There are too many fraudulent environmentalists in this country proclaiming their noble pursuit of caring for the planet, but not actually succeeding in doing so. The environmental movement has rightly focused on climate change, but its solutions are insufficient. People are not willing to significantly change their lifestyles and become vegan to save the planet. Avoiding meat and dairy is the single best way to reduce our environmental impact.
Merriam-Webster defines ‘environmentalism’ as “advocacy of the preservation, restoration or improvement of the natural environment.” Our system of factory farming and deforestation does not preserve, restore nor improve the natural environment in any way. Millions of animals are kept in putrid conditions and fed chemicals for the sole purpose of our consumption without regard for their well-being. It would be unfathomable to keep our adored dogs and cats in crowded cages their entire lives, surrounded by feces and fellow animals given the sweet release of death. We can all buy high-efficiency lightbulbs and recycle our beer cans, but who is that helping realistically? No one but our own conscience.
The government and meat industry want to hide these animal abuses with “Ag-Gag” laws that punish whistle-blowers who expose their abysmal industry. We hide behind walls of ignorance erected by lobbyists and spineless lawmakers, telling ourselves we’re innocent. We’ve been complicit since the first glass of dairy milk touched our lips.
Eating fish doesn’t protect the environment, either. Overfishing has driven some species to near extinction, like the Atlantic cod and sharks. Dredging and seafloor trawling to collect fish destroy habitats. Bycatch, or fish caught unintentionally in large nets, are killed in massive numbers. Every year, 85,000 sea turtles, 300,000 marine animals and 3 million sharks die this way.
Does the taste of a hamburger outweigh the environmental destruction and animal suffering caused by its production? Obviously, nothing else tastes like a hamburger. You got me there. Nothing else tastes like a clementine or an almond either. Besides, there are plenty of companies making meat substitutes that taste pretty darn close to the real thing. To make one pound of beef, it takes 2,500 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil and one gallon of gasoline. Per acre of land, 250 pounds of beef can be produced. Compare that to some plants: 20,000 pounds of apples, 30,000 pounds of carrots and 40,000 pounds of potatoes could be harvested on the same amount of land. Imagine how many people could be fed if plants were grown on animal lands.
From the perspective of water consumption, bovine meat requires 15,415 liters per kilogram of meat while vegetables require 322 liters per kilogram. Almonds are frequently targeted as an environmentally needy plant and use 10,240 liters per kilogram in California. It’s close to bovine meat amounts, but meat is not as nutritionally dense and has not been linked to reducing cholesterol and the risk for heart disease and diabetes as the mighty almond has.
Animal agriculture is responsible for 14.5 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, with 65 percent of that coming from cattle. It’s easy and cheap to cut animal products from our diet. Dinner can be as simple as rice and beans or lentils and broth. Meat is expensive with its hidden costs of animal suffering and environmental damage.
It’s obvious this government won’t do anything about the impending doom Earth faces. We are the cause of the sixth mass extinction event, and we’re going to be a casualty soon enough. Our species will have to pay the price for our centuries-long exploitation and overconsumption of the natural world. It should be a privilege to live with countless flora and fauna on this massive planet, but instead, we choose to dominate everything around us. We have elevated our species to a divine-like status, with our ability to eat, domesticate and genetically engineer any organism we choose. The question is, will we look our children in the eyes and tell them we did enough to prevent our extinction?
Nicholas Walker is a junior majoring in biomedical engineering.