There needs to be enhanced regulation on animal production facilities to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
  • The diet of the animals needs to be considered to reduce enteric fermentation and resultant methane emissions.
  • Instead of disposing off animal by-products, manure can be used for creating biofuels.
  • The policy makers should provide incentives for better management practices.
  • As an individual, we can contribute by consuming less meat.

As the demand for meat and eggs grows, so will the production. Moreover, there are countries which rely heavily on trade to meet local meat and feed demand. This further increases the environmental costs of meat consumption. To mitigate the environmental harm caused by meat production, there has to be a change in not only production practices, but also in the individual consumption pattern. As Rajendra Pachauri, the head of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says, "Give up meat for one day per week, at least initially, and decrease it from there." If each person tries to do this, it could be the best way to save our finite and dwindling resources, and preserve our planet from global warming and pollution.
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