The environmental impacts of a meat-incorporated diet include a long and well-documented list.
Fortunately a simple solution to all these problems presents itself: Veganism.
Animal agriculture is accountable for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions. This places agriculture as one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gases, above transport. Agriculture is accountable for 75% of methane emissions (a much more harmful – though short-lived – greenhouse gas), and 64% of ammonia emissions (contributing to acid rain).
Meat production is a rather uneconomical process. Gram for gram, meat production requires 10 to 100 times as much water as crop production. In a world where 10% of the human population lacks access to clean water, and there are constantly droughts across the world, this use of water is clearly a waste.
Soil degradation occurs from farming too many animals on too little land. This causes over-grazing, where grass is eaten at high rates, and cannot maintain its own growth. As the grass decreases, so does its roots and the result is soil destabilisation. In turn, this leads to heightened soil erosion. This soil then struggles to retain water, and becomes unsuitable for growing (either more grass or other crops).
Nutrient runoff from the agriculture industry is the leading cause of waterway pollution in New Zealand. A 2009 study by the Cawthron Institute showed the Manawatu as one of the most polluted rivers in the western world; undoubtedly it is not mere coincidence that the Manawatu is also a major player in the livestock sector.
Deforestation is a major problem, both locally and internationally. As most people know, tens of thousands of hectares of the Amazon rainforest are cut down annually. Most of this is either for grazing livestock, or growing livestock food. Fonterra also imports palm kernel expeller as livestock feed. The oil palm industry is a major cause of rainforest destruction globally.
Locally; New Zealand has only a third of its original native forest remaining. Every year more and more of this is cut down to grow pasture for livestock.
Reduction in Biodiversity
Along with the loss of much of our forest, a loss in biodiversity also ensues. When a forest is lost, the countless plant species which make up the forest, as well as all the animals and insects (remember, most of these species will be native), are lost too. These are replaced with a few introduced grass species, and one or maybe 2 introduced mammals. Pastures also act as a ‘river’ between blocks of forest, and for some species can provide an insurmountable challenge to get from one block of forest to the next.
Per weight, plant-based foods require much less land area and water for production. To produce the same amount of food (and profit from exports) as New Zealand currently exports would take less that a quarter of the land currently used – in a country where only a third of our native forests persist, this benefit alone should be enough motivation to embrace veganism. Decreased land use means increased land for forests, in term benefiting the native species of our country and boosting biodiversity.
Unlike animals, plants don’t emit any methane, and produce very little CO2. In fact, through photosynthesis, plants act to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Not only will converting to plant based agriculture stop greenhouse gas emissions, it can actively work to reverse the effects of animal agriculture.
As our planet becomes more crowded, and the species on it become more endangered, a plant based diet is the easiest and best solution to economically and sustainably feed ourselves.