By Seamus Crowley ’18 (Geology and Environmental Geography Major from Aspen, CO)
Chances are that you have probably heard the phrase “Meatless Monday” from a friend or from someone tabling in dining areas across campus. It sounds simple: don’t eat meat on Mondays. But why are you being encouraged to avoid meat one alliterative day a week? The fact is that the advocacy for going meat-free weekly has much wider implications than just your diet for that day.
Meat, as it is produced in extraordinary mass quantities today, has some pretty significant adverse effects on the environment. The business of maintaining livestock and producing meat for consumers all around the world has become an immense operation that has been continually increasing in size over time. In fact, 30% of the world’s land is devoted to supporting livestock such as cows, chickens, and pigs1. That has a tremendous negative impact on the Earth’s environment, as nearly 300 million tons of meat are produced each year globally1. On such a grand scale of production, the industry around meat creates two major impacts that directly harm our natural environment, among a slew of many others that are more localized in nature.
First, livestock in such large numbers create a significant portion of the greenhouse gases that are currently driving detrimental climate change across the globe. Livestock is currently responsible for 18% of the total emitted greenhouse gases across the planet, including 37% of the world’s Methane2. The high levels of Methane are additionally troubling due to the fact that Methane is 28-36 times more potent as a warming gas than Carbon Dioxide3. Meat production as a whole is enormously injurious to the stability of the climate.
Secondly, the production of meat uses exorbitant amounts of our planet’s available water resources. The production of any food requires a significant amount of water before it can be consumed; but meat, in all of its varieties, puts a particularly large strain on water resources. Cattle require drinking water and the feed grown for them requires irrigation water, resulting in 1,840 gallons of water being used to produce a single pound of beef for consumption4. While meats such as chicken necessitate less water than beef to create the same amount, it is still takes nearly 13 times more water than is needed to make 1 pound of vegetables5. So while water resources are already under duress across the world, meat production is further sinking the Earth’s population into a water crisis.
So next time it’s Monday and you’re wondering what to grab for lunch, consider skipping the meat for the day, or longer if you feel so inclined. By opting for the plate of veggies instead of the hamburger, you can take one small, but important step toward helping the environment, by protecting our climate and conserving water resources.