Remember how hot this year has been, now imagine how much hotter next year will be, imagine our weather pattern becoming like the weather in the movie The Day After Tomorrow. As crazy as that may sound, it’s all going to happen sooner rather than later if global warming continues its current direction. Recently, our President Donald Trump withdrew the US from the Paris Climate Agreement, which is set to pursue ambitious efforts to control climate change. Global warming is a result of human beings and activities such as animal agriculture which emits the most greenhouse gases and has a negative environmental impact; if humans consumed a plant-based G1 diet and stopped animal agriculture, greenhouse gases would be significantly reduced.
In 2016 earth’s surface temperature was the warmest it’s been since record-keeping began in the 1880’s G2 bringing earth to 2.4° degrees Fahrenheit above the mid 20th century. (Lynch) Global warming is an increase in the earth’s surface temperature over a short period of time whose likely cause is human activities, the effects of global warming include severe weather, higher temperatures, extreme cold or droughts, higher death rates and extinction of wildlife. Global warming occurs when carbon dioxide and other air pollutants keep the gases from escaping into space, they trap heat causing the planet’s temperature to rise, this is known as the “greenhouse effect”G3 the most important heat-trapping gases are called greenhouse gases G4 (MacMillan).
The four main types of greenhouse gases are: carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O) and fluorinated gases. These gases trap heat in the atmosphere which in turn heats the earth. These gases can remain in our atmosphere for hundreds if not thousands of years, making global warming a problem for years to come. Greenhouse gases are a result of human activities and result from electricity, heating, cooking, driving and the eating of livestock and other human activities.
Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main source of heat-trapping gas G5 it remains in the atmosphere longer than other heat-trapping gases caused by human emitting activitiesG6 G7 , and its damages are irreversible (Why Does CO2). The author of “How Do We Know Humans Are the Major Cause of Global Warming states, “The atmospheric concentration of CO2 has increased dramatically, from a pre-industrial era (AD 1000 – 1750) concentration of approximately 280 parts per million (ppm) to today’s 400 ppm.” According to scientists, “After a pulse of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, 40% will remain in the atmosphere for 100 years and 20% will reside for 1000 years, while the final 10% will take 10,000 years to turn over” (“Why Does CO2”). As a result of carbon dioxide (CO2) increasing in parts per million, scientists G8 had designated 400 ppm as a symbolic danger threshold.G9
For years scientist’s have warned about the dangers of the accelerated rates of G10 emissions, and the dangers of getting 400 ppm. In 2012, the Arctic hit 400G11 ppm and in September 2016 the world hit 400 ppm making it a point of no return, as it is unlikely that CO2 levels would ever drop below 400 ppm (“How Do We Know Humans”). At the increasing rate of CO2, it is likely that 500 ppm will be reached within 50 years increasing the temperature to 3° degrees C or 5.4° degrees Fahrenheit. Climate scientists say that at 5.4° degree levels we experience “bouts of extreme weather and sea level rise that will endanger global food supply, disruptive mass migrations and destroy the Amazon rainforest through drought and fire” (Jones). Carbon dioxide can be removed from the atmosphere when it is absorbed by plants as part of the biological carbon cycle (“Overview of Greenhouse Gases”). Additionally, the other three gases are equally harmful to the atmosphere.
Methane (CH4) is emitted during the transport of fossil fuels, methane is also the result of agricultural practices including livestock, the decay of manure and other decaying materials from landfills. Although methane appears naturally in the environment the largest amounts of methane are a result of the animal industry. Methane (CH4) is likely to be more dangerous than carbon dioxide because it warms the planet 86 times more than carbon dioxide (“Why Does CO2”). Methane (CH4) does not stay in the atmosphere as long as carbon dioxide but it does heat up the atmosphere more during its ten to twenty-year lifespan for instance “It takes about a decade for methane (CH4) emissions to leave the atmosphere (before it converts into CO2) (“Why Does CO2”). Similarly, nitrous oxide warms more effectively than other gases.
Nitrous oxide (N2O) has warming capabilities that are 300 times more effective than carbon dioxide, it also stays in the atmosphere for 114 years (“Nitrous Oxide”). Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is emitted during agricultural and industrial activities or fossil fuel combustion its sources are fertilizer, livestock, manure and human sewage (“Overview of Greenhouse Gases”). Unlike, the other three greenhouse gases humans have created the fourth gas which is also very powerful and remains for thousands of years.
