Healing Our Planet
Raising animals for food accelerates global warming, depletes our water resources, poisons our waterways, and destroys forests and other wildlife habitats. This knowledge offers each of us a unique opportunity to heal our planet by transitioning to plant-based eating. In an environmentally sustainable world, we must replace meat and dairy products in our diet with vegetables, fruits, and grains, just as we replace fossil fuels with wind, solar, and other renewable energy sources.
Global warming is accelerated by the release of greenhouse gases, so called because they trap the sun’s heat near the earth’s surface. The principal greenhouse gases generated by animal agriculture are carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide.
Carbon dioxide is released by burning forests to create animal pastures and by operating machinery to grow feed, run factory farms, and transport live and dead animals. The much more damaging methane and nitrous oxide are released from digestive tracts of cows and from animal waste pits.
Air pollutants generated by animal agriculture are also associated with increased incidence of respiratory diseases.
Wind erosion from animal croplands generates airborne particles, which irritate respiratory passages and make them more susceptible to respiratory infections. Residents downwind from animal croplands are exposed to fertilizers and pesticides sprayed on crops. Ammonia and hydrogen sulfide from animal waste pits produce an unbearable stench.
The rain and melting snow flows that run off factory farms and animal feed croplands dump more pollution load into our waterways than all other human activities combined. This runoff contains soil particles, salts, organic debris, fertilizer, and pesticides, all highly damaging to aquatic organisms.
Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce 130 times as much waste as people do. The waste contains vast amounts of nitrates, pathogens, antibiotics, and hormones. Much of the waste is stored in huge cesspools, euphemistically dubbed “lagoons.” During major storms, this waste winds up in the nearest waterways. Some of the waste leaks gradually into vital groundwater supplies underlying the pits.
Animal agriculture’s insatiable demand for feed crops presses into service arid lands that require irrigation. Irrigation now accounts for more than 80 percent of all water use in the U.S. and leads to critical water shortages and bitter conflicts among water users, particularly in the Western states.
Destruction of Land Habitats
Animal agriculture’s demand for feed crops turns lush forests and other wildlife habitats into barren deserts. In addition to housing wildlife, forests keep topsoil in place, replenish groundwater aquifers, absorb carbon dioxide, and stabilize climate.
The process begins with clear-cutting and burning of forests to create pastures for cattle. As pastures become overgrazed, they are plowed under and turned into croplands to grow soybeans and corn for animals feed. With inadequate plant growth to hold it in place, topsoil is carried by rain and melting snow into nearby streams, eventually turning cropland into desert.
Moreover, cattle ranchers, aided and abetted by U.S. government agents, shoot, poison, and burn alive millions of prairie dogs, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, bears, bison, starlings, blackbirds, and other wildlife who are deemed to interfere with ranching operations.
Destruction of Water Habitats
Runoff from animal feed croplands and factory farms and its waste pits, contains soil particles, salts, organic debris, fertilizer, and pesticides. Soil particles smother fish eggs and bottom-dwelling organisms and block stream flow. Salts, primarily sodium and potassium chloride raise salinity of the water, rendering it unsuitable for some organisms. Organic debris feeds microorganisms that deplete the water’s oxygen supply and kill the fish. Fertilizers, mostly nitrates and phosphates, spur algal blooms that smother or poison aquatic life. Pesticides kill all living organisms.
The runoff pollutants kill aquatic organisms in nearby streams and lakes. Eventually these pollutants wind up in the ocean producing huge “dead zones” near shorelines. The one created each year by the Mississippi River in the Gulf of Mexico is larger than that formed by the 2010 Deep Water Horizon oil spill.
Industrial fishing is wiping out the oceans’ biodiversity, as miles of long lines and trawling nets sweep up huge numbers of “non-target” aquatic organisms. Shrimp trawlers discard as much as 85 percent of their catch. Bottom trawlers scrape the ocean floor and destroy all life in their path.