Vegetarianism: Will You Save Your Planet?

As of 2015, Americans spent, on average, six hundred and thirty eight dollars annually on meat. Considering the advantages of pocketing an extra six hundred dollars a year, it’s a wonder more of us are not devout vegetarians. However, the benefits of vegetarianism reach much farther than individual savings. Forgoing meat consumption also benefits personal health, reduces animal cruelty, and aids the environment. With such enticing upside to a meat-free lifestyle, how could one refuse to do their part for environmental and animal rights while saving money and improving health? Especially prevalent is vegetarian’s impact on the environment. We should all become vegetarians–or at least reduce our meat intake–to effectively regulate our detrimental environmental impact.

Vegetarianism first appeared in ancient India and Greece before spreading across the world. Primarily promoted by religious leaders and philosophers who urged nonviolence towards animals, vegetarianism thrived for a time before disappearing from Europe in the 4th to 6th centuries. Later, the lifestyle regained momentum throughout the Renaissance and the 19th centuries, and remains relatively prominent worldwide today. In 2015, there were 375 million vegetarians worldwide, comprising approximately 0.054 percent of the global population. Though this percentage appears to be insignificant, vegetarianism has had a notable impact upon the world.

Yet the concept of producing meat in an environmentally-friendly way remains closer to a fantasy than reality. In order to keep factory farms active, we constantly pump massive amounts of finite resources like fossil fuels into these systems. Waste from these farms pollutes the surrounding water, land, and air in nearby communities. Additional side effects of raising animals in mass involve the production and release of more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. According to a United Nations report published in 2014, the livestock division accounted for nine percent of carbon dioxide emitted from all human-related activities, but contributed a much larger portion of more toxic greenhouse gases. It generated sixty-five percent of the nitrous oxide produced by humans, which has two hundred and ninety-six times the Global Warming Potential, or GWP, of carbon dioxide, and thirty-five percent of human-related methane, which holds twenty-three times the GWP of carbon dioxide. Given the livestock sector’s massive impact on toxic greenhouse gas emissions, why aren’t we directing our attention towards creating new, innovative ways to produce meat without as much harmful atmospheric impact?

We must consider the long-term effects of such degrees of environmental degradation. With increased prosperity, people begin consuming more meat products each year. Global meat production is projected to more than double from two hundred million tons in early 2000s to nearly five hundred million tons by 2050. How are we going to change that? Most of us are aware of increasingly prominent, detrimental environmental issues, including global warming, pollution, land degradation, overpopulation, and resource depletion, but how often do we go out of our way to try to positively affect such large-scale matters?

In order to perpetuate realistic, lasting change, we can take smaller measures to contribute to larger goals like sustaining the environment. We can reserve one to two days a week as “meatless meal days,” which saves money we would have otherwise spent on meat and still allows us to obtain the nutrients found in meat without altogether eliminating their consumption. We can conduct our own local research where our meat comes from and what effects its production has on both the environment and our health. We can actively implement this research into our lives and diets by buying meat from sources other than factory farms. We can consider beginning a vegetarian lifestyle, perhaps by starting to experiment with vegetarian cooking or talking to vegetarian friends, family, and coworkers about their experiences.

Limiting our meat intake provides us with a realistic, easily implementable plan to lessen our negative impact on the environment. While aiding the environment, consuming less meat also continues to be healthier for us and requires less sacrifice than a plan like decreasing usage of our cars to reduce carbon emissions. And as the goal of any socially innovative plan becomes to effectively spark and maintain change, limiting our meat consumption enables a feasible way for each of us to promote such change and produce effective, enduring results in sustaining our environment.

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Mallory Matheson

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