Now more than ever, climate change and its effects are being discussed globally. As the climate change debate continues to go back a forth between politicians, many worldwide citizens are taking it amongst themselves to become educated on this controversial topic and make lifestyle changes. Whenever the causes of climate change are brought up, fossil fuels almost always top the list of culprits. Indeed, oil, natural gases and especially coal are major sources of human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and greenhouse gases (GHGs). But, the elephant in the room is that our consumption of meat, or raising livestock for food and their by-products, has been vastly underestimated as a source of greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, animal agriculture – when its effects and by-products are taken together – accounts for half of annual worldwide GHG emissions, according to World Watch.
So, why aren’t more people aware of this? Or even discussing animal agriculture as a cause of climate change? It seems as if something fishy is going on if arguably the biggest contributor of greenhouse gas emissions, according to research done by World Watch Institute, isn’t being brought up in climate change dialogue. Especially when livestock and its by-products accounts for at least half of annual worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. I believe undeniably that most mainstream science is plagued with economic and political agendas, and this prevents the argument that animal agriculture is a main contributor to climate change to prevail.
Livestock and its by-products account for greenhouse gas emissions by clearing land to graze livestock and grow feed, keeping livestock alive, and processing and transporting the end products. Most of us don’t even realize all the resources that come into play when we consume the end product in the form of a double bacon cheese burger or chicken tender dinner. To be sure, most argue that this is how we feed the world. However, livestock is often raised in areas in the world where the resources to feed the animals could be going to those who are hungry, but instead are used to feed the animals and in return the animals then feed the wealthy.
Not to mention that there is a shortage of grassland globally, so the only way more livestock can be feed and graze is by clearing natural forest. This has been happening in places where natural forests store tons of carbon, and when this land is replaced with degraded grassland, tons of carbon cannot be stored. Thus, carbon dioxide is instead released into our atmosphere which is a key risk factor in climate change. To be sure, most of us believe that raising livestock is a natural resource we’ve been gifted on earth. However, livestock is rather a human invention and convenience and no more natural than CO2 exhaled from an auto tailpipe.
There are over a billion livestock cows on earth that together release an expediential amount of methane into our atmosphere as they digest their food. Methane warms the atmosphere much more strongly than CO2. As I dug deeper into human induced methane, I discovered that 37 percent of methane comes from livestock. If there were a significant reduction in livestock raised worldwide greenhouse gas emissions would reduce relatively quickly.
So, how can we as individuals solve this massive problem? Simply put, we can eat a lot less meat and dairy. Although it sounds extreme for most of us, significantly cutting down the amount of animal products you consume can make much more of a difference than you may think. By eating less meat, you can reduce the amount of CO2, oil, water and land normally used for livestock and their by-products. By becoming more educated and mindful about the costs to our environment, we can together approach the rapid effects of GHG emissions, and thus on the rate the climate is warming.