The Environment

"The world must create five billions vegans in the next several decades, or triple its total farm output without using more land."
Dennis Avery, Director of the Centre for Global Food Issues

Unless you are eating a plant-based (vegan) diet, large scale damage is being caused to the environment by the very food you are choosing to put into your mouth. Read on to find out why...

Climate change

When the average temperature of the Earth's atmosphere and oceans increases, the phenomenon is called global warming. Causes of warming: The chief causes are burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, and releasing them into the atmosphere, and the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases due to human activities such as industrial processes, fossil fuel combustion, and deforestation.

Carbon dioxide

More that one third of all fossil fuels produced in the United States go towards animal agriculture. According to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, the production of one calorie of animal protein requires more than ten times the fossil fuel input as a calorie of plant protein. This means that ten times the amount of carbon dioxide is emitted as well. So, where does all this waste occur?

Each animal that is slaughtered for food must be fed with grains, soy and other crops. The production of these crops requires energy consumption. This feed must then be harvested and transported to feedlots. From the feedlots, animals are then transported to a slaughterhouse, the carcasses are often taken (in refrigerated trucks - another energy consumer) to yet another processing plant before the meat is ready to be transported to a grocery store.


Environmentalists often bring up carbon dioxide emissions and their role in cooking the planet. But CO2 isn't the only greenhouse gas worth worrying about. Methane is actually a lot more toxic to the environment than carbon dioxide. Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together, in fact methane emissions cause nearly half of the planet's human-induced warming! Methane is produced by a number of sources, including coal mining and landfills, but the number one source worldwide is animal agriculture. Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year. And this source is on the rise: global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years, and shows little sign of abating. About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock, and while a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the hundreds of millions of livestock animals worldwide is enormous.

Meat production

A report in the New Scientist estimated that driving a hybrid car rather than an average vehicle would conserve a little over one ton of carbon dioxide per year. A vegan diet, however, consumes one and a half tons less than the average American diet. Adopting a vegan diet actually does more to reduce emissions than driving a hybrid car! For example, with the energy needed to produce a single hamburger, you could drive a small car twenty miles.


The United States imports roughly 200 million pounds of beef from Central America every year. Aside from the fuel used in transport, grazing land is needed for all of these animals. Where does all that land come from in a densely forested region? The answer: from clear-cutting the forests. A Smithsonian study estimates that the necessity for more grazing land means that every minute of every day, a land area equivalent to seven football fields is destroyed in the Amazon basin.

For each hamburger that originated from animals raised on rainforest land, approximately 55 square feet of forest have been destroyed. And it's not just the rainforest. In the United States, more than 260 million acres of forest have been clear-cut for animal agriculture. With increased per capita meat consumption, and an ever growing population, we can only expect to see more deforestation in the future.

"70% of rainforest deforestation is the result of cattle farming. “We have all heard of the web of life. The way we live threatens to trap us all in a web of death." ~Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General


The global effects of meat consumption don't stop on land. Agriculture also requires water consumption, and animal agriculture is no exception. Animal production consumes an amount of water roughly equivalent to all other uses of water in the United States combined. Besides grains, animals need water to survive and grow until they are slaughtered. One pound of beef requires an input of approximately 2500 gallons of water, whereas a pound of soy requires 250 gallons of water and a pound of wheat only 25 gallons. Meat production is inefficient as it requires the consumption of an extensive amount of resources over many months and years before becoming a usable food product. With the water used to produce a single hamburger, you could take a luxurious shower every day for two and a half weeks.

Even the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) identifies agriculture as a major water pollutant. Agricultural pesticides and nitrates used in fertilisers and manures seep into our groundwater, eventually spilling out into the oceans creating so-called "dead zones" (expansive areas so toxic that neither plant nor animal life can survive) viewable from space in places like the Gulf of Mexico where the Mississippi spills out into the sea. Besides the chemicals used in cultivation, accidental pollution though chemical spills and manure dumps are an ongoing source of water pollution from feedlots. The manure created from the billions of animals killed for food has to go somewhere, and often, it ends up in rivers and streams, killing millions of fish in one fell swoop.


Going vegan is the most effective action you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. Make a pledge today to evolve in a way that will really make a difference to the future of our planet!

Cowspiracy - The film that environmental organisations don't want you to see!
Cowspiracy: The Sustainability Secret is a groundbreaking feature-length environmental documentary following intrepid filmmaker Kip Andersen as he uncovers the most destructive industry facing the planet today – and investigates why the world’s leading environmental organizations are too afraid to talk about it. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of deforestation, water consumption and pollution, is responsible for more greenhouse gases than the transportation industry, and is a primary driver of rainforest destruction, species extinction, habitat loss, topsoil erosion, ocean “dead zones,” and virtually every other environmental ill. Yet it goes on, almost entirely unchallenged.

Watch the trailer below and find out more here.


David Pimentel and Marcia Pimentel, "Sustainability of Meat-Based and Plant-Based Diets and the Environment," American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 78.3 (2003)
The New Scientist,"It's Better to Green Your Diet Than Your Car," 17 Dec. 2005
Smithsonian Institution, "Smithsonian Researchers Show Amazonian Deforestation Accelerating," Science Daily Online, 15 Jan. 2002
Earth Talk, "The Environmental Beef With Meat," The Bay Weekly, 6 Jan. 2005
US Environmental Protection Agency. 1984. Report to Congress: Nonpoint Source Pollution in the US Office of Water Program Operations, Water Planning Division. Washington, D.C.
Merritt Frey, et al., Spills and Kills: Manure Pollution and America's Livestock Feedlots, Clean Water Network, Izaak Walton League of America and Natural Resources Defense Council (August 2000)

Further resources