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The Effects of Meat-Based Diets on the Environment Essay

According to study, around 2.5 million years ago, humans abandoned their vegetarian habits and adopted a more omnivorous diet in the era of the genus Homo. In 1999, researchers were not sure whether the bite marks they found on 2.5 million year old animal bones were made by humans or not. Peter Ungar (2003) of the University of Arkansas made an analysis that concluded the bite marks were indeed from the first members of the Homo generation (1). Eating meat has developed into a necessary part of human culture over the course of the millions of years. Although, consuming meat also has a big impact on the environment.

One of the biggest impacts done by eating meat is the depletion of resources, especially because a generous amount of water is used for livestock. With more than 1.7 billion farm animals in the world, it is approximately triple the amount of humans (4). Research shows that it takes 441 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, on the other hand, it only takes 14 gallons of water to produce one pound of wheat. The meat industry is one of the major reasons why we are depleting in fresh water. Ed Ayres (1999) of the World Watch Institute found the following: Around the world, as more water is diverted to raising pigs and chickens instead of producing crops for direct consumption, millions of wells are going dry. India, China, North Africa and the U.S. are all running freshwater deficits, pumping more from their aquifers than rain can replenish (2). Raising cattle is also very damaging; they create wreckage to the environment through over-grazing, soil erosion, desertification, natural waste, and tropical deforestation to make room for farms and soy fields for feed (8).

Dr. David Brubaker, PhD, at Johns Hopkins University’s Center for a Livable Future, states that, “The way that we breed animals for food is a threat to the planet. It pollutes our environment while consuming huge amounts of water, grain, petroleum, pesticides and drugs. The results are disastrous (2).” Manure from cattle can also cause pollution in groundwater and drinking streams. This affects many ecosystems, including humans. In 1995, 25 million gallons of manure and urine spilt into a lagoon in the New River in North Carolina. Over 10 million fish were affected and killed, and 264,000 acres of land were closed due to poisoning (4). Officials in California identify that cows are the major source of nitrate pollution in approximately 100,000 square miles of groundwater. When drunk by humans, depending on the level of nitrate in the drinking water, the effects can range from severe illnesses to even death. Research proves that high levels of nitrate in water can also increase the risk of methemoglobinemia, or “blue-baby syndrome”. It has the ability to kill infants and children. Furthermore, the waste from animals contains other harmful pathogens such as Salmonella, E. coli, and Cryptosporidium.

Based on past events, if not dealt with properly, manure spills are proven to be very hazardous to animals’ habitats, for they take long to clean up and replenish what has been destroyed. For example, a spill of the excess waste of livestock from factory farms in Maryland and North Carolina is proven to be linked to a case with Pfiesteria piscicida, a disease that wiped out millions of fish in the area and caused many symptoms to the local people, such as skin irritation and short-term memory loss. Nutrients found in manure also cause algal blooms in water, which eat up all the oxygen. When there is no oxygen in the water, it is called a “dead zone” and this area cannot support aquatic life, meaning that bio-diversity is lowered in that ecosystem (3) (6). Not only does raising livestock harm natural resources, it also uses a lot of fossil fuels. It is found that the United States uses ten percent of their energy every year just to produce meat for their consumers. In other words, 40 calories of fossil fuel are needed to make only one calories of protein provided from eating beef (4). Many of the CO2 released in the air are directly related to livestock.

A lot of energy is used to heat the buildings that hold the animals, to produce all the crops, to feed the animals, to import and export, and to refrigerator to keep the meat from going bad. An ecologist David Pimentel states that “Animal protein demands about eight times as much fossil fuel as for a comparable amount of plant protein (2).” Emissions from factory farms release harmful toxins into the air, such as ammonia, methane, and hydrogen sulfide. Coincidentally, when ammonia is released in the air, it can cause smog or acid rain. On people, the effects could be breathing difficulty and unclean air. Methane is a big contribution to global warming. Research shows that the meat industry is the largest source of methane production in the world, releasing around 100 million tons a year.

So theoretically, global warming can be slowed down a portion by stopping the emission of methane into the atmosphere (4). In recent attempts, the PETA organization – the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals – have used several innovations to get the message out about meat-based diets and how it is greener to become vegetarian. In Europe, the response was surprising; to illustrate, the number of vegetarians doubled in Great Britain, the number upped in Germany to eight million vegetarians, and similar results in other countries. Unfortunately, the citizens of the United States were still unmoved and not motivated to take action because the consequences were not happening at the present moment. Especially due to the fact that Americans have been growing up surrounded by the culture of meat-eating for billions of years now, it is almost impossible to divert Americans to see that becoming a vegetarian is for a good reason and that it is a very healthier alternative for both humans and the environment (5).

In my opinion, I think that becoming vegetarian is one of the main solutions of our world environment problems today. Because our demand for meat has risen so much the past years, partly due to overpopulation and how now more people can afford eating quality meat, we are willing to sacrifice other precious resources (such as water, land, and forests) to make sure that our demands are met in the economy. I think as humans, we are glutinous to think that any kind of food is available without a cost to us because we are at the top of the food chain in the entire world. By depleting our natural resources just to raise livestock for slaughter and consumerism when there are other alternatives to human diets, even if we make enough meat to last us a while, overall it is a short term accomplishment, not long-term, and over time this temporary solution will wear off, leaving us with no meat source, and also no resources because they are all used up.

In order to motivate people to adopt the vegetarian lifestyle, people will have to find a good reason to how it will benefit them, such as having a stronger, healthier body (8). Adding in the appeal of a chance to survive longer, we humans as naturally selfish people will try and pick the best choice (in this case, being a vegetarian) if it means we will be able to live longer than everyone else. It is disappointing how people in our world today are very ignorant to the world issues and problems affecting our welfare in the future, because people are so caught up in their everyday lives to worry about what will come in the future due to the actions unknowingly made by our own hands.

What needs to be down is to educate humans about the environmental benefits of living a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle, in relation to all the environmental impacts that a meat-based diet brings onto the Earth. In conclusion, meat-eating is of nature to humans. Although, in order to maintain our Earth in a liveable state for the near future, meat-eating may soon be out of the question. In our desperate moments, we will look to becoming vegetarian in hopes to continue our human generation on this Earth because all our other meat sources will have run out due to the high demands. It may not be obvious now, but I can guarantee that if we do not change our eating habits soon, our world will soon spiral into economic collapse, finishing in the destruction of the environment, and maybe even the end to the human generation.

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