Effects of Going Vegetarian for Just One
By Kathy Freston
Posted April 2, 2009
I've written extensively on the consequences of eating meat -- on our
health, our sense of "right living", and on the environment. It is one of
those daily practices that has such a broad and deep effect that I think it
merits looking at over and over again, from all the different perspectives.
Sometimes, solutions to the world's biggest problems are right in front of
us. The following statistics are eye-opening, to say the least.
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would save:
If everyone went vegetarian just for one day, the U.S. would prevent:
- 100 billion gallons of water, enough to supply all the homes in New
England for almost 4 months;
- 1.5 billion pounds of crops otherwise fed to livestock, enough to feed
state of New Mexico for more than a year;
- 70 million gallons of gas -- enough to fuel all the cars of Canada and
Mexico combined with plenty to spare;
- 3 million acres of land, an area more than twice the size of Delaware;
- 33 tons of antibiotics.
My favorite statistic is this: According to Environmental Defense, if every
American skipped one meal of chicken per week and substituted vegetarian
foods instead, the carbon dioxide savings would be the same as taking more
than half a million cars off of U.S. roads. See how easy it is to make an
- Greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 1.2 million tons of CO2, as much
produced by all of France;
- 3 million tons of soil erosion and $70 million in resulting economic
- 4.5 million tons of animal excrement;
- Almost 7 tons of ammonia emissions, a major air pollutant.
Globally, we feed 756 million tons of grain to farmed animals. As Princeton
bioethicist Peter Singer notes in his new book, if we fed that grain to the
1.4 billion people who are living in abject poverty, each of them would be
provided more than half a ton of grain, or about 3 pounds of grain/day --
that's twice the grain they would need to survive. And that doesn't even
include the 225 million tons of soy that are produced every year, almost all
of which is fed to farmed animals. He writes, "The world is not running out
of food. The problem is that we -- the relatively affluent -- have found a
way to consume four or five times as much food as would be possible, if we
were to eat the crops we grow directly."
A recent United Nations report titled Livestock's Long Shadow concluded that
the meat industry causes almost 40% more greenhouse gas emissions than all
the world's transportation systems -- that's all the cars, trucks, SUVs,
planes and ships in the world combined. The report also concluded that
factory farming is one of the biggest contributors to the most serious
environmental problems at every level -- local and global.
Researchers at the University of Chicago concluded that switching from
standard American diet to a vegan diet is more effective in the fight
against global warming than switching from a standard American car to a
In its report, the U.N. found that the meat industry causes local and global
environmental problems even beyond global warming. It said that the meat
industry should be a main focus in every discussion of land degradation,
climate change and air pollution, water shortages and pollution, and loss of
statistics were calculated from scientific reports by Noam Mohr, a physicist
with the New York University Polytechnic Institute.
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