Here’s something I should have added to my first diary post from yesterday.
Helping the environment should be a continuing part of our lives.
And we definitely should do something more than content ourselves to just vote for this or that candidate or sign our names to an occasional petition.
We really need to start personally using the right technologies and living our lives in a more efficient and eco-friendly way, and encouraging others to do this, too- showing them what we do to help the environment or telling them about it. So, if you did even get an electric car or solar panels, great. But don’t rest on your laurels. At least every few weeks, try to talk to someone about how to help the environment or try to do something new in your life that will help the environment, or try to check out tips about how to be more green online, on YouTube videos. Don’t sort of say to yourself that since you bought the electric car, you now don’t have to make any other improvements in your life.
So in that spirit--
Today’s post is about something very interesting, perhaps even crucial. I first heard about it around 15 years ago, but today it’s still not being talked about nearly enough.
Simply put, the meat and dairy industries contribute much more to the greenhouse effect- and are much more harmful to the environment in general- than the industries behind other foods. The production, processing, storing / preserving, and shipping of animal products requires the burning of much more fuel to produce energy (thereby emitting harmful greenhouse gases) than does the production, etc., of vegetable food. But what makes it even more interesting is, people don’t have to eat meat or dairy at all. A vegetarian diet may even be much more healthy. So, when considering the global warming problem, and in light of the great scale on which the meat industry adds to that problem, it starts to seem as if the meat industry is a greatly counterproductive enterprise that should be done away with entirely or at least greatly reduced.
When someone first hears that the meat and dairy industry are big polluters, they might first think of something like runoff from manure and chemicals getting into rivers and lakes, rather than global warming. But actually, what the industry adds to the greenhouse effect may be far more harmful.
You’ve probably heard of the term carbon footprint. It means that every product and every activity has required the burning of a certain amount of fuel and release of a certain amount of greenhouse gases to come about. For example, if you work in a certain place everyday, and drive a gasoline-powered car to get there and back home each day, the amount of greenhouse gases released by your car in the course of that is part of your carbon footprint for the day. But it doesn’t stop there. Let’s say you also buy a new chair today. Since our society hasn’t totally moved to non-polluting sources of energy yet, pretty much any product we buy also at some point took the burning of fuel to produce, ship, etc. So your buying that chair was part of your carbon footprint, too. And then any food you bought, any other travel you undertook besides going to and from work, were part of your carbon footprint, too. And so were heating your house, using electricity in your house, etc.
(So- don’t forget that if everyone bought the household appliances that were rated most energy efficient, had energy-saving windows and insulation, turned off and even unplugged appliances not in use, tried to buy more locally-grown produce (which has a lower carbon footprint because it isn’t shipped as far) or even grew their own vegetables, bought more used products (like furniture, clothing, sports equipment, and books) instead of caring so much about what’s chic and new, and used solar panels and the most fuel-efficient- or even electric- vehicles, our collective carbon footprint would be much, much lower! Or, do more things electronically rather than buying or using a product that has to be manufactured and shipped- watch a movie online instead of buying a disc, pay your bills online, on special occasions send e-cards to some of your friends and relatives who won’t mind them instead of sending a paper greeting card, etc. And try to recycle- or send a lackey to recycle- everything you can, including electronics, which are accepted for recycling by Best Buy (recycling reduces the world’s carbon footprint because it takes less industry to produce something from recycled materials than it does to have to mine, ship and process new raw materials). Trying to set the example yourself and to chat the idea up with friends and acquaintances on a regular basis is a way to start solving the problem.)
A good prompt to start thinking about the carbon footprint of the meat and dairy industry might be websites you can google for that talk about the carbon footprints of household pets. It took the burning of fossil fuel to produce and ship the food pets eat every day. It turns out that the carbon footprint of pet dog is like every day running an SUV for a typical amount of driving time. And owning a pet fish is like owning another mobile phone.
So it’s easy to see how so many livestock animals- including not just cattle which are much bigger animals, and therefore eat and drink a lot more than, the pet dogs that are about as bad as an SUV- but also very many chickens could be a very big greenhouse gas problem. In terms of environmental effect, all livestock existing in America and in world is like having many millions more gasoline vehicles on the road everyday.
Livestock production also uses up a lot of land. And this contributes to deforestation, including very much of the Amazon rainforest in Brazil that was cut down to create grazing land.
Another side of the coin is that livestock could be used to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by using the methane they produce (through excrement- solid waste- or flatulence- farting) as biogas fuel. Burning this gas contributes less to the greenhouse effect than burning petroleum, coal, and natural gas. But right now, this isn’t being used, and instead the livestock are just being grown for meat and meanwhile polluting. And, the unused biogas instead of helping the environment by taking the place of fossil fuels actually is greatly contributing to hurting the environment, being a greenhouse gas itself. It’s all part of that big carbon footprint of livestock.
So, all of the above describes the basic problem. But there are a few more points that make it even worse.
A vegetarian diet is perhaps a much healthier one for people because it has not as many calories, plus cholesterol comes from animal products.
Agriculture can produce much more food per acre of land than livestock rearing. So as the world goes through climate change and the transition to greener technologies, moving from livestock raising to agriculture could help keep people sufficiently fed.
Agriculture requires much less water than raising livestock, so moving from livestock to agriculture will help the world deal with water stress as global warming and increasing populations reduce freshwater sources. This could help avert conflicts. Using low-flow toilets, new waterless urinals, and other water-saving means and technologies can help a lot, but abandoning meat production as much as we can could also help a great deal.
And, livestock raising lowers quality of life for people living nearby to modern livestock production plants because of the powerful smell of animals and manure, and because the plants attract swarms of insect pests.
My conclusion is that not only should people chat up vegetarianism a lot- especially mentioning all the ways it’s better for the environment- but government should even try to get people to go vegetarian or just eat less meat and dairy. They should do it with ads / public service messages, and perhaps should even do it with big taxes on meat or bans. This could help out so much that it should be carried out as much as possible as soon as possible.
Also, check out stories online about a couple of towns in Denmark that officially have a Veggie Day, a day of the week when people are encouraged to avoid meat. The same stories mention that in Italy, there are now requirements to include a certain amount of organic food in school cafeteria lunches, and one or two days of the week when only vegetarian food is served. Means like these might be a good way to start getting most people to go vegetarian. And, you don’t even have to wait for the federal government- you can already try to get your town, school, community group, etc., to adopt an official no-meat day as a way of helping the environment and spreading awareness about how to help it.
Another means might be through the military. The modern popularity of tooth-brushing is supposed to come from the American military requiring aviators to brush their teeth around the beginning of the 20th century. Somehow from them, it caught on. Then think of fads like crewcut haircuts and military-style or camouflage clothing. So, it’s easy to see that a big group like the military that can instantly assign new rules to very many members can be a great way to get things to catch on to the society at large- what if the military adopted rules for introducing vegetarianism among enlisted people, or rules about other eco-friendly measures for them to adhere to? Since the vast majority of military personnel are very much regular guys and gals, their employer’s spreading the message to them would be a great way to reach that whole social strata that perhaps very often might not be checking out things like news stories about the environment or tips online about how to be more eco-friendly at all.
Similarly, a big corporation could do a lot by announcing and explaining in terms of effect on the environment a no-meat day or no-meat event to its employees, and even serving no meat in its cafeteria on that day.
Many animal rights enthusiasts think it’s abhorrent for anybody to do any less than completely give up meat, or even go vegan. But practically, I think our focus right now and as environmentalists should be on just getting people to at least eat less animal products and use less of other animal products (leather, etc.). The idea that non-human animals shouldn’t be used as consumer products for people is just too much of a change from what most people feel. For me, the clear evidence of this is that even though everyone’s heard of being a vegetarian, still so few people are doing it (what they much more likely don’t know about is how raising livestock hurts the environment). If people were subject to government bans and taxes, or if they knew more about how the raising of livestock hurts the environment, they might do go vegetarian. But trying to just argue the whole thing to them in terms of animal rights is I think going to mostly be counter-productive. I expect that gradually, more and more people could continue to go vegetarian mostly for those reasons, but what more people have in common as a concern is global warming.
On the other hand, I can see that perhaps giving people as many reasons as possible would be what was most persuasive, and that perhaps simply more effort needs to be made to make the animal rights arguments to people- there just need to be more fliers around, more websites, more books, more events and spokesmen for it.
Thanks for reading the Save The Environment diary.
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