Brighter Planet produced a great report recently (a couple charts from it below) examining the relationship between food and carbon emissions in the US as well. The bottom line is, if you want to help the environment, cut meat out of your diet today.
Despite all of these environmental problems related to eating meat (and there are at least as manyhealth issues — note that the ADA now recommends a vegetarian diet), global meat production (which has tripled in the past three decades) is expected to double by 2050 if current trends continue.
The new two-volume report that makes this forecast, Livestock in a Changing Landscape, comes to these key findings:
More than 1.7 billion animals are used in livestock production worldwide and occupy more than one-fourth of the Earth’s land. Production of animal feed consumes about one-third of Earth’s total arable land. Livestock production accounts for approximately 40 percent of the global agricultural gross domestic product. Although 1 billion poor people derive part of their livelihood from domesticated animals, commercialized industrial livestock has displaced many small, rural producers in developing countries, like India and China. The livestock sector, including feed production and transport, is responsible for about 18 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions worldwide (the beef, pork and poultry industries emit large amounts of CO2, methane, and other greenhouse gases). The livestock sector is a major environmental polluter, with much of the world’s pastureland degraded by grazing or feed production, and with many forests clear-cut to make way for additional farmland. Feed production requires intensive use of water, fertilizer, pesticides, and fossil fuels. Animal waste is a serious concern, since only a third of the nutrients fed to animals are actually absorbed and the rest pollute lands and waters. Total phosphorous excretions of livestock are estimated to be seven to nine times greater than from humans.
Unfortunately, rather than address the broad externalities of livestock production, US government subsidizes it. The charts below, by Stephen McDaniel at Freakalytics, show that the US government heavily subsidizes meat and dairy while hardly giving a helping hand to fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes.
Nonetheless, you still have a choice and you can probably still save money switching to a vegetarian diet (especially if you include the health benefits of doing so). So, if you want to make a big green step, Start On a Vegetarian Diet, or even a Vegan One!