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Helen Bennett Harvey promises that no animals were harmed in the making of this blog. Vegging Out is a recipe for a new way of life. Or at least a new way of eating. Pull up a chair. Contact me at:

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I'm killing the earth

My commute to and from work in New Haven takes me about 45 minutes each way—if there’s no traffic.

Last week, I found myself driving home in my not-terribly-fuel-efficient Volvo station wagon listening to an NPR special on climate change and feeling very guilty about the emissions I was spewing into the environment. How would I ever offset this?

At home, we already make little efforts, like unplugging our computers and television when they’re not in use, and turning down the heat overnight. Of course, we recycle and we bring our own reusable tote bag to the grocery store (when we remember) so as not to accumulate a million plastic bags.

But it turns out that the commitment to vegetarianism is probably the most important thing we do to help mitigate the effects of climate change.

Here are some interesting articles about the impact meat-eating habits have on the environment.

A summary of points I found interesting from them (these are copied directly from the articles, I take no credit for them):


  • U.S. agriculture accounts for 87 percent of all the fresh water consumed each year. Livestock directly use only 1.3 percent of that water. But when the water required for forage and grain production is included, livestock's water usage rises dramatically. Every kilogram of beef produced takes 100,000 liters of water. Some 900 liters of water go into producing a kilogram of wheat. Potatoes are even less "thirsty," at 500 liters per kilogram.
  • To produce 1 lb. of feedlot beef requires 7 lbs. of feed grain, which takes 7,000 lbs. of water to grow. Pass up one hamburger, and you'll save as much water as you save by taking 40 showers with a low-flow nozzle.
  • The livestock sector accounts for over 8 percent of global human water use, while 64 percent of the world’s population will live in water-stressed areas by 2025.


  • More than 302 million hectares of land are devoted to producing feed for the U.S. livestock population -- about 272 million hectares in pasture and about 30 million hectares for cultivated feed grains.

(I looked it up, 1 hectare equals 10,000 square meters, 107,639 square feet or roughly 2.5 acres.)

  • About 90 percent of U.S. cropland is losing soil -- to wind and water erosion -- at 13 times above the sustainable rate. Soil loss is most severe in some of the richest farming areas; Iowa loses topsoil at 30 times the rate of soil formation. Iowa has lost one-half its topsoil in only 150 years of farming -- soil that took thousands of years to form.
  • Agriculture is the world's biggest cause of deforestation, and increasing demand for meat is the biggest force in the expansion of agriculture.


  • Two-thirds (64 percent) of anthropogenic ammonia emissions, which contribute significantly to acid rain and acidification of ecosystems, come from cattle.
  • In the United States, livestock are responsible for a third of the loads of nitrogen and phosphorus into freshwater resources.
  • The world’s largest source of water pollution is believed to be the livestock sector.
  • In recent years livestock waste has been implicated in massive fish kills and outbreaks of such diseases as pfiesteria, which causes memory loss, confusion and acute skin burning in people exposed to contaminated water.
  • In the U.S., livestock now produce 130 times as much waste as people do. Just one hog farm in Utah, for example, produces more sewage than the city of Los Angeles.


  • The 7 billion livestock animals in the United States consume five times as much grain as is consumed directly by the entire American population.



Anonymous naneharvey said...

As a meat eater, I have been put in my place by vegetarian friends who believe they have a lesser adverse impact on the environment simply because they don't eat meat. This is not true. Yes, factory farming is extremely polluting, that is not in dispute. But what about soy, which is typically the protein substitute of choice for vegetarians? Not exactly an environmental savior (or health savior for that matter):

I do eat meat, but all the meat I eat comes from local farmers on small family farms. This meat is completely grass fed so no grain/feedlot issues. Animals that are completely grass-fed produce meat with beneficial properties, i.e. "good" cholesterol, B-vitamins, etc. So I eat locally raised meat and you are a vegetarian. Which of us is more virtuous? Neither! Human society is simply bad for Planet Earth, and Americans are huge consumers in general so no matter what we eat or how little we drive, we're probably doomed. You might want to try some grass fed beef before the Armageddon, it really is delicious.

November 27, 2007 8:10 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The post by naneharvey implies that the writer was preaching. A careful read shows that this is not so. The writer simply stated that vegetarians can help reduce the wear and tear on the Earth. For those with the economic means to do so, eating locally grown meat is a similar, positive step. While the writer, however, was upfront about her questions and concerns, naneharvey seems to hide behind her virtue.

November 27, 2007 9:48 PM 
Anonymous naneharvey said...

I was mostly addressing, generally, comments like the following:

"But it turns out that the commitment to vegetarianism is probably the most important thing we do to help mitigate the effects of climate change. "

This is simply not true, and I have heard this type of comment from other vegetarians I know. If you drive a car, heat and cool your home with fossil fuels, then being vegetarian does not really matter in the greater scheme of things. Especially if your food gets trucked from distant locales or your main protein source contributes to deforestation. I did not mean to imply the poster was "preaching" as clearly she was not. I just wanted to point out that the issue of global environmental change is not simple.

December 05, 2007 10:54 AM 

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