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The Youtube channel ‘Big Think’ regularly hosts Bill Nye where he answers questions from curious individuals. In his most recent video, a viewer asked why the environmental effects of animal agriculture are rarely spoken of in the media, especially considering it’s the leading cause of climate change. Bill Nye acknowledged the environmental effects of the industry, stating that, “There are 7.3 billion people around today but by 2050 there will be at least 9 billion people, maybe 10 billion people... Those people are going to have to eat... It's very reasonable that all of us will move towards a plant-based diet."
So what does Bill Nye mean when he says, “Those people are going to have to eat”? Well, we only have a finite amount of resources on earth, yet a rapidly increasing population. So, as our population increases, it’s necessary for us to use fewer resources and focus on sustainability. The reason he believes we’ll switch to a vegan diet is because it takes significantly fewer resources to grow plants vs. growing animals. Now, why is this so? Well to grow animals you must feed them food and water. This is food and water that we could otherwise be eating ourselves. It’s also important to mention that animals also produce and abundance of greenhouse gases, create gigatons of waste, and use miles upon miles of land.
So exactly how resource intensive is this industry? Well, let’s begin by examining food and water usage. For animals to grow they need food and water. But exactly how much do they need? Livestock in the US alone eat enough grain to feed 800 million people. That’s more than twice the US population! In addition, 56% of the water in the US is used just to grow the crops that animals eat. Growing all those crops also requires a vast quantity of land, approximately one third of the planet!
Now let’s examine greenhouse gas emissions. Well, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimated animal agriculture to be responsible for 18% of GHG emissions but another report by WorldWatch Institute estimated animal agriculture to be responsible for 51% of emissions. Even if we took the lower estimate, it would still be responsible for more GHG emissions than the entire transportation industry combined. Of these greenhouse gases, animal agriculture is responsible for 65% of all human-related nitrous oxide emissions, which has 296x the global warming potential of CO2 and stays in the earth’s atmosphere for 150 years.
So it’s clear to us that animal agriculture is very resource intensive, but how much of a difference would it make if just one person went vegan? Well, it’s estimated that a person who follows a vegan diet produces the equivalent of 50% less carbon dioxide, uses 1/11th oil, 1/13th water, and 1/18th land compared to a meat-eater for their food. It seems that going vegan is actually the number one most effective thing we can do to save the planet and ourselves.
Kaden is a passionate animal rights activist, writer, graphic designer and cyclist.
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