There are many ways to help fight climate change and the biodiversity crisis: perhaps too many. Thus, sometimes it is hard to know where to start. However, big problems start with small solutions, and changing our diets is one way we can make a huge difference. Yet, the answer to the question of how eating less meat helps the environment is still ambiguous.
Accounting for 23% of our greenhouse gas footprint, agriculture is a major contributor towards climate change. In other words, this is roughly equivalent to all the driving and flying of every truck, plane, and car around the world. The predominant way by which the agriculture industry emits carbon dioxide is deforestation to make space for meat production. When trees are cut down, carbon in both the wood and the soil is lost to the atmosphere, contributing to global warming.
Meat consumption is also driving antibiotic resistance, which could spell “the end of modern medicine” according to Sally Davies – England’s chief medical officer. An estimated two-thirds of all antibiotics are given to animals to prevent disease, leading to the evolution of resistant strains of diseases in animals, which are then passed on to humans. Consequently, these life-saving medicines, which we rely on so much to maintain our health, start to lose their effectiveness.
Furthermore, factory farms are likely to be the next source of a global pandemic. Factory farms supply an estimated 90% of meat globally, and these farms are built with only one purpose in mind: housing as many animals as possible. This creates a breeding ground of bacteria where pathogens can easily spread amongst animals, and where humans can potentially become the host due to our proximity with animals. It is only a matter of time before a virus emerges, with a range of far-reaching consequences for humans.
Eating meat is also an inefficient use of resources; whilst animals give us, on average, 590 calories each day through meat and dairy, they consume 1740 calories of edible human food each day – a clear net deficit. If humans ate those calories directly from plants, this would avoid the energy wastage, and we would not have to grow as much crop. With our rising population, the UN has declared that we will be entering a global food crisis by 2050. Therefore, clearly meat consumption is not the best way forward. Furthermore, the meat industry uses land inefficiently too: over a quarter of the world’s entire land area is used to grow food for farm animals – food that could have been eaten by humans in the first place.
Due to the aforementioned reasons, we can make the conclusion that eating meat is harmful to the environment. Lower consumption of meat and dairy is essential to combating climate change, maintaining biodiversity, and conserving food supplies. So, in short, yes – eating less meat truly does make a difference. This does not mean the whole world has to immediately go vegan (don’t worry), but it does call for moderation, as well as a broadening of plant-based alternatives.