Save the planet by changing your diet

By Rudy Beharrysingh • Professor, Southwestern Community College

Editor’s note: This series of green living tips is provided by Sustainable Mountain Initiative, a Jackson County coalition of government officials and concerned citizens working together to lead the way toward a more sustainable future.

The issue of climate change and how to lessen the impact of human activities is a hot topic these days, and the solutions to reducing our greenhouse gas emissions are complex, involving nearly every area of everyday living, trade and commerce.

It was only recently that the environmental impact of our diets (and factory farms worldwide) became a major factor in our decisions about how to reduce our impact. In 2006, the United Nations released a report titled “Livestock’s Long Shadow,” which brought these issues to the forefront of public awareness. The report looked at the energy used to raise, feed, transport, slaughter, refrigerate and package the animals for consumption — and found that the production of meat with factory-farmed animals accounted for more than 18 percent of all man-made emissions, more than all forms of transportation combined.

Another UN report in 2007 confirmed these findings and emphasized that the most effective ways for individuals to reduce their carbon output was to drive less — and eat less meat.

The graph below shows the greenhouse gas emissions for each type of diet — vegetarian, vegan, poultry, fish and red meat. The vegan diet takes first place with literally no output of greenhouse gases; the fish and red meat diets tie for last place with an annual output of two tons of greenhouse gases.

Production of meat requires seven to 10 pounds of grain for each pound of meat, leading to deforestation and the use of more than 30 percent of our planet for livestock farming. In addition, energy is required to heat and cool buildings and trucks, to transport animals, and to package animal products safely before they come to the store for you to purchase.

Waste runoff from factory farms pollutes waterways and groundwater and can be more deadly for fish and plants than oil spills; the animal farming industry produces more than 65 percent of our annual nitrous oxide emissions and more than 37 percent of our methane emissions.

The average American diet emits more than 1.5 tons of greenhouse gases per year. For a family of two, switching to a vegan diet could save nearly 2 tons of greenhouse gases per year — as many as by switching your current auto out for a $25,000 hybrid sedan. So if you’re looking for a way to save money and save the planet, eating less or no meat just might be the answer.

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