Human-designed fG12 luorinated gases are powerful synthetic gases emitted as a result of various processes such as aluminum and the semi-conductor industries, these gases G13 are man-made and result from human activities. Fluorinated gases are atmospheric and have the potential to last thousands of years, they can only be destroyed by direct sunlight. The largest emissions of greenhouse gases come from human activities, as a result humans are the cause of global warming. (“Overview of Greenhouse Gases”)
There are two types of climate drivers natural and human. Natural drivers such as changes in the suns input or volcanic eruptions and human climate drivers which are the burning of oil, gas, coal and the cutting down and burning of forests (“How Do We Know Humans”). According to scientists, a recent study found “almost two-thirds of the impacts related to atmospheric and ocean temperature can be confidently attributed to anthropogenic forcing” (meaning human-caused drivers)” G14 (“How Do We Know Humans”). Scientists are confident that humans are the source of the CO2 in the atmosphere because carbon from fossil fuels has a different “signature” and atmospheric CO2 contains informaG15 tion about its source of origin (“How Do We Know Humans”). For example, humans are responsible for creating activities that contribute to greenhouse gases.G16
Human beings are responsible for creating the following sectors that contribute to greenhouse gas emissions: Electricity & Heat Production, Industry, Agriculture, Forestry & other Land Use, Transportation, Building and Other Energy. For this essay, we will focus on the Agriculture and Forestry sector since it contributes directly to greenhouse emissions by the way of animal agriculture also known as factory farming.G17 G18 G19 G20
Animal agriculture is the production of animals for human consumption and other animal products and it is “the number one anthropogenic user of land, and cause of global warming, climate change and other environmental issues (Koneswaran and Nierenberg). Animal agriculture does not only consist of the animals being raised and fattened up for human consumption but it includes grain and manufacturing of fertilizer for the production of animal feed, shipment of eggs and milk, waste storage, water consumption, land use and soil degradation (Koneswaran and Nierenberg). According to the Humane Society, the United States slaughtered 4.6 billion animals in 2016 and 56 billion animals were slaughtered for human consumption worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) identified animal agriculture as “a major threat to the environment.” Animal agriculture is responsible for the highest emissions of greenhouses gases surpassing the transportation sector. G21
According, to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), animal agriculture contributed 18% to human-induced greenhouse gases those numbers are reported differently G22 by the Humane Society of the US which states that animal agriculture accounts for 9% of human-induced emissions, G23 but is responsible for 37% of emissions of methane and 65% emissions of nitrous oxide. The burning of fossil fuels in the production of fertilizers accounts for 41 million tonnes of CO2 per year and fossil fuels burned to operate intensive confinement operations accounts for 90 million tonnes of CO2 per year (Steinfeld). Additionally, packaging, slaughtering, and processing of G24 animals releases several tens of millions of tonnes of CO2 each year. Desertification or the drying up of soils can release 100 million tonnes of CO2 each year (United States, Humane SocietyG25 ). Furthermore, raising animals for human consumption substantially depletes our water supply.
PETA estimates that 55% of the USA’s fresh water goes to raising animals for human consumption. Water usage for animals includes water to clean factory farms, clean up waste, grow crop feed and water for animals to drink. Peta estimates that one cow can drink up to fifty gallons of water per day in normal temperature, on hot days that amount can increase to double the water consumption. In addition, it takes 2,400 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef compared to the 244 gallons of water that it takes to produce one pound of tofu (“Meat and the Environment”). Animal feed crops are water intensive and produce enormous profits.
An example of a water-intensive crop that goes directly to feeding animals is alfalfaG26 , “Alfalfa hay used to feed animals requires approximately 1.6 trillion gallons of water each year” (“10 Shocking Stats”). Regardless of the drought that California has experienced alfalfa for exportation continues to be a profitable industry. Exportation of alfalfa has driven up the cost that it has become unaffordable to local farmers. Almost all the alfalfa grown in California is exported to Japan, China, the United Emirates and Korea which is used to for their production of dairy, which heavily relies on hay and alfalfa imports making exporting a profitable industry bringing in over $1 billion dollars per year. In actuality, we are exporting billions of gallons of water in the form of crops for animal consumption (Leithead).
Another shocking fact is how much water it takes to produce animal products. PETA claims that it takes 600 gallons of water to produce one gallon of milk and 660 gallons of water to produce a quarter pound of hamburger meat. (“10 Shocking Stats”). With billionG27 s of animalG28 s raised each year for food illions that is a substantial water footprint from the animal sector. Another example of industry farming affecting our environment is the pollution and land usage dedicated to animal production. G29 G30 G31
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, aG32 G33 G34 nimals produce more excrements than human beings and factory farming produces approximately 500 million tonnes of manure per year. Manure is a primary source of nitrogen and prosperous it is stored in liquid form in lagoons or sprayed into the air or onto croplands. Spraying of manure adds pollutants into the air that affect nearby residents and runoff from manure is the leading cause of pollution to lakes, rivers, surface, and groundwater. G35 (“Estimated Animal Agriculture Nitrogen”) Lastly, animal agriculture is responsible for the deforestation of forests and the rain forests.
Did you know that we lose twenty football fields of rainforest each minute due to deforestation? (Rinkesh) Deforestation is the conversion of forested areas into non-forested areas for the purpose of land, pasture, urban use, or wasteland. In a process named slash and burn many small farmers cut and burn down trees to make room for livestock or to plant crops many of which are used to feed their livestock (“Deforestation and Its Effect”). The negative impact of deforestation includes the loss of habitat to many species; up to 80% of animals live in the forests. Deforestation also causes an ecological and environmental imbalance (Rinkesh).
Deforestation drives climate change and causes soil degradation, within a couple of years the soil will be depleted and the cleared forest will become a wasteland. Trees are critical in the absorption of greenhouse gases with fewer trees the speed and severity of greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere are increased G36 (“Deforestation and Its Effect”).G37
Currently, one-third of the planet’s land surface is dedicated to aG38 nimals and their facilities and two-thirds of the agricultural land are used for crop feed G39 (Koneswaran and Nierenberg). In the United States, 56 million acres of land is used to grow animal feed while only 4 million acres of land is used to grow plants for human consumption (“Meat and the Environment”). G40 G41 G42 Since animal agriculture is one of the highest contributors to global warming, it only makes sense that a plant-basedG43 diet one which consumes no animal products would be a better option for the reduction of greenhouse gases. G44 G45 G46
According to researchers from the Environmental Assessment Agency of the Netherlands, if the world switched to a full vegan or plant-basedG47 diet by 2050 carbon emissions would be reduced by 17%, methane by 24% and nitrous by 21%. Although, the study has a lot of assumptions in their researG48 ch a full vegan plant-basedG49 diet shows to have the most impact in reducing greenhouse emissions plus also providing a sustainable food source for the potential 9 billion population expected by the year 2050. Other diets showed some improvements but diets that involved meat products or animal products showed fewer signs of significant reduction in greenhouse emissions since animal agriculture is not sustainable G50 G51 it is probable that even eating a reduced meat animal product diet would not be able to sustain the expected population of 2050.G52 G53 G54 G55 G56
Currently, theG57 rate of animal consumption is increasing, Americans consume the highest animal products but other countries are also depending on animal agriculture showing significant signs of increase and demand in the next years to feed the growing population. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations meat productiG58 on and dairy products are increasingly being consumed and expected to more than double by 2050 from 220 to G59 465 million tonnes of meat and milk from 580 to 1043 million tonnesUnited Nations. With higher meat production higher greenhouse gases would translate to an increase in the earth’s land surface temperature. In order to limit the earth’s surface temperature to 2°degrees Fahrenheit greenhouse gas concentrations would need to be stabilized below 450 ppm and by 2050 they would need to be at 400 ppm (Stefhast). Considering that we are currently at 450 ppm we would need to make substantial changes to see concentrations G60 of 400 ppm in the year 2050 since those numbers were last seen in the year 2000G61 . Furthermore, a plant-based diet hasG62 additional benefits. G63 G64 G65 G66
Not only would a diet change be beneficial to climate change and global warming, but it also provides beneficial health effects. According to Sharon Palmer, R.D.N., editor of Environmental Nutrition, plant-based diets G67 provide fibers, minerals and healthy fats that most people do not get, plant-based dietsG68 are also full of phytochemical compounds that keep our bodies running smoothly. If there were no animal products the rate of infections and bacteria such as those from food contamination would be non-existent and our water supply would no longer be in danger of pollution from manure or its run-off. Although, land could possibly not be reclaimed due to soil degradation the remaining forests would remain intact aiding in the reduction of carbon dioxide that is naturally caused by trees.
Finally, to summarize the facts in the data gathered human beings and the activities created by them are the cause of global warming. While many sectors of human activities contribute to greenhouse emissions we are now seeing that animal agriculture is the largest contributor of greenhouse gases contributing large amounts of methane and nitrous oxide which are rapidly heating and remaining in the earth’s atmosphere for yearsG69 G70 . Due to the overall impact of animal agriculture on the earth’s G71 climate change and global warming, it is not a sustainable process and could not sustain the growing population without continuing to have a detrimental impact on the earth’s atmosphere. Therefore, the world should consider the benefits of a plant-based diet not only for the earth but for their own health benefits and for the future generations.