Animal Agriculture and Climate Change

By KYLE ZINKULA

When discussing global warming and climate change, people tend to identify fossil fuel burning and electricity use as the leading causes. While such assumptions are correct, the effect of animal agriculture is often overlooked. Animal agriculture, along with greenhouse gas emissions, have a large impact on the environment and on the increasingly precious natural resources used by humans.

According to an article published by The Guardian, animal agriculture accounts for approximately 14.5 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, and uses about 70 percent of agricultural land. Such land utilization, as well as the allocation of resources for raising animals, greatly affect the environment. However, land is only one of the several resources used in abundance for animal agriculture. 

Another resource is freshwater. The 2014 documentary “Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret” mentions that animal agriculture in the United States alone uses around 34 trillion gallons of water a year for cow raising. For context purposes, oil fracking uses 140 billion gallons of water, and hurricane Katrina dropped a mere 6.5 trillion gallons of water in rainfall. 

Illustration By Lee O’Dowd

Additionally, producing only one pound of beef requires about 2,500 gallons of water. Freshwater grows increasingly important and difficult to acquire as the human population is and water comes into greater demand — both for humans and for the animals raised and slaughtered.

Furthermore, the use of both land and water in animal agriculture can be associated with deforestation. Land is often cleared for animal grazing and for the cultivation of soybeans and other foods for animals to eat. Much of the water used in animal agriculture can be associated with the production of crops as well. While humans struggle to feed our population, land that could be used for growing food and crops for human consumption is instead given to animals for the cultivation of meat. 

So, what can be our course of action to minimize the effects of animal agriculture? The answer may be inconvenient, but it is simple and doable: humankind needs to produce and eat less meat. 

The Paris Accords’ aim of keeping “the increase in global average temperature to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels” is approaching quickly and is becoming increasingly difficult to keep realistic. Action needs to be taken as a whole, and not  individually. This does not mean that every person must become vegetarian or vegan per se, but rather that we must consciously decrease our overall meat consumption as a society.  

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