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VEGETARIANISM AND CLIMATE

It is true as well as false. It is a matter of perspective, as well as one ethical dilemma of sharing the planet with all other creatures.

While the truth about the existence of global warming is controversial, there are economic as well as ecological perspectives to the matter at hand.

Beginning with climate change, the concept needs a revisiting. What we are experiencing is climatic fluctuation, not climatic change, which is the general perceived notion. Climate change is a phenomenon of geological time and cannot be measured on the human time-scale. Climate change has always been a part of the geological history of the earth and will keep taking place.

However, here we may refer to global greenhouse gas emissions as a consequence of anthropogenic activities, which can be planned and minimized to reduce the perceived effects.

Besides, the statement of The Economist is also reflective of our mindset that because we can manage and manipulate our environment, we can create a world that is dictated by the selfishness of humans.

It is correct- Non-Vegetarianism does lead to some climatic modifications.

T
he use of animals as food and feed has its climatic manifestations.

  1. It is all about amount of energy flow in the ecosystem. Animals feed on a large amount of straws of grains, rice, wheat and dairy products only a small amount of meat, eggs and dairy products in return. This is because of the law of loss of 90% energy when food is transferred from one trophic level to another. So, when we consume meat, energy requirement is more as compared to when we directly consume plant products.
  1. Beef production releases five times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as the average of other meats and animal products. That is not all: Beef requires 28 times more land, 11 times more water, and six times as much reactive nitrogen as the average of the other categories, according to the study.
  1. Meat production contributes to global warming at a much higher rate than the cultivation of grains and vegetables. A recent study in the U.K. analyzed the diets of 55,000 people and found that the meat-eaters had twice the carbon footprint of the vegans.
  • Livestock and their by products account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, or 51% of all worldwide greenhouse gas emissions
  • Cows produce 150 billion gallons of methane per day. Methane has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2 and 25-100 times more destructive than CO2 on a 20-year time frame.
  • Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human-related emissions of nitrous oxide – a greenhouse gas with 296 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
  1. The amount of greenhouse gas given off by animals as well as the methane emissions from the manure and the amount of resources used to produce one calorie of that product is higher. Past researches claim that meat production contributes to the perceived ‘global warming’ at a much higher rate as compared to cultivation of grains and vegetables.
  1. Livestock is responsible for 65% of all human related emissions of nitrous oxide– a greenhouse gas with global warming potential 296 times that of carbon dioxide, and which stays in the atmosphere for 150 years.
  1. An increase in consumption of meat also means a burden on the freshwater resources of the world. The water footprint of meat from beef cattle (15 400 m 3 /ton as a global average) is much larger than the footprints of meat from sheep (10 400 m 3 /ton), pig (6000 m 3 /ton), goat (5 500 m 3 /ton) or chicken (4 300 m 3 /ton). The global average water footprint of chicken egg is 3 300 m 3 /ton, while the water footprint of cow milk amounts to 1000 m 3 /ton. All the same, animal products are bound to have greater water footprints than plant products because of the higher trophic level. One third of the total volume of water requirement for animal rearing is for the beef cattle sector; another 19% for the dairy cattle sector.
  1. A non vegetarian diet is also the leading cause of species extinction
  • Ocean dead zones: livestock operations on land have created more than 500 nitrogen flooded dead zones around the world in the marine waters.
  • Non vegetarian processing is a cause of water pollution: None of the excreted waste (estimated around 89000 pound per second) by animal is treated, which is a major source of water pollution.
  • Habitat degradation and destruction: it is estimated that 1/3 of the planet is undergoing desertification. A good area of forests are being cleared to raise crops for grazing animals. 3/4 of the world’s fisheries are exploited or depleted. It is responsible for up to 91% of Amazon destruction.
  • Human Emissions- A person who follows a vegetarian diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a non vegetarian. On a vegetarian diet, one save 1,100 gallons of water, 45 pounds of grain, 30 sq ft of forested land, 20 lbs CO2 equivalent, and one animal’s life. It is highly inefficient form of food production.

Conclusion. Is it so correct?

The conclusion of The Economist has only been some simplifying assumptions.

Would the global production of greenhouse gases be reduced if Westerners reduced the amount of meat in their diet.

  1. Assuming that resources like water and land that go into meat production could simply be shifted to vegetables, does not really follow the contours of reality very closely.
  1. Moreover, it is a prejudiced mindset to put all the blame on a non-vegetarian diet. Food processing industry that is as much prominent with vegetarian foods has high water and carbon footprint too. As for instance, a half-liter bottle of soda is not just a half-liter of water with added ingredients. That small bottle needs around 200 liters of water to make, 400 times the amount of liquid in the bottle! At the same time, an apple has a water footprint of just 18 gallons, while for apple juice it is 60 gallons and can even be above 300 for a pizza.
  1. It is not that all the animal products have greater footprints than vegetarian foods. Chicken meat is shown to carry lower carbon as well as water footprints than pulses. On the other hand, rice has one of the greatest carbon footprints among plants.

Shall we think in this manner

There can be a refreshing perspective as well. Meat is no always harmful.

Meat does provide concentrated source of essential amino acids, which is a requisite for an undernourished child for proper growth. Similarly, milk and dairy products cannot be done away with.

Livestock population feeds on many kinds of plants that are not palatable for human beings. It is also irrational to wipe out such plants from existence, because they form an integral part of the ecosystem.

Another culprit is food wastage that is so rampant in parts of the world that about a third of the food produced is wasted every year on an average. That means a lot of carbon as well as water footprints.

Ethical dilemma

There is moral problem with prohibition of livestock rearing in areas where it is the sole source of sustenance.

  1. A large part of the world’s cattle production is from areas like that of Brazilian shield, that are either completely unsuitable to other forms of agriculture or are only marginally suited to other forms. When Brazil is one of the largest exporters of red meat, it is needless to say that going vegetarian cannot be a panacea to food security here.
  1. Much of the world’s cattle production is from areas that are either completely unsuitable to other forms of agriculture, or are only marginally suited to other forms.
  1. Going vegetarian would not remove all the world’s cattle-derived greenhouse gasses, because there are many areas in the world where the local population has to grow meat because vegetables and crops are too expensive and, in some cases, they could not even grow enough vegetables to survive on if they tried.

FOLLOWING VEGETARIANISM DOES NOT MEAN KILLING ANIMALS, AND ROBBING THEIR RIGHT TO LIVE IN THIS WORLD. LIKE PLANTS ANIMALS HAVE A RIGHT TO EXIST, AS MUCH AS PLANTS. NATURE AND MOTHER EARTH DOES NOT DIFFERENTIATE BETWEEN PLANTS AND ANIMALS. ALL OF THEM ARE EQUALS.

